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Traditional Chinese Acupuncture along with Western Medical Acupuncture are some of the most popular used therapies within the UK. Acupuncture is grounded in over 2000 years of history and is backed up by modern evidence-based research to treat a variety of conditions from headaches to menopausal problems. The concept of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture is to bring balance to the body. There are many energy forces within the body that require balance in order to achieve optimal health. Two forces that are commonly referred to are Yin (negative) and Yang (positive). Treatment with Acupuncture is undertaken with the aim to restore all the body’s systems to a state of balance, which is called homeostasis. This is done by needling certain points on the body called meridians. These meridians function as a network, much like a highway system, that can be mapped out throughout the entire body. Once needled, they help to address the body’s balance by helping the energy flow through the body.

What actually happens when needled? When the needle penetrates the skin, it activates sensory receptors which sends impulses to the spinal cord, which then branches off into 3 different areas: the spinal cord itself, the mid-brain, and the pituitary hypothalamic complex (the command centre for hormones). Within the spinal cord, there is a release of endorphins which prevent the transmission of pain signals. Within the mid-brain, impulses trigger monoamines, these monoamines can help pain suppression. Within the pituitary hypothalamic complex there is a release of hormones and beta-endorphin into the circulation, cortisol is subsequently released into the blood which produces anti-inflammatory effect and helps to regulate hormones. All these actions together form a powerful healing mechanism and provide short and long term benefit.

Where do you get needled? Typically, needles are put in the area of discomfort (local area), as well as another area of the body which is further away (distal area). The local area tends to activate the receptors within the spinal cord, and the distal area tends to activate the receptors in the mid-brain and pituitary hypothalamic complex. Generally, the two kinds of needling (local and distal) are used together on each patient to enhance one another. If you came in for shoulder ache/pain, the usual treatment would involve needling the shoulders themselves, as well as the distal area, perhaps the hands or feet.

What do you feel? Depending on where the needle is inserted, you may feel nothing initially. The needles are so fine that many people don’t realise they’re in. Once the needle is in, you may start to feel a dull ache or tingling… but this is good! This is the unique sensation called De Qi. This means your body has responded positively to the Acupuncture, and the treatment is working. Research has also shown that if you don’t feel De Qi, there is still a good chance the treatment will benefit you. Typically an Acupuncture session can last from 10-30 minutes depending on the condition and how your body responds to Acupuncture. 

Safety – Acupuncture is a very safe form of therapy, contrary to popular belief. Once a needle has been used for an effective treatment, it is quickly disposed of and not re-used. We also make sure to not touch the shaft of the needle to prevent any chance of infection.

Electro-Acupuncture – Acupuncture can also be used with small amount of electricity. Sending low currents through the needles can be particularly effective with conditions such as headaches and migraines. If you would like to know more, please click here.

One major hypothesis is that acupuncture works through neurohormonal pathways. Basically, you put the needle through specific points in the body and stimulate the nerve. The nerve actually sends signals to the brain, and the brain releases neural hormones such as beta-Endorphins. By doing that, the patient may feel euphoric, or happy, and this increases the pain threshold and they feel less pain.

Kylie Study, an acupuncturist and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at Beaumont Hospital, agrees that current research shows that acupuncture excites the biochemical responses in the human body via the nerves. Acupuncture itself doesn’t directly release feel-good chemicals that can aid in inflammation, stress, and so forth, according to Study, but it works higher up the chain such as affecting the pituitary gland to produce the extra hormones.

Another hypothesis is that acupuncture works by reducing pro-inflammatory markers, or proteins, in the body. Some animal and human studies suggest that by doing acupuncture, you can significantly decrease these pro-inflammatory markers — including TNF and IL-1β — which decreases inflammation and reduces pain, . One such spot is just below the knee (known as stomach 36), according to Study. This point is used in a wide variety of treatments that involve inflammation anywhere in the body, as well as for increasing energy and the immune system, which in turn also help to decrease inflammation. 

Yet another hypothesis applies specifically to how acupuncture can be used to treat nerve damage, such as chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy, a condition that often causes numbness or weakness in the feet and hands. “The idea is that by putting the needle in, you stimulate the brain to secrete some nerve growth factor, and then that helps the nerve to regenerate.

Acupuncture is also commonly used in conjunction with other fertility treatments. Study said that acupuncture actually increases the effectiveness of many common drugs that are taken to increase fertility by naturally increasing the hormone levels that travel to the ovaries. There has been increased research on women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), for example, and who have difficulties getting pregnant due to the syndrome. A summary of several articles between 2006 and 2014 on this topic by HealthCMI found that acupuncture can help balance out hormones, such as lowering testosterone levels and regulating ovulation, all of which lead to as much as a 33 percent increased chance of a successful pregnancy.

A study published in 2017 by Sean Grand, et al., is using acupuncture to help treat people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study found that acupuncture might help with some side effects of PTSD, such as depression, especially when treated soon after diagnosis. The researchers do recommend that even though the research is promising, it is relatively new, and much more research is still needed before promoting acupuncture as one of the treatments for those with PTSD.

A 2017 paper by researchers in Germany and Switzerland studied the effects of acupuncture on patients with allergic asthma. The researchers showed through a large, randomized trial that acupuncture added to the patient’s routine did significantly improve asthma symptoms within the three-month trial period. One limitation to the study, however, was that patients and practitioners weren’t blinded to the study so there may be an element of bias in the results. 

Ms. Ting Wang

  • Member of British Acupuncture Council (BAcC)
  • Clinician in Neurology department, Heilongjiang University of TCM Hospital
  • MSc. in Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture), London South Bank University
  • BSc. in Clinical Discipline of Chinese and Western Integrative, Heilongjiang University of TCM


What you should know?

Acupuncture rarely ‘hurts‘. The most that people experience is a dull ache around the base of the inserted needle, or a slight tingling feeling when the needle is inserted. Points at the extremities, like toe or finger ends, can sometimes be a little sharp, but the sensation is usually brief.

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