THE PROS AND CONS OF ACUPUNCTURE FOR PAIN RELIEF…

The pros and cons of acupuncture for pain relief. We will all try anything to help alleviate our pain and when I first tried acupuncture I was a real advocate of this complementary therapy. It is used in many NHS general practices, as well as the majority of pain clinics ( which is where I first had it) and hospices in the UK.

Acupuncture is often seen as a form of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM).  A UK trial showed patients who received ten acupuncture sessions were far more likely to be pain-free after two years than those who didn’t. An American study saw 60% of back pain sufferers experience a significant improvement after acupuncture.

The word “acupuncture” means “needle piercing”. It is a traditional Chinese medical treatment using very fine needles, which are inserted into the skin at any of the 800 specially-designated points. It originated from a Dutch physician, William Ten Rhyne, who had been living in Japan during the latter part of the 17th century and it was he who introduced it to Europe.

Western medical acupuncture is the use of acupuncture following a medical diagnosis. It involves stimulating sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles of the body. It works by manipulating the body’s energy flow, or Chi, to help the body to balance and heal itself. Legend has it that acupuncture was developed when it was seen that soldiers who recovered from arrow wounds were sometimes also healed of other diseases from which they were suffering.

This results in the body producing natural substances, such as pain-relieving endorphins. It’s likely that these naturally released substances are responsible for the beneficial effects experienced with acupuncture. A course of acupuncture usually creates longer lasting pain relief than when a single treatment is used

Practitioners who adhere to traditional beliefs about acupuncture believe that when Qi doesn’t flow freely through the body, this can cause illness. They also believe acupuncture can restore the flow of Qi, and so restore health.

Acupuncture practitioners – sometimes called acupuncturists – use acupuncture to treat a wide range of health conditions. However, the use of acupuncture isn’t always based on rigorous scientific evidence.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides guidelines for the NHS on the use of treatments and care of patients.

Currently, NICE only recommends considering acupuncture as a treatment option for:

Acupuncture is also often used to treat other musculoskeletal conditions (of the bones and muscles) and pain conditions, including:

  • chronic pain, such as neck pain
  • joint pain
  • dental pain
  • postoperative pain

However, in many conditions where acupuncture is used, there’s less good quality evidence to draw any clear conclusions about its effectiveness compared with other treatments.

Acupuncture is sometimes available on the NHS, most often from GPs or physiotherapists, although access is limited. I had access to this at the pain clinic. My initial trials were for my neck and arm pain and it was extremely successful. We then tried for my low back pain but it didn’t help this at all so I do feel you have to try this treatment first before you know if it will help or not.

An initial acupuncture session usually lasts 20-40 minutes and involves an assessment of your general health, medical history, and a physical examination, followed by insertion of the acupuncture needles.

Courses of treatment often involve up to 10 separate sessions, but this can vary.

Picture of a person having acupuncture

The needles are inserted into specific places on the body, which practitioners call acupuncture points.

During the session, you’ll usually be asked to sit or lie down. You may also be asked to remove some clothes so the practitioner can access certain parts of your body.

The needles used are fine and are usually a few centimeters long. They should be single-use, pre-sterilised needles that are disposed of immediately after use.

According to the NHS Acupuncture practitioners choose specific points to place the needles based on your condition. Up to 12 points may be used during a typical session, sometimes more depending on the number of symptoms you have.

The needles may be inserted just under the skin, or deeper so they reach muscle tissue. Once the needles are in place, they may be left in position for a length of time lasting from a few minutes up to around 30 minutes.

You may feel a tingling or a dull ache when the needles are inserted but shouldn’t experience any significant pain. If you do, let your practitioner know straight away.

In some cases, your practitioner may rotate the needles or stimulate them with a mild electric current (known as electroacupuncture).

There’s no statutory regulation of acupuncture in England, but many non-medical acupuncture practitioners are required to register with their local authority.

If you choose to have acupuncture, make sure your acupuncture practitioner is either a regulated healthcare professional such as a doctor, nurse or physiotherapist or a member of a recognised national acupuncture organisation.

The British Acupuncture Council holds a register of practitioners that have been vetted and approved by the Professional Standards Authority. If you decide to have traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture, you can visit this website to find a qualified acupuncturist near you.

When it’s carried out by a qualified practitioner, acupuncture is generally very safe. Some people experience mild, short-lived side effects such as:

  • pain where the needles puncture the skin
  • bleeding or bruising where the needles puncture the skin
  • drowsiness
  • feeling sick
  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • worsening of pre-existing symptoms

If you have a bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia, or are taking anticoagulants, talk to your GP before you have acupuncture.

Acupuncture is also not usually advised if you have a metal allergy or an infection in the area where needles may be inserted.

It’s generally safe to have acupuncture when you’re pregnant. However, let your acupuncture practitioner know if you’re pregnant because certain acupuncture points can’t be used safely during pregnancy.

There are a number of good sites on this therapy, but a good starter is Acupuncture UK  and an excellent book is ‘The Acupuncture Handbook – How acupuncture works and how it can help you’, by Angela Hicks, which is available from Amazon and other good bookshops.

NYR Natural News wrote in their December issue that ‘Treating children with chronic pain can be complex, due to kids’ vulnerability while they’re growing and the fear of causing long-term effects. To make matters worse, studies into the therapeutic options for treating children’s pain is limited’.

‘Angela Johnson, MSTOM, MPH, a practitioner of Chinese medicine of Rush’s Cancer Integrative Medicine Program, led a recent study that found that acupuncture may be a safe and effective add-on integrative medicine treatment for chronic pain in children. Results of the study were published in Alternative and Complementary Therapies‘.

Acupuncture-300x232

With any alternative or complementary therapy, pain relief can react differently with each person but if you find this helps then it’s worth going for this treatment even privately. I find it beneficial for my neck but not for my lower back and I also feel that some practitioners are better than others. Check out if someone can recommend an acupuncturist before booking one.

As a form of alternative medicine, acupuncture is one of the most popular options that is used routinely today. It has the potential to relieve many different types of pain, reduce stress levels within the body, and numerous other well-being needs that someone may have. There is even the potential of relieving joint pain that is associated with arthritis. In return, there are some specific disadvantages that must be considered before receiving a treatment according to Health Research Funding. 

The pros and cons of acupuncture.

  1. Useful for a wide array of health conditions with a 4000-year track record of proven results
  2. Relatively no side effects or adverse reactions
  3. The focus is on increasing your overall health, instead of just reducing symptoms
  4. It has the potential to provide people with higher levels of energy.
  5. It may help with other certain physical conditions as well.
  6. It can be incorporated into a treatment plan with traditional medical techniques.
  7. Some health insurance policies actually cover acupuncture.
  8. New forms of acupuncture don’t even require needles. Instead of using needles, some acupuncturists are using low-intensity laser beams.
  9. Acupressure may help to provide relief without the cost or risk of acupuncture.
  10.  It can be a reassuring practice.
  11. Acupuncture is a noninvasive treatment.

The cons of acupuncture being –

  1. It can quickly cause infections to occur.
  2. The training of the acupuncturist can affect the quality of the treatment.
  3. There is no guarantee of success.
  4. The symptoms that brought someone to an acupuncturist may get worse.
  5. It can disrupt lifestyle routines.
  6.  It often takes a lot of time to experience success.
  7. Treatments can be costly and often aren’t covered by health insurance policies.
  8. Needles inserted incorrectly can cause physical harm.
  9. Acupuncture is known to create high levels of fatigue.

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