Acupuncture is one of the longest established forms of healthcare in the world. Acupuncturists are trained to use subtle diagnostic techniques that have been developed and refined for thousands of years. The focus is on you as an individual, not your illness, and all symptoms are seen in relation to each other. Treatment involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body to affect the flow of your body’s qi, or vital energy.
What to Expect
Before having acupuncture treatment
Before your first acupuncture session there are several things you should bear in mind:
- many commonly used acupuncture points are located on the lower arms and legs, so it is helpful to wear clothing that allows easy access to these areas
- try not to go for treatment on an empty stomach or straight after a heavy meal
- do let your practitioner know if you are completely new to acupuncture so they can take extra time to explain what happens and ensure you are comfortable with the process.
Your first consultation
During your first visit your acupuncturist needs to gain a thorough understanding of your main complaint and your general health and lifestyle. This involves asking questions about your current symptoms and your medical history, as well as such things as your sleeping pattern, your appetite and digestion, and your emotional wellbeing. Women are also asked about their menstrual cycle and any past pregnancies and childbirth.
You might feel that some questions appear unrelated to your condition but the information you give helps your practitioner to form a more complete picture of your health and lifestyle. Your acupuncturist will also take your pulse on both wrists and may examine your tongue and feel for areas of muscular tension or pain.
Your main health complaint
When talking about your main complaint, the practitioner might ask you to describe in your own words what the symptoms feel like and how severe they are. You may also be asked how long you have been having the symptoms, whether they are constant or intermittent and how frequent they are. You should mention any medication that you are taking and whether you have tried any other therapies.
In order to make a diagnosis according to traditional Chinese medicine theory and to find the right treatment approach, the practitioner will also want to know more specific details.
Treatment plan and treatment
Based on all the information you have given, the practitioner will make a diagnosis and put together your treatment plan, which may include lifestyle and dietary advice as well as acupuncture. Your practitioner will use very fine single-use pre-sterilised needles to stimulate specific acupuncture points on your body. Because energy meridians range across the whole body, the points used are not necessarily close to where you experience pain or discomfort. For example, if you suffer from headaches needles might be inserted in your foot or hands.
As well as needling acupuncture points, a traditional acupuncturist may use other Chinese medicine techniques such as:
- Moxibustion: heat is applied to an acupuncture point or meridian using moxa (a therapeutic herb) and/or heat lamps to warm and relax muscles and qi
- Tuina: Chinese therapeutic massage relieves muscle tension, stimulates acupressure points, opens energy meridians and Stimulate the flow of qi
- Cupping: glass cups with a vacuum seal are placed on the skin to stimulate blood flow and clear stagnant qi
- Guasha: vigorous rubbing of the skin increases blood flow and clears stagnant qi.
Your acupuncturist is likely to suggest ways in which you can enhance the long-term effects of your treatment. This may involve making changes to your diet and daily routine. If necessary you will be referred to other healthcare practitioners for specialist care.
Most people find acupuncture relaxing and often feel very calm after a treatment. You may feel a little tired or sleepy and should take this into account if you are planning to drive or use heavy machinery straight after your treatment.
You should refrain from vigorous exercise after treatment and, ideally, give yourself a little time to rest. It is also advisable not to drink alcohol for several hours after treatment.
Acupuncture has very few side effects and any that do occur are usually mild and self-correcting. Cupping and guasha can sometimes temporarily mark the skin. Such bruising is painless and generally clears within a day or two.
Acupuncture is very safe to have during pregnancy and is an effective option at a time when many women choose to avoid taking medicine for minor ailments. It is essential that you choose an acupuncturist who is trained and a member of a professional body such as the British Acupuncture Council.
How can acupuncture help during pregnancy?
Many conditions which routinely crop up during pregnancy would benefit from a natural solution. Acupuncture, when provided by a trained practitioner, can give relief for a range of pregnancy related conditions:
- Morning sickness
- High/low blood pressure
- Tender breasts
- Migraine and other headaches
- Back ache
- Pelvic pain (Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction)
- Varicose veins
Acupuncture can turn breech babies
An adjunct technique to acupuncture called moxibustion has been used for many centuries to turn breech babies. A herb called moxa is ‘compacted’ into a cigar shaped stick, one end of which is lit and it’s slowly smoldered directly above an acupuncture point on the little toe. Research is currently underway, but previous scientific studies have found promising results for the turning of breech babies; somewhere in the region of 80% success rate.
Acupuncture and labour
Acupuncture can be used to help to induce labour in overdue pregnancies. It should only be used for induction when the mother has passed her due date, and then only with the consent of the obstetric team in charge of the birth. This ensures that all medical factors are taken into account and that the appropriate facilities are in place if the treatment is successful in encouraging the natural process to start. Acupuncture treatment can occasionally have a very rapid effect, but generally speaking it may take at least a few days to work.
During labour acupuncture is used for pain relief and to boost the mother’s energy if the labour is a long one. Acupuncture can also be used to restart labour if it has slowed down or if contractions have stopped.
Acupuncture is used by new mothers to increase energy levels, to promote healing and to combat the ‘baby blues’. It also is very helpful in treating mastitis.
Research into acupuncture and pregnancy related conditions
- Acupuncture has been proven to reduce the symptoms of morning sickness. (2002, Adelaide University)
- Acupuncture has been found to reduce the experience of pain in labour. A secondary outcome of acupuncture was a shorter delivery time. (2002, Skilnand)
- Acupuncture has been proven to reduce pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy (2005, Institute for the health of Women and Children, Sahlgrenska Academy Gothernburg, Sweden)
- 70% of women responded postively to treatment with acupuncture for depression during pregnancy. (2004, Stanford University)