Acupuncture originated in China and other far eastern cultures where it still features in mainstream healthcare, both as a stand-alone therapy and in combination with conventional western medicine.

It began with an awareness of how comforting it is to apply pressure to tender points on the body. A more sophisticated system of meridians and points developed later whereby fine needles, rather than finger pressure, were used on very specific points on the body.

Members of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) practice acupuncture based on Chinese medicine principles that have been developed, researched and refined for over 2,000 years.

Western and Traditional Chinese medicine evolved from very different ways of viewing health. According to traditional Chinese philosophy, our health is dependent on the body’s “Qi” or “life-force”. In good health, the Qi flows smoothly through a series of channels beneath the skin. According to Chinese medicine, symptoms or “dis-ease” manifests when this flow is disturbed, depleted or blocked.

Traditional acupuncture is part of a system of medicine known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It involves tongue and pulse diagnosis, cupping (similar to deep tissue massage), moxibustion (a soothing, warming herb), Tuina (remedial massage) and advice on diet, exercise and lifestyle.

Medical acupuncture is a style of acupuncture often used by physiotherapists, osteopaths and other health care workers. Developed in the 1980s it is used to release trigger points in muscles by eliciting strong twitching and/or cramping responses.

Diagnosis forms the main part of your first visit. The aim is to assess how and why the symptoms have arisen. I take a full medical history which includes questions about your sleep and appetite, quality and frequency of pain, among others. Sometimes people can’t remember all the important facts – this is when pulse and tongue diagnosis becomes especially useful.

The tongue body is examined for colour, coating, cracks, spots and shape, and the pulse is taken to check for speed, rhythm and a variety of other qualities . In Chinese medicine it is believed that there is a pulse for each of the main organs and 29 other main pulse qualities.

The first consultation includes a treatment and lasts up to one and a half hours; follow up visits last up to 45 minutes.

There is a growing body of evidence-based clinical research which shows how the body responds to acupuncture and how it benefits a wide range of common health conditions. Many people come for acupuncture, from the very young to the very old. Some have specific symptoms such as osteoarthritis of the knee, others feel generally “unwell” or want to maintain good health. Many people have regular treatments because they find it so beneficial and relaxing.

Most patients report a pleasant feeling of relaxation. The needles used are very fine and are inserted just beneath the surface of the skin. They may either be left in for around 20 mns or withdrawn immediately. You may feel a slight ache known as “deqi” but this is not painful and only lasts 1 or 2 seconds. Sometimes patients may feel a stronger sensation which is sharp or stinging – this too will not last.

No – the main acupuncture points are below the elbow and knee and if you wear loose clothing these points can be easily accessed. If you need to have points on other areas of the body or other treatments such as cupping or massage, appropriate towelling is always used.

Everyone is assessed individually and some conditions require longer courses of treatment than others. I usually suggest 4 – 6 sessions, although in very acute conditions improvements are seen more quickly. Initially, treatments are given weekly progressing to fortnightly or more as the required response is achieved. Chronic conditions sometimes require top up treatments at six-weekly or three-monthly intervals.

Acupuncture needles are much finer than needles used for injections and blood tests. They are inserted just beneath the surface of the skin and may either be left in for up to 20 mns or withdrawn immediately. You may feel a tingling sensation or a dull ache known as “deqi”. This will often be followed by a heavy sensation and a pleasant feeling of relaxation. Responses to treatment can sometimes include tiredness or mild dizziness, and very occasionally minor bruising may occur. However, all such reactions are short-lived.

Treatments may also include moxa, which is a warming herb; cupping and electro-acupuncture. Acupressure or ear seeds can sometimes be used instead of needles for anyone who is particularly sensitive to needles.

If you have been prescribed medication I will need to know what these are but otherwise there is no real need to inform your doctor. BAcC acupuncturists are trained to recognise potentially serious underlying health conditions and in these instances you may need to be referred back to your GP.