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13. Acupuncture

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a treatment that has been practised for several thousand years. In China it is a standard form of medical treatment. The key principles behind it are:

• We all have a vital energy called Ch’i flowing throughout our bodies along pathways called meridians;

• If we are ill it is due to an imbalance in the body’s Ch’i;

• This means that at least one of our 12 meridians is blocked – the Ch’i is not able to flow and so symptoms of disease appear in the parts of the body corresponding to the meridians;

• By inserting very fine special needles into certain points (acupoints) which lie along the meridians, energy can be diverted to areas where it is needed to treat the imbalance in Ch’i.

Can acupuncture be used to treat breast cancer?

No, but acupuncture is documented to relieve chronic pain, especially in combination with massage. Another form of acupuncture is electro-acupuncture, where a pulsating electrical current is applied to the acupuncture needles as a means of stimulating the acupoints; this was developed in China around 1934. Studies suggest that it may relieve sickness and fatigue arising from chemotherapy.

How many sessions of acupuncture would I need?

This is hard to say. How long treatment will last and how often you will need it to maintain any beneficial effects will vary from person to person. It will also depend on why you are having it and how long you have had the symptoms that you wish to treat.

Acupuncture to treat nausea and vomiting, for example, is given before each chemotherapy treatment begins. Acupuncture is often considered as an effective short-term treatment to bring immediate relief rather than a treatment with effects which last for months.

Do acupuncturists have to be specially trained?

Yes, they do. Some acupuncturists are medically qualified doctors, dentists, nurses or physiotherapists who have then been trained in acupuncture. Others may not have a medical background but have been trained as acupuncturists. It is one element of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Can I get acupuncture on the National Healtcare System (NHS?

Some acupuncturists do provide treatment on the NHS, working in hospitals or clinics.

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