Western Medical Acupuncture Compared to Traditional Chinese Acupuncture
Western Medical Acupuncture has evolved from traditional Chinese acupuncture. It uses many of the same techniques, but is based around modern Western understanding of how the body works rather than on the ancient Chinese principles of health and disease.
To practice Western Medical Acupuncture in the UK, you must be a member of The British Medical Acupuncture Society. This is an organisation for practicing UK doctors and related health professionals who are trained in the use of Medical Acupuncture. The BMAS runs training and education programmes, and awards qualifications to appropriately trained members. It supports the use of proper evidence based treatments and research into how acupuncture works. Members must abide by the BMAS Code of Practice, and are regulated by the General Medical Council.
There are no such regulations and safeguards for many other types of acupuncture. At the moment, anybody in the UK is allowed to call themselves an acupuncturist and can start practising immediately, regardless of qualifications or experience. Some practitioners, such as those regulated by the British Acupuncture Society (BAcC), can be very competent. Many practitioners however are not regulated, or even insured, and may have had very little formal training.
When you choose a Western Medical Acupuncturist, you know you are in safe hands because you are seeing a qualified medical practitioner with additional training in acupuncture.
What Acupuncture Does
Acupuncture can relieve pain, decrease inflammation, relax muscles, and help with a number of specific medical conditions. Studies have shown that acupuncture can have both local effects, such as improving bladder and bowel function, and wider (systemic) effects such as reduced flushes in menopause and improved sleep. Acupuncture can produce hormonal effects too which is partly why it is thought to help with some gynaecological problems.
Researchers have found that acupuncture can affect most of the body’s systems – the nervous system, muscles, hormone output, circulation, antibody production and allergic responses, as well as the respiratory, digestive, urinary and reproductive systems and skin.
Of course – as with any medical treatment – there are no guarantees of success. Some people respond well, others don’t. But if you’re suffering from any condition that acupuncture may help with, it might well be worth a try.
For a list of conditions and the current evidence base for the use of acupuncture please see the BAcC Factsheets
Please remember I am not endorsing treatment from any particular BAcC members.
How Acupuncture Works
There are a number of physiological processes involved. The basic idea is that stimulating acupuncture points can:
- Release specific chemicals and hormones that reduce pain and increase well-being. These include endorphins and serotonin.
- Increase blood flow, which can aid healing.
- Influence the endocrine system, and so help with hormonal problems.
- Stimulate the nerves that send messages from the brain to the body, and back.
- Reduce pain messages within the brain and spine.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
Sometimes not at all, sometimes a little.
People sometimes imagine that acupuncture needles are like those used to give injections. In fact, they are much finer – so fine that they pass between skin nerve endings. This means that most of the time there is so little sensation that you may not even know that you have a needle in.
Many patients feel relaxed once the needles have gone in, and the worst you are likely to experience is a short period of mild discomfort. Some points produce a dull, heavy feeling, others an ache, others a tingling feeling. If I’m treating very tense muscles, you may feel a stronger discomfort or muscle twitch. Very occasionally, people feel faint during a treatment.
I’ve been needled hundreds of times as part of my training. I won’t needle any points on you that I haven’t had demonstrated on me – so you can be sure I know exactly what it feels like!
Who can be treated?
Almost anyone can be treated with Western medical acupuncture. My training as a GP gives me very wide experience in diagnosing and treating all ages and most conditions. I hold both the Diploma in Child Health and the Diploma of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which gives me additional expertise when working with children and treating women with gynaecological problems.
Children and young adults can respond very well to acupuncture or acupressure. They don’t have to be needled to benefit, but any needles that are used are very fine (0.2mm in diameter). There are also alternative (but slightly less effective) ways to stimulate acupuncture points that avoid the use of needles.
If you are pregnant, you can safely have acupuncture, using certain points. It is important you tell me you’re pregnant before I give you any treatment.
If you take warfarin or any other anticoagulants, you can have acupuncture quite safely. I will take particular care regarding which points I use, how deeply I insert needles, and how I remove them. If you are on warfarin or any other anticoagulants please let me know before treatment starts.
If you are diabetic, I may or may not be able to treat you. I will need to know more about how the condition affects you before making a decision.
If you are a blood donor, you can normally continue to give blood, subject to the National Blood Service Guidelines – look under the “special circumstances” FAQ on the Give Blood website.
If you have a blood borne virus (such as Hepatitis or HIV) I am happy to discuss treatment; I must know before any treatment sessions if someone has a blood borne virus.
Please note that I am a qualified Health Care Professional registered with a statutory body, (the GMC).
Is it safe?
In the right hands, acupuncture is very safe. Minor side effects can include small bruises, or discomfort in the area needled. Sometimes people can feel drowsy or faint after a treatment. More serious side effects occur in fewer than 1 in 10,000 treatments.
Of the few reported cases of serious complications, almost all were caused by non sterile needles (causing viral infections), or poor technique in positioning the needles. As a medical doctor, I understand the risk factors. I only ever use single-use, sterile disposable needles, and I practice safe needling techniques as taught by the British Medical Acupuncture Society. I also ask about your general health before we start, to make sure there’s nothing in your medical history that might cause a problem.
I need to know if you
- carry any blood borne viruses (such as HIV, hepatitis B or C)
- if you have any heart valve defects
- if you have had a strong reaction to acupuncture in the past
- if you are on anticoagulants like warfarin, dabigatran, rivaroxaban etc,
- if you are allergic to copper, steel or silicon
- if you have a pacemaker or any other electrical implant