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Acupuncture Treatment

What is acupuncture? 

Acupuncture has been used to treat many medical conditions, and it can be particularly useful for the treatment of pain. 

Scientific processes have been proposed to explain how acupuncture works. Treatment of acupuncture points is thought to stimulate the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord and brain. This stimulation may increase the production of the body’s own natural pain killing chemicals, influence the natural healing abilities of the body and promote physical and emotional well-being. 

The treatment consists of inserting needles to stimulate nerves in skin and muscle. No drugs are injected through the needles. Needles may be placed in tender areas of muscle or areas well away from the site of pain. Sometimes the needles may be further stimulated by hand or by a mild electrical current. 

As a treatment it can be used to relieve a wide range of painful conditions, but is most commonly used to treat: 

  • Pain in the muscles or joints for example back, neck and chest pain. 
  • Headaches 
  • Fibromyalgia. 

What are the benefits? 

Acupuncture is generally regarded as a safe treatment, with few side effects. Some people will get good pain relief. Unfortunately not all patients will respond, and we can never guarantee the results. 

What are the the options for treatment? 

The pain management clinic has a range of different treatments including transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), various forms of injection therapy, psychological approaches, physiotherapy and different medications. Not all of these treatments may be suitable for you. The doctor in charge of your care will be happy to discuss other treatment options. 

How should I prepare for the procedure? 

It is often helpful to wear loose fitting clothing. You may be asked to change into a gown for your treatment or just to expose the painful area. 

You may wish to have someone with you to accompany you home following your first treatment, as you may feel sleepy. It is important that you do not drive yourself home if you are drowsy. 

What will happen when I arrive for treatment? 

At your first appointment you will meet with the doctor that is providing your treatment. The procedure will be explained and you will be asked if you would like to have the treatment. 

The doctor assessing you for the acupuncture will ask about your pain and ask questions about your general health. They will need to know if you are taking: 

  • Medication to thin the blood – ( e.g. aspirin, Clopidogrel or warfarin ) 
  • If you have a pacemaker or other implant 
  • If there is a possibility you may be pregnant 
  • If there has been any change in your general health 

The doctor will examine you to identify tender areas. The needles will usually be inserted around the area you feel the pain, although they can be placed in areas away from your pain like the hands and feet. The needles are usually left in for a period of time ranging from a few seconds up to 20 minutes. 

You need to allow yourself between ½ an hour and 1 hour for your total treatment. 

Do the needles hurt? 

Many people worry about this. The needles are very fine and most patients are sur-prised at how little they feel them. Once the needle is in place you may feel a warm heavy sensation around the needle, this is usually quite pleasant. 

What are the side-effects and complications? 

In general, acupuncture is not associated with a lot of side effects or complications. The common side effects if they occur will only last a period of a few hours up to a couple of days. Feelings of fatigue, nausea and headache are associated with the body’s response to the acupuncture and are not permanent. 

Common side-effects: 

  • Temporary drowsiness often described as a pleasant feeling of fatigue 
  • Temporary increase in pain 
  • Minor bleeding or bruising 
  • Nausea and headache 

Rare side-effects: 

  • Fainting can occur in certain patients particularly at the first treatment. 
  • Broken needle 

Very rare complications: 

  • Infection – risk is greatly reduced because only sterile disposable needles are used
  • Puncture of the lung – this can only occur if needles are inserted over the chest. The needle will be inserted at an angle to greatly reduce this risk. The puncture usually recovers by itself but sometimes will require a minor operation to remove the air

Following the treatment you may wish to rest for a short period if you feel sleepy, otherwise you will be ready to go straight home. 

You may not notice an improvement in your pain straight after the acupuncture. It may take two or three treatments before you notice any change. Treatments are normally given at weekly intervals. Most people need a course of treatment to gain the most benefit. 

  • Last Updated:
    01 April 2024
  • Review Date:
    01 April 2028
  • Author:
    Pain Team
  • Summary:

    Acupuncture has been used to treat many medical conditions, and it can be particularly useful for the treatment of pain.


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