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Acupuncture Frequently Asked Questions

Is acupuncture safe?

Acupuncture is one of the safest medical treatments, both conventional and complementary, on offer in the UK.

Two surveys conducted independently of each other and published in the British Medical Journal in 2001 concluded that the risk of a serious adverse reaction to acupuncture is less than 1 in 10,000. This is far less than many orthodox medical treatments.

One survey was of traditional acupuncturists and the other of doctors who practise acupuncture. A total of 66,000 treatments were reviewed altogether, with only a handful of minor and transient side effects recorded.

A 2003 survey of 6,000 patients of acupuncture produced almost identical figures.

There are very few side effects from acupuncture when practised by a fully qualified practitioner of traditional acupuncture. Any minor side effects that do occur, such as dizziness or bruising around needle points, are mild and self-correcting.

When you receive treatment from a BAcC registered acupuncturist you can be confident that your wellbeing and safety is at the heart of everything your practitioner does.

What happens at my first visit?

Before your first acupuncture session there are several things you should bear in mind:

  • Many commonly used acupuncture points are located on the lower arms and legs, so it is helpful to wear clothing that allows easy access to these areas.
  • Try not to go for treatment on an empty stomach or straight after a heavy meal.
  • Do let your practitioner know if you are completely new to acupuncture so they can take extra time to explain what happens and ensure you are comfortable with the process.

During your first visit I need to gain a thorough understanding of your main complaint and your general health and lifestyle. This involves asking questions about your current symptoms and your medical history, as well as such things as your sleeping pattern, your appetite and digestion, and your emotional wellbeing. Women may also asked about their menstrual cycle and any past pregnancies and childbirth.

You might feel that some questions appear unrelated to your condition but the information you give helps me to form a more complete picture of your health and lifestyle. I will also take your pulse on both wrists and may examine your tongue and feel for areas of muscular tension or pain. And ask to see the area where the problem is occurring.

How will I feel after treatment?

Most people find acupuncture relaxing and often feel very calm after a treatment. You may feel a little tired or sleepy and should take this into account if you are planning to drive or use heavy machinery straight after your treatment.

You should refrain from vigorous exercise after treatment and, ideally, give yourself a little time to rest. It is also advisable not to drink alcohol for several hours after treatment.

Acupuncture has very few side effects and any that do occur are usually mild and self-correcting.

What is the British Acupuncture Council?

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has a membership of nearly 3,000 professionally qualified acupuncturists. It is the UK's largest professional body for the practice of acupuncture. BAcC members practise a traditional, holistic style of acupuncture diagnosis and treatment based on a system developed and refined over 2,000 years. To achieve BAcC membership, practitioners must first undertake extensive training in traditional acupuncture (minimum three years full-time or part-time equivalent), which includes physiology, anatomy and other biomedical sciences appropriate to the practice of acupuncture.

A brief history of acupuncture

Traditional acupuncture is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine - a tried and tested healthcare system that has been practised for thousands of years in China and the Far East. It has been developed, tested, researched and refined over centuries to give us a complex and detailed understanding of the body's energetic balance.

The first known book of Chinese Medicine, the Classic of Internal Medicine of the Yellow Emperor, dates back to between the first century BC and the first century AD. All styles of acupuncture currently practised around the world trace their roots back to this text.

Without the help of modern scientific equipment, ancient Chinese scholars discovered many now familiar aspects of biomedical science, such as the effect of emotional stress on the immune system. Traditional acupuncturists are no less scientific or sophisticated than western clinicians in their understanding of how the body functions, although to this day they use terminology that reflects Chinese medicine's cultural and historic origins.

In China during the early part of the twentieth century traditional medicine fell out of fashion as symptomatic healthcare treatments were imported from the West along with other cultural influences. Calls by western trained doctors to ban traditional Chinese medicine were rejected by the National Medical Assembly in Shanghai on 17 March 1929. This day is still celebrated every year as Chinese Doctors' Day.

Traditional Chinese medicine remained in the shadow of western medicine until the Long March of 1934-5. Without drugs, anaesthetics or surgery vast numbers of sick and wounded soldiers faced death until doctors of traditional Chinese medicine achieved amazing results using acupuncture and other traditional methods of treatment.

From this point on, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and western medicine were practised side by side in China. Under the People's Republic of China, established in 1948, all branches of TCM were nurtured and encouraged to grow. By 1978, whole hospitals and research departments were devoted to the practice of TCM.

Today traditional acupuncture is practised all around the world and clinical trials are now confirming its efficacy. More and more people are able to benefit as traditional acupuncture becomes a recognised option within standard healthcare.