What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the insertion of fine single use stainless steel needles into predetermined points on the body for therapeutic affect.
The word ‘acupuncture’ is derived from the Latin words ‘acu’ which means needle and ‘punctura’ which translates into puncture, a term first proposed by the Dutch physician, William Ten Rhyne, in the 17th century. Acupuncture is one aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (usually abbreviated to TCM) which also includes Chinese Herbal Medicine, Tuina (a form of massage), Dietary Therapy, and special Exercise Therapy known as Qi Gong.
How does it work?
In short, there is no widely accepted theory as to how acupuncture works. The traditional Chinese theory holds that the body’s life energy called Qi (pronounced Chee) travels around the body in pathways called meridians. The acupuncturist views illness as an energetic imbalance and is able to influence this imbalance by inserting very fine needles at certain points along these channels called Acupoints. The acupuncturist may also use heat treatment (called Moxibustion) or Cupping in the treatment.
Much research show that acupuncture causes a release of endorphins, the body’s naturally produced painkillers. Research also indicates that acupuncture causes beneficial effects to the body’s immune and endocrine systems. A good deal of research has been carried out on the ‘Gate Theory’ first proposed in 1965 which basically held that the insertion of an acupuncture needle can interrupt the signals from the sensory nerve endings to the brain and thus have an analgesic effect. However most modern research is focusing on the theory that acupuncture has profound neurophysiological effects and up to details of current research can be found on the US National Institutes of Health website (www.nih.gov)
What books can I read to learn more?
There are literally hundreds of books on TCM and acupuncture and it is difficult to distinguish what books are suitable for the general public and what books are really textbooks for the acupuncture practitioner. The following books are excellent for the reader who wishes to know more about acupuncture/TCM without getting bogged down in textbook detail.
‘The Web that has no Weaver’, Ted. Kaptchuk, Rev. 2000 Edn, Contemporary Books Inc.,
‘A Guide to Acupuncture’, Firebrace & Hill, 1988, Hamyln Publishing,
‘Principles of Acupuncture’, Angela Hicks, 1997, Thorsons,
‘Between Heaven & Earth – A Guide to Chinese Medicine’, Harriet Beinfield & Efrem Korngold, 1992, Ballantine Books Inc., ISBN 0-3453-7974-8
These books can be ordered through major booksellers or on the web via www.amazon.co.uk
What can Acupuncture do for me?
It depends on the nature of your condition and many other variables such as your overall health, age, etc. Some people react very well to acupuncture treatment, others poorly or not at all. Click here to view conditions/disorders for which acupuncture has been helpful. The only true way of establishing whether or not Acupuncture can help you is to actually undergo a series of treatments and then decide for yourself.
Where can I find a qualified acupuncturist?
Go to the find an acupuncturist section to find a member of the Acupuncture Council of Ireland practicing near you.
What should I look for in an acupuncturist?
Ensure firstly that the Acupuncturist is a Member of ACI and carries full Professional Indemnity Insurance. Your personal rapport with the Acupuncturist is important so try to find somebody with whom you feel comfortable, who understands what you want to achieve from treatment and who will take the time to explain how he/she feels acupuncture can help you. Just like orthodox medicine, acupuncture has its limitations also so ask about previous experience with conditions similar to your own and the signs and symptoms that indicate progress.
Finally confirm that your chosen practitioner uses single use sterile disposable needles only. Leave immediately if the practitioner re-uses needles. All Members of the ACI use only single use sterile disposable needles. Members are also bound by strict Codes of Clinical Practice and Professional Ethics.
What should I expect from my first consultation?
The first consultation will usually take from 40 minutes to an hour depending on your condition. Follow up visits are shorter (15-45 minutes on average). The practitioner will take a detailed case history (including your medical case history & GP contact details) and may ask you questions that appear irrelevant to your condition such as social habits, family history, diet, your emotional status etc. If you are uncomfortable with any question then ask the practitioner its relevance. Remember that the practitioner does not see you as somebody with a particular named condition, he/she sees you as a person who has this particular imbalance which requires a holistic approach, hence the need for probing questions which may not be of a medical nature at all. In fact, two patients with the same Western condition (e.g. migraine) may be treated differently by the practitioner as he/she is treating two completely different individuals who happen to have the same Western condition.
In fact, many people derive a therapeutic benefit from just being able to talk to somebody about their condition, remember however, an Acupuncturist is not a trained Mental Health Professional and should not be used as a substitute for counselling! If you feel that you require counselling for any aspect of your life it is probably better to talk it over with your GP first and he/she can then instigate the appropriate referral.
Having taken the detailed case history mentioned above, the practitioner may take your blood pressure, look at your tongue and spend time taking your pulses. Having arrived at a diagnosis and treatment protocol, the practitioner will try to outline this to you. If there is anything you do not understand then ask questions. The practitioner will outline where needles are to be inserted and for how long. He/she may also use moxibustion and cupping techniques. Dietary advice may also be offered.
The practitioner will then ask you to undress to the level necessary for the insertion of the needles, points on the limbs are most commonly used. If your condition is of a musculoskeletal nature (e.g. back pain, muscle strain, tendinitis etc.), the practitioner may use a small battery-powered TENS machine attached to the needles. If you are in any doubt at any time as to what is going on then ask the practitioner, there is a very good reason why needles are being inserted into your feet when your problem is a headache!
What should I do before treatment?
Try not to have a big meal within 2 hours of your appointment, as the process of digestion will alter your pulse. Also avoid alcohol and drinks containing caffeine (coffee, Coke etc,) and other stimulants. Also avoid eating or drinking anything that could temporally change the natural colour of your tongue e.g. beetroot, chocolate etc.
Since the practitioner may need to insert needles in your back, abdomen etc., wear easily removable casual clothing, your practitioner will be mindful of your right to privacy and modesty.
Do the needles hurt?
Most people’s experience of needles is that of those used to give injections, take blood etc. Acupuncture needles differ from these hypodermic syringes in that they are much finer and are solid rather than hollow, they are designed to part the skin without cutting the tissues. Sterile stainless steel needles are commonly used with a diameter of between 0.25mm to 0.45mm which is about the thickness of a human hair.
You may experience a slight prick as the needle penetrates the skin but this is a momentary experience, most people would describe the feeling as virtually painless or no more painful than plucking out a hair. What happens after the needle is inserted is of much more importance and you must provide feedback on what you are feeling to your practitioner. Most people feel a dull ache, tingling or feeling of heaviness or numbness around the area where the needle is, occasionally a mild electrical pulsation radiating away from the site of the needle is felt. Reactions such as these to needling are of vital clinical importance to the Acupuncturist and signify that the Qi has been accessed, i.e. De Chi (pronounced De Chee). The needles are then left in place from 15 to 30 minutes and may be occasionally manipulated by the Practitioner.
Removal of the needles causes no discomfort and minor bleeding may sometimes occur which can be stemmed with a cotton swab. The practitioner may also insert needles into the surface of your ear (Auricular Acupuncture) depending on your condition. Some facial acupoints may bruise after needling so if a minor facial bruise bothers you then tell your practitioner and usually another acupoint can be selected elsewhere on your body. It is vital that you tell your practitioner if you suffer from any diseases transmissible by blood (e.g. HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis etc.) or if you are on any blood thinning medication, these facts should come out during the Case History but you must disclose this to your practitioner.
It is also vital that you tell your practitioner if you are (or even suspect that you might be) pregnant as some acupoints are contraindicated during pregnancy and neither you nor your practitioner will want to take any unnecessary risks with your pregnancy.
How will I feel after receiving Acupuncture treatment?
Acupuncturists sometimes categorise patients into Strong Responders and Weak Responders i.e. some people will experience some relief of their symptoms after one treatment while others will require several treatments to experience any benefits. Most people would describe the actual treatment itself as relaxing and calming.
Sometimes 24 to 48 hours after treatment some people will feel slight mood changes as well as physiological reactions such as changes in bladder and bowel function. In some cases a person’s symptoms may become worse and this usually indicates to the Acupuncturist that the body is responding to treatment and this is a transitory phase. However if you feel particularly bothered about any aspect of your health or your symptoms are worsening beyond your tolerance or you develop new symptoms then you should contact your GP.
How many treatments will I need?
There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on so many variables such as the nature of your condition, your overall health, how long you have had this particular condition, your response to acupuncture treatment and, indeed, the skill and experience of your chosen practitioner.
As once-off miracle cures are still rare, you should commit yourself to a course of treatment and be prepared to give it a chance. Usually, if your condition is going to respond, then you can expect to see results after about 4-6 treatments. Acupuncture treatments seem to have a cumulative effect with each treatment building in the effects of the previous treatments. It is thus not unusual to see little or no improvement after the earlier treatments but to suddenly experience an improvement in your condition after about the 7th or 8th treatments as if you had passed some kind of threshold. This is why it is important to commit to a course of treatments. However, if you are experiencing no improvement after about 10-12 treatments, then you may be one of those people whose condition is not amenable to acupuncture. At this point you should discuss this with your practitioner and re-evaluate acupuncture as a treatment for your particular condition. Your practitioner may be able to refer you to another complementary medicine practitioner who has had success with conditions similar to yours.
It is important to note that if acupuncture didn’t work for you then that is not to say that acupuncture will not work for somebody else with a condition such as yours, as Acupuncturists treat people on a holistic basis, just because your migraine condition did not respond is not an indication that somebody else’s migraine condition will not respond, everybody responds on an individual basis.
Does acupuncture have side effects?
In short, no. Acupuncture is about re-balancing the body’s energy and quite often a sense of relaxation and general wellbeing results after a course of treatments. Because of this re-balancing effect, other conditions may resolve or become less bothersome while you are undergoing treatment for a different condition. Even if you are treated inappropriately by a practitioner, the body is likely to compensate for this and nullify the effects of the inappropriate treatment.
Is Acupuncture safe?
Acupuncture is a safe form of treatment if performed by a well trained, conscientious practitioner who has a good knowledge of human anatomy and who uses single use sterile disposable needles.
Your ACI member is bound by a strict Code of Clinical Practice and is well aware of infectious and notifiable diseases and is obliged to take every measure to ensure your (and his/her) health. However, inserting needles into the human body is an invasive technique and some Acupoints have the ability to cause harm to underlying anatomical structures, if you are in any doubt, ask the practitioner to justify his/her use and experience of these particular Acupoints and ask that an alternate Acupoint be selected if you are still uneasy.
Where does my GP fit into all this?
Don’t be surprised if you visit an acupuncturist who suggests that you should make an appointment to see your GP first, the skill of any acupuncturist is knowing when to treat and when to seek an expert medical opinion.
Since many people seek acupuncture treatment without a referral from their GP, an acupuncturist can frequently pick up signs and symptoms such as hypertension, changes in bowel habits, suspicious skin lesions, persistent cough with blood etc. which warrant early GP intervention.
Should I discontinue my prescribed medication if I begin to feel better after acupuncture treatment?
The unequivocal answer to this is no! The decision to prescribe medication is made by your GP having evaluated your condition and based on many years of training and clinical experience. You should never change your medication regimen without consulting your GP and getting his/her agreement. Your acupuncturist (unless he/she is also your GP) is not qualified to advise you on making changes to your medication and any acupuncturist who advises you to do so should be immediately reported to his/her governing association.
Many people seek acupuncture treatment because of dissatisfaction with medication, perhaps it doesn’t seem to be working or the side effects are unacceptable. If this is the case then you should review this with your GP who may be able to select a different drug or vary the treatment protocol. While you may begin to feel better after several acupuncture treatments and feel that you are less reliant on your medication, never discontinue prescribed medication without reviewing this with your GP.
Is Acupuncture available on the GMS?
Acupuncture is not available for reimbursement on the GMS at the present time despite several reports calling for acupuncture to be made available on the GMS and within HSE hospitals.
The cost of Acupuncture treatment is re-imbursable by Hibernian Health, VHI and Quinn Healthcare Outpatient Schemes and Members of the ACI are recognised by Hibernian Health, VHI and Quinn Healthcare in this regard (check your policy and excess for details)
I am a frequent blood donor, can I have acupuncture treatment?
The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) stipulates that you cannot donate blood if you have had acupuncture treatment within the previous 6 months unless the treatment was administered by a GP. If you have any doubts about this then ring the IBTS Donor info line 1850 731 137 or check their website at www.ibts.ie
Does Acupuncture and TCM have limits?
Of course they do, Acupuncture and TCM are powerful healing systems but they are not panaceas nor are they the solution to every health problem. Both Western medicine and TCM have their respective strengths and weaknesses which is why, in modern China, the two systems are used together. When appropriately combined, both systems have a synergistic effect which serves the patient well.
As a broad rule, acute life threatening conditions are best dealt with by Western medicine, routine and chronic conditions for which drug therapy and surgery have not been effective often benefit from Acupuncture/TCM.
Is Acupuncture regulated in Ireland?
No, the practice of acupuncture is not currently regulated in Ireland and anybody can call themselves an acupuncturist. This is changing however as the Department of Health & Children has established a Consultative Forum with a number of Associations representing Acupuncture/TCM and other practitioners of Complementary Medicine with a view to establishing a framework for regulation and a report is now gone to Government. ACI is the Irish regulatory body for acupuncture and TCM in Ireland.
My question is not answered here?
E-mail your question to the ACI on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will endeavour to answer your question.