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Acupuncture is one of the many skills used within physiotherapy as an integrated approach to the management of pain and inflammation and as a means of stimulating the body’s own healing chemicals in order to aid recovery and enhance rehabilitation (getting better, quicker).

Acupuncture involves insertion of very fine stainless steel needles into the skin.

It has been used in China since 2000 years and increasingly in Western medicine since 1970s.

Acupuncture can be used to treat wide range of musculoskeletal problems and to reduce pain.

Niceguidelines (2009) recommended 10 sessions of Acupuncture for persistent non-specific low back pain. In September 2012, NICE recognised Acupuncture’s benefits for migraines and tension-type headaches too.

Acupuncture can be combined with other Physiotherapy treatments such as exercise, manual therapy and relaxation techniques. It can also be used with when other more conventional treatments have failed.


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Acupuncture stimulates the body to produce endorphins and oxytocin, its own pain- and stress- relieving chemicals. It promotes sleep by stimulating the release of melatonin in the body and encourages a sense of well-being by stimulating the release of serotonin.

Acupuncture also stimulates nerve fibres to block out pain signals and helps to reduce the sensitivity of tender points in the body.

There are certain health conditions that may stop you receiving acupuncture or mean that the treatment should be used with caution. It is important to let your physiotherapist know:

  • If you have ever experienced a fit, seizure, faint or if you have epilepsy;
  • If you have a pacemaker or any other electrical implant;
  • If you have a bleeding disorder e.g. haemophilia;
  • If you are taking anti-coagulants or any other medication;
  • If you have damage to heart valves, or have any risk of active infections;
  • If you are pregnant or trying to conceive;
  • If you have a known metal allergy – specifically to stainless steel;
  • If you have a needle phobia;
  • If you have a known infection or poor skin condition in the area to be treated;
  • If you have a deficient or weakened immune system;
  • If you have diabetes;
  • If you have been prescribed any medicine;
  • If you have cold/flu symptoms or feel generally unwell.

It is a good idea to make sure you have something to eat 1-2 hours before your treatment. This will help to reduce the risk of you feeling faint during your session by keeping your sugar levels up.

When you first see your physiotherapist, he or she will take your full medical history and ask you about your current health problems. You may be asked to complete a 'consent to treatment' form.

Between 1 to 10 needles may be used at a time at an acupuncture session. The number of needles used will vary according to your condition and symptoms.

The needles are inserted through the skin either at the sites where you feel pain, away from the pain or a combination of both. The needles are usually left in for a few minutes up to 30 minutes. During the treatment, your physiotherapist may stimulate the needles by gently rotating them. This is done to increase the treatment's effectiveness.

The needles are removed at the end of the session. You will then be asked to rest for a few minutes before you leave.

The overall number of treatment sessions required will depend on you, your condition and your physiotherapist’s assessment. Most patients receive a course of 4-6 treatments although just one or two treatments may be enough. Sometimes 1 or 2 ‘top up’ treatments are required. Treatments are normally given at 1-2 weekly intervals. It is generally clear after a few sessions whether or not acupuncture will benefit you and if the treatment should be continued.

The effects of acupuncture treatments are cumulative: different people respond in different ways and at different rates. Some people may feel an immediate relief of their symptoms whilst others may only see a gradual improvement after a few treatments. Some people may find that their condition/symptoms flare up for up to 24 hours after the treatment but then see a marked improvement.

Although acupuncture can help reduce pain, particularly when other more conventional treatments have failed, it does not work for everyone.

Acupuncture should not be painful. The needles used are the same width as human hair so having acupuncture does not feel the same as having an injection.

When the needles are inserted, you may feel a temporary, sharp pricking sensation. During the treatment itself you may have a feeling of warmth or fullness, heaviness, pin and needles or numbness, tension around the needle or mild ache or discomfort.

You may also feel a little light-headed or relaxed. It shouldnot feel unpleasant. These are signs that your body is responding to acupuncture treatment. Alternatively, you may not feel the needle at all.

The use of acupuncture needling for the treatment of pain is supported by an ever-growing body of scientific evidence.

Scientific research has examined the effectiveness of acupuncture for various conditions. In recent years, large-scale studies have emerged which have helped to support the benefits of acupuncture treatment. For example it is accepted that acupuncture can help tension-type headaches and osteoarthritis of the knee, especially when used in conjunction with physiotherapy.

Acupuncture combined with physiotherapy is widely accepted within both the National Health Service (NHS) and private practice. This is evident in the recommendation by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) that acupuncture should be available as a cost-effective short-term treatment for persistent non-specific low back pain (source: NICE 2009).

AACP members are required to keep abreast of scientific evidence and do so by meeting their Continuing Professional Development obligations.

Acupuncture is a very safe procedure when carried out by fully qualified professionals. Your AACP physiotherapist is qualified to deliver this therapy and has undergone a recognised accredited training course in acupuncture.

The needles used by your physiotherapist are sterile and disposed of after one use.

Acupuncture is safe when practised by a member of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP) because of the strict hygiene guidelines that must be adhered to, and the training courses and educational updates that are required in order to stay on the membership register.

Acupuncture needles are the same width as human hair so having acupuncture does not feel the same as having an injection. The needles are disposable, pre-sterilised and individually packaged. These are often supplied in guide-tubes for easy insertion which means that there is no risk of anything touching the needle during the process. When needles are inserted, you may feel a temporary, sharp pricking sensation.

Any side effects tend to be mild and short-lived. They may include: fatigue, light headedness, bruising, localised bleeding or soreness or redness or mottling of the skin around the needle sites. If you continue to feel tired after a treatment, it is recommended that you do not drive or operate machinery.

If you have or are concerned about any possible side effects, please speak to your physiotherapist.