Acupuncture is the practice of stimulating specific points along the skin of the body using very thin needles.
It is a form of alternative medicine and a component of traditional Chinese medicine. It's believed that stimulation of these points corrects imbalances in the flow of energy through the body, and induces the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that have pain relieving and anti inflammatory effects.
There are many uses for acupuncture, one of the most common is to relieve pain. Acupuncture can be useful for those who experience chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia, headaches, low back pain, osteoarthritis and tennis elbow. It's also used for labour pain, menstrual cramps, migraines, dental pain and for those who suffer from chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
Your acupuncturist will discuss your symptoms with you and talk you through the treatment you will be given.
The first session can take up to an hour and later ones around 30 minutes. Six to 12 treatments, spread over a few months, are usually needed for each complaint.
Depending on what is being treated, 5 to 20 needles are gently inserted into your skin. You may feel an aching sensation when they are first placed but it should not be painful. The needles remain for 10-20 minutes while you relax and may be moved or twirled.
At times you may experience tingling or aching sensations. Let your accupunturist know if it becomes too uncomfortable or you experience any pain. When the needles are removed you may be a bit sore, sometimes with bruising and a little bleeding.
It is rare, but needles pushed too deeply may puncture an organ, especially the lungs. There is risk of infection from reused needles. However, licensed acupuncturists are required to use sterile, disposable needles. Seek advice before acupuncture if you have a bleeding disorder or taking blood thinners, have a pacemaker or are pregnant.
How do we know it works?
There is some scientific evidence acupuncture has a beneficial effect for chronic lower back pain, chronic tension-type headaches and migraine. While widely promoted for many other conditions, the evidence is less clear.
Evidence for and against acupuncture NHS Choices (UK), 2013