Acupuncture is a treatment that involves the insertion of extremely fine needles into specific points into the body. This procedure stimulates the nerves in the skin, muscle and other tissues increasing the release of the body’s own natural painkillers, including endorphins and serotonin. These neurotransmitters modify the way pain signals are received by the brain causing pain reduction and often also an improved sense of wellbeing.
Current research shows that acupuncture can effect most of the body’s systems – the nervous system, muscle tone, hormone production, circulation and immune system as well as respiratory, digestive, urinary and reproductive systems.
Does it hurt and is it safe?
As the needles are very fine, most patients feel little or nothing, when insertion takes place. Often patients do not realise that the needle has already been placed. Some patients are more sensitive (these patients often respond particularly well to acupuncture) and only a very gently and superficial approach will be adopted. Acupuncture is safe, when administered by a well trained health professional.
How many treatments will I need?
It is impossible to predict upfront how quickly your body will respond to acupuncture. Since acupuncture works through harnessing the body’s own pain relieving and repair mechanism, there is a substantial variation in the response of different individuals.
About 10% of people are what we call “acupuncture strong responders”. This means that they will notice dramatic and lasting benefit from just a few sessions. At the other end of the spectrum are about 10% of people who we consider “acupuncture non-responders”. These people will not benefit from acupuncture, no matter how many treatments they receive. The remaining 80% of people fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
If you are going to respond to the therapy, you can expect to see some positive changes within 3-4 sessions. This does not mean that your symptoms are gone within this period of time, only that your pain or symptoms are less severe, you are sleeping more restfully, your mood is brighter, you are having more “good days” than you did before, etc. This is an encouraging result which suggests that with continuing care you will experience more and more relief.
Young people in good health with acute problems often only require 2-3 treatments. Older individuals and those with chronic health problems typically require a longer course of treatment. In these cases, treatment is divided into three phases:
Acute care – During this phase, treatments are scheduled weekly (or 2-3 times per week in severe cases). The goal during this phase is to relieve symptoms and to start the process of addressing the underlying cause of pain or health problems.
Convalescent care – During this phase, treatments are usually scheduled every two weeks. The goal during this phase is to maintain symptomatic relief while focusing on resolving underlying disharmonies and preventing future problems.
Maintenance care – During this phase, treatments are scheduled once a month or four times per year (usually at the change of seasons). The goal during this phase of care is to maintain the progress we have made and to support your vitality and overall wellbeing.
The length of time you spend in each phase depends on a number of factors, including:
- Whether your problem is acute or chronic
- How long you have had the problem
- Whether you can avoid the conditions that caused your problem
- Your age
- Your general state of health
- How readily your body responds to acupuncture (see above)
- Whether or not you follow the instructions you are given regarding diet and lifestyle
Progress will be faster if you faithfully follow your treatment plan by keeping your appointments, taking your homeopathic medicine (if applicable) and following any advice that you are given about dietary or lifestyle changes.
How old is it?
Techniques resembling acupuncture have been used for over 5000 years. A comprehensive system was developed in the Far East and this was first introduced into Europe in the 17th century. Widespread interest in the technique developed in the 1970s, when travel restrictions between East and West were eased. Considerable scientific research has been done in the last forty years discovering many of the mechanisms of how acupuncture actually works. Modern imaging techniques have demonstrated changes in brain activity following acupuncture, particularly those areas responsible for the processing of pain and suffering.