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14. Acupuncture and Acupressure

My neighbor has suggested that I try acupuncture. What actually is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a Chinese traditional therapy where very fine needles are inserted at specific points around the body.

It is based on the premise that these points lie on ‘meridians’ along which the body energy flows. This body energy, or ‘chi’, is a balance between the positive and negative – the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’. When this energy or chi goes out of balance, the body experiences symptoms and these can be corrected by using the needles to release the blockage. Different points relate to specific body organs and are used to treat specific conditions. The needles are left in for 30 minutes.

I am not sure I fancy the thought of needles being stuck in me. How many will be used, and will I feel them?

You will not really feel the needles, as they are very fine indeed. You can expect between four and ten needles to be used. There will probably be some sensation connected with the needles but some practitioners believe that this shows that the acupuncture point is being stimulated.

Even if I accept that having needles stuck in me won’t hurt, how safe is acupuncture?

Although there is no formal system for reporting problems experienced with acupuncture, it does seem to be a safe form of treatment. Serious problems are usually associated with poor practice, the most common being forgotten needles and transient low blood pressure; less common problems include localised bruising or a flare-up of symptoms.

Who can do acupuncture?

If it’s just anyone, I don’t think I want to risk it! Anyone can be an acupuncturist, provided they complete the necessary training. Many different health-care professionals have trained to give acupuncture as part of their role, including doctors, nurses, midwives and physiotherapists, but an acupuncturist does not have to have a medical background.

Doctors and nurses have to train for years. How long do acupuncturists have to train?

Professional acupuncturists train for up to three or four year’s fulltime and may have a university degree on completion, or complete further training in Chinese herbalism. Medical acupuncturists undergo fewer training hours, often during weekend courses, and

learn a small range of techniques only.

If acupuncturists have all this training, do they have to be registered as well?

In United Kingdom the training for acupuncture is independently accredited by the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board. Ordinary practitioners of acupuncture are registered with and regulated by the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC).

Physiotherapists who also do acupuncture are regulated by the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP).

Doctors, who will already have completed a medical degree and other forms of postgraduate training, can complete a Certificate of Basic Competence and a Diploma of Medical Acupuncture via the British Medical Acupuncture Society.

Can acupuncture help my migraine?

Acupuncture is thought to stimulate the release of a range of chemicals (neurotransmitters) called endorphins, encephalins and serotonin. Endorphins and encephalins are opioid peptides and are the body’s natural painkillers. It may be that the release of these chemicals during the treatment relieves the pain of the migraine headache. Acupuncture can also help treat nausea and thus can relieve this symptom during the migraine attack.

Acupuncture may help your migraine symptoms or may reduce the total number of attacks you experience: the only way you will know is by trying it out. The benefit may be short-lived or permanent; if it is only short-lived, the effect can be sustained by repeating the treatment from time to time, perhaps every four to six weeks.

Can acupuncture help my tension-type headache?

Acupuncture can be of benefit for a range of pain conditions and so it may well ease or relieve your headache. The only way to find out is to try a course of perhaps four treatments. If four treatments have no effect, though, it is probably not worth pursuing further.

Acupuncture sounds as though it’s worth trying. How can I find an acupuncturist?

You could ask your doctor, who might already know of someone locally.

How can I tell if acupuncture is making a difference to my migraine?

It depends on what you mean by ‘difference’. It may be that acupuncture can reduce the severity of symptoms during the acute attack, or shorten the length of the attack, or make the attack easier to treat or reduce the total number of headache days experienced. You need to decide which of these options best reflects what you want or expect from the course of treatment. If you are lucky, it may improve or modify one or all of these areas. You won’t know until you try, as there is no way of predicting if acupuncture can help you.

How many acupuncture sessions am I likely to need to make a difference?

That is quite difficult to answer. If you notice no change after four sessions, it is unlikely to make a difference. If it is making a difference, you may need as few as six or as many as twelve sessions to produce an improvement.

I found that the last time I had some acupuncture it settled my headache down really well but they seemed to creep back in again after a few months.

Do I need to keep it ‘topped up’?

If it has worked well but the symptoms come back after you have completed a course of treatment, you may find that having a session every four to six weeks is all you need to do to keep things under control. Talk to the acupuncturist about this.

What is the difference between acupressure and acupuncture?

Whereas acupuncture uses needles, acupressure uses finger pressure at specific points along the body to treat pain, including headache, and a variety of conditions associated with stress. If you hate the idea of needles, this is certainly worth a try.

Can I apply acupressure myself?

There is no reason why not. We often apply pressure instinctively when we experience pain by massaging an area that feels sore or uncomfortable. All you need to do is learn the points that you can use if you feel a headache building.

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