In the Gloucestershire Pain Clinics we predominantly use Western Medical Acupuncture, which makes use of techniques akin to dry needling of trigger points in muscles for myofascial pain.
We are not able to receive referrals directly for acupuncture: patients may, if appropriate, be referred for treatment after assessment by the doctors in the clinic.
Our normal approach is to use a course of up to six treatments, with or without a first "test" treatment. Generally, if acupuncture is going to give benefit, this will be evident quite quickly.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles through the skin to specific points, mostly in the muscles, which are left in position for 10-20 minutes. Sometimes manual or electrical stimulation is applied to the needles. The number of needles varies from two or three up to as many as 20. A course of treatment is usually once a week continuing for up to 6 weeks.
Acupuncture is a technique that has been used for millennia, having been developed in China about 2500BC. In the West there was considerable interest from the early 20th century onwards in patterns of trigger points in the muscles in myofascial pain. In the 1970's, with the increasing interest in the West in Chinese acupuncture techniques, it became evident that there is considerable cross-over between Chinese acupuncture points and techniques and the points and techniques that had been developed for myofascial pain. Further information on this is given at our myofascial pain page.
What conditions respond to acupuncture?
Acupuncture may be beneficial for some:
- musculoskeletal (myofascial) pain especially neck, shoulder and back pain.
- headache and migraine.
- stress, anxiety and depression.
- some osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis pain.
- gynaecological/menopausal problems.
- nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy or surgery.
We find that its effects are sometimes only shortlived in conditions where the muscular trigger points are secondary to underlying causes such as neck or other joint pain. We find that its effects, if any, are generally very short lived in fibromyalgia and similar pain conditions and generally do not use it for these conditions.
In our clinic we use acupuncture predominantly for muscular pains, and some of the consultants in our team also use it as part of their practice in anaesthesia, for post-operative nausea.
Acupuncture is a treatment that can relieve symptoms of some physical and psychological conditions and may encourage the body to heal and repair itself, if it is able to do so. Acupuncture stimulates the nerves in skin, muscle and other tissues, and can produce a variety of effects. We know that it increases the release of the body’s natural painkillers, including endorphin and serotonin in the pathways of both the spinal cord and the brain. This modifies the way pain signals are received by the brain.
What are the benefits?
Acupuncture can provide pain relief. This may be immediately after removing the needles, some time after treatment or have a cumulative pain relieving effect after a course of treatment.
Acupuncture can do more than simply reduce pain. It seems to have a beneficial effect on general health and well being and may provide a deeper sleep after a treatment.
Hopefully, if acupuncture can provide a window of pain relief, patients will then be able to increase activity, mobility and fitness: this often gives sustained improvement.
Current research shows that acupuncture can affect most of the body’s systems (White et al, 2008). These include the nervous system, hormone or endocrine system, circulation, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems.
What are the possible side effects?
- Sleepiness or tiredness is a common side effect and usually subsides after a drink of tea or coffee. It may be best not to drive after a first treatment as increased sensitivity in the form of drowsiness may be experienced.
- The insertion of the needles is usually painless. However, some needles may provoke a pain reaction.
- Bruising or bleeding is rare.
- Some bleeding or bruising may occur when the needle is removed from the skin.
- You may experience an increase in pain, aching or discomfort for the first 24-36 hours after the treatment but this usually settles after 2-3 days.
- Some patients may faint, become nauseous or vomit during or after treatment. This is less common but recovery is usually rapid once the needles are removed.
- Collapsed lung (pneumothorax) is a remote risk, although extremely rare. Care is always taken when needling around the rib or chest areas.
- All our needles are sterilised and are always discarded after single use.
What will happen to you?
• You will be given a full explanation of the treatment after the practitioner has taken a medical history and examined you.
• You will be asked to sign a consent form and given an opportunity to ask questions.
• You may be asked to remove clothing to facilitate the insertion of the needles.
• Acupuncture treatment is performed either in a sitting or lying down position. It is important to be comfortable throughout the treatment, as you will have to remain relatively still while the needles are in place. If you are lying down you may fall asleep and this is not uncommon. Alternatively, you may feel invigorated or energised throughout and after the treatment, but the experience should not be unpleasant.
• The practitioner may stimulate the needles, after insertion, to enhance the effect by rotating them. Alternatively you may receive electro acupuncture whereby an electrical current is delivered through the needles, via a battery operated device at a low frequency.
• You should continue with your usual pain relieving medication. If you find that your pain is reduced as the acupuncture works, then you may reduce the pain relieving medication.
The British Medical Acupuncture Society is the national organisation of medical acupuncturists, through which several of our consultants and our nurses have trained. Their website has some useful patient information on acupuncture.
You can download our Pain Service information leaflet on Acupuncture from this link.
White, A, Cummings, M, .Filshie, J, 2008, An Introduction to Western Medical Acupuncture, Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier Edinburgh.
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Pain Service Website, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
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Page updated 22/6/2016