Osteopaths use a wide variety of treatments to manage pain and encourage normal function in their patients. Once of those treatments in acupuncture, one of the many therapies in traditional Chinese medicine.

Very fine needles are inserted into the skin to stimulate the flow of ‘Qi’, often written chi and pronounced chee. This is the body’s own healing energy which flows in specific channels through the body, known as meridians. Traditional acupuncture looks at these blockages as responsible for illness and poor health conditions. The aim of treatment is to unblock the meridians and allow chi to flow normally again.

Western medical practitioners do not follow the traditional explanation of the reasons why acupuncture might be effective but use it to stimulate release of pain-easing chemicals called endorphins. Other benefits from the chemical stimulation caused by acupuncture needles are the promotion of better sleep and an increased feeling of well-being.

Many osteopaths use acupuncture, trigger point acupuncture and acupressure to relieve pain and speed recovery.

What Is Acupuncture Used For?

Osteopaths use acupuncture as an addition to their regular osteopathic techniques in an attempt to reduce pain and induce relaxation. In this way other treatment methods may then be more successful as the pain is controlled.

Acupuncture is used for a very large number of conditions with the vast majority being pain related to the musculoskeletal system. This includes injuries, neck and low back pain, arthritis, headaches and migraine.

A long list of other conditions may include fatigue, dental pain, depression, anxiety, infertility, asthma, insomnia, phobias or addictions and irritable bowel (IBS)

The Evidence For Acupuncture

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) does not recommend acupuncture to treat migraine, tension-type headaches or lower back pain. However, other scientific opinions do not agree and some suggest that acupuncture is a useful and low risk addition to the armoury of treatments for pain.

Risks Of Acupuncture

Provided the practitioner has had appropriate training, the risk of acupuncture is very low. The practitioner should either be a qualified healthcare professional or have trained with an accredited acupuncture organisation.

Known side-effects are drowsiness, nausea or dizziness in a few patients and these usually settle down very quickly. A small amount of bleeding or bruising at the places where the needles were inserted may occur.

Serious side-effects such as infection or tissue damage are very rare  and you can protect yourself by checking that your practitioner is properly accredited.

It’s worth discussing the wisdom of this treatment with your doctor if you have certain medical conditions or are taking particular medications. People with a metal allergy, haemophiliacs and anyone taking blood thinners for various conditions should tell their osteopath so she or he can make the best decision.

Screening for potential risks will be done by your osteopath when they take your medical history in the first part of your examination.

What Happens In An Acupuncture Session?

After your practitioner has asked you about your pain or other problem they will know whether an acupuncture session will be suitable or not.

During treatment you will likely be lying down on a couch and you may have to take some of your clothes off if the needles need to be inserted in particular areas of the body.

Acupuncture needles are very fine and single-use, are sterile and the osteopath discards them after each treatment.

During the treatment your osteopath will insert a number of needles into some of the acupuncture points at particular points or along the meridians on the body. Most needles are placed a short distance into the skin but in some cases they can be placed deeper. Needles can remain for up to 30 minutes but the amount of time may be much shorter.

You may get some tingling or a dull ache when the needles go in but this typically eases very quickly. It’s not normal to feel any significant pain so if you do you should tell your osteopath.

Some practitioners may rotate the needles during treatment or hook you up to a weak electric current, known as electroacupuncture.

Types Of Acupuncture Treatment

  • Instead of using needles, an osteopath may exert firm pressure on either acupuncture points or tender trigger points in the muscles. This can be useful for children, anxious patients and people who just don’t like needles.
  • Trigger point acupuncture targets the trigger points where a muscle is locally contracted and causing discomfort radiating out from that spot. Once the tender and tight spot relaxes then stretching and other treatment techniques can be employed.
  • In electroacupuncture a specific frequency of mild electric current is connected to the needles. In some cases, a practitioner may use a TENS machine for this.
  • Moxibustion and cupping  are part of the Chinese traditional approach. Cupping works by applying a suction force to the skin to cause a local blood congestion in the area. This can leave round marks on the skin which fade in a few hours or days.