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What is acupuncture and how does it work?

In Chinese medicine illness is believed to be caused by an energy imbalance in the body. Acupuncture tries to correct this.

Sterile disposable needles are used to stimulate the body's 14 major energy-carrying channels - called meridians.

Acupuncture may also ease pain by helping to release pain-blocking chemicals called endorphins. The needles are used on acu-points around the body that are often close to nerves.

There's a slight aching feeling when these points are stimulated.

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 (long-term) pain.

Acupuncture is no longer recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a treatment option for persistent lower back pain. It remains 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 healthcare 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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