Acupuncture is an integral part of the rapid growth of complementary therapy in the UK. With an increasing number of people seeking acupuncture treatment it is important for patients and healthcare professionals to understand the difference between the two styles most commonly on offer.
Acupuncture as practised by members of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) is an holistic approach to health based on over 2,000 years of development and refinement in the Far East. The tradition is as much about the maintenance of health as the management of disease. Western or medical acupuncture is a more recent development practised predominantly by doctors and physiotherapists which uses a limited range of acupuncture techniques on the basis of a western medical diagnosis.
Although sometimes described merely as a means of pain relief, traditional acupuncture is actually used to treat people with a wide range of illnesses. Its focus is on improving the overall wellbeing of the patient, rather than the isolated treatment of specific symptoms. The skill of an acupuncturist lies in their ability to make a traditional diagnosis from what is often a complex pattern of disharmony. The exact pattern and degree of disharmony is unique to each individual and so following diagnosis, the acupuncturist puts together a personalised treatment plan.
According to traditional Chinese philosophy, our health is dependent on the body’s motivating energy – known as qi – moving in a smooth and balanced way through a series of meridians (channels) beneath the skin. The flow of qi can be disturbed by many factors, physical, mental and emotional: anxiety, stress, anger, fear or grief, poor nutrition, weather conditions, hereditary factors, infections, poisons and trauma. By inserting fine needles into the channels of energy, an acupuncturist can stimulate the body’s own healing response and help to restore its natural balance.
What will happen on my first visit?
Your first consultation may be longer than subsequent sessions. The acupuncturist needs to assess your general state of health in order to identify the underlying patterns of disharmony and give you the most effective treatment.
You will be asked about your current symptoms and what treatment you have received so far, your medical history and that of your close family, your diet, digestive system, sleeping patterns and emotional state. Once enough information has been gathered to determine the likely causes of your problems, the acupuncturist can select the most appropriate treatment.
To discover how the energies are flowing in your body, the acupuncturist is likely to feel your pulses on both wrists, noting their quality, rhythm and strength. The structure, colour and coating of your tongue also give a good guide to your physical health. The aim is to discover which energy channels need adjusting for your specific complaint to improve, and which require treatment to boost your overall energy and vitality.
Stimulating specific acupuncture points may affect the functioning of certain organs in the body. However, those points may not be close to the part of the body where the problem is experienced. For example, although you may suffer from headaches, needles may be inserted in your foot or hand. There are around 500 such acupuncture points on the body. A properly trained and experienced acupuncturist will use a selection of perhaps ten or twelve of these for each treatment. It is quite usual for different points to be selected as the patient’s condition changes during a course of treatment.
The acupuncturist may supplement needle treatment with moxa, a smouldering herb which is used to warm acupuncture points and encourage the body’s energy to flow smoothly. Other methods of stimulating acupuncture points include the use of lasers or electro-acupuncture. Massage or tapping with a rounded probe are techniques particularly suitable for small children or for people with a fear of needles.
It is helpful to wear loose, comfortable clothing for your treatment and you should be aware that your acupuncturist may need access to points on your torso as well as on your arms and legs.
What does it feel like?
Acupuncture needles bear little resemblance to the needles used in injections and blood tests. They are much finer and solid, not hollow. When a needle is inserted, the sensation is often described as a tingling or dull ache. Needles may be inserted and immediately removed, or may be left in place for thirty minutes or more, depending on the effect required.
During treatment, patients commonly experience a heaviness in the limbs or a pleasant feeling of relaxation. The benefits of acupuncture frequently include more than just relief from a particular condition. Many people find that it can also lead to increased energy levels, as well as better appetite and sleep, and an enhanced sense of overall wellbeing.
How can I find a qualified acupuncturist?
Members of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) have completed a thorough training of at least three years in traditional acupuncture and bio medical sciences appropriate to the practice of acupuncture. They carry the letters MBAcC after their name. The BAcC maintains common standards of education, ethics, discipline and practice to ensure the health and safety of the public at all times. Members are covered by Medical Malpractice and Public/ Products Liability insurance.
The BAcC office can post or fax to you a list of your local practitioner members free of charge. Simply telephone, write or e-mail giving your name and address (including full postcode).
A searchable online database of BAcC members is also available.
British Acupuncture Council
020 8735 0400
For enquiries contact: firstname.lastname@example.org