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Acupuncture

What is acupuncture and how does it work?

Sixteenth century Chinese doctors believed that illness was due to an imbalance of energy in the body. In acupuncture, disposable, stainless steel needles are used to stimulate the body's 14 major meridians, or energy-carrying channels, to resist or overcome illnesses and conditions by correcting these imbalances.

Acupuncture is also thought to decrease pain by increasing the release of chemicals that block pain, called endorphins. Many acu-points are near nerves. When stimulated, these nerves cause a dull ache or feeling of fullness in the muscle. The stimulated muscle sends a message to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), causing the release of endorphins (morphine-like chemicals produced in our own bodies during times of pain or stress). Endorphins, along with other neurotransmitters (body chemicals that modify nerve impulses), block the message of pain from being delivered up to the brain.

What conditions are treated with acupuncture?

Although acupuncture is not a "cure-all" treatment, it can be very effective in treating several diseases and conditions. Acupuncture is believed by some to be most effective at treating chronic pain.

Acupuncture is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a treatment option for persistent lower back pain. It is also an option to help prevent chronic tension-type headache.

Other uses for acupuncture include:

Acupuncture has also been used in treating obesity and addictions such as smoking, though evidence is lacking for this. Acupuncture may improve breathing with COPD.

The British Medical Acupuncture Society says research has yet to confirm whether or not acupuncture is useful in the management of weight loss.

Importantly, don't rely on acupuncture for treatment of chronic or serious illness unless you see a doctor first. Acupuncture may not be the only way to improve your condition. Your health-care provider may recommend acupuncture treatment along with other treatment methods such as physiotherapy or medication. For certain conditions, such as cancer, acupuncture should only be performed in combination with other treatments.

What happens during acupuncture treatment?

The acupuncturist places a hair-thin, metal needle into the skin. The number of needles used during treatment can vary and are placed at various depths. They are placed under the skin in carefully determined points on the body.

After the needles have been inserted, they stay in place for several minutes to half an hour or longer. During the treatment, acupuncture needles are twirled, energised electrically, or warmed to intensify the effect of the treatment. When electricity is applied, a tingling sensation is common. However, if the sensation becomes too strong, you can ask your acupuncturist to reduce the electricity at any time.

In a treatment series, the acupuncturist will use different combinations of points, different needling techniques, or both. These combinations help stimulate new sources of healing as the person's response to treatment is observed.

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