Acupuncture is an alternative form of medicine that has been practised for centuries as part of the traditional Chinese medicine. Now in the modern era, the NHS is incorporation this ancient art into health care in certain parts of the country.
During an acupuncture session, fine needles are inserted into the body at specific points that have been found effective in treating certain ailments. As some NHS GPs have started to use acupuncture in their general practice, it may be possible to ask for this treatment for help with musculoskeletal injuries in particular.
Through modern research, scientists have found that acupuncture may be helpful as a supportive treatment for cancer patients. In particular, acupuncture seems to be effective to relieve nausea after chemotherapy. Therefore, hospices such as Macmillan are now recommending the treatment to patients under their care.
Institutions such as the International College of Oriental Medicine (ICOM) is an acupuncture training college, who also works together with Macmillan to provide care for their patients in the South East of England. You can find put more about their acupuncture training here.
Acupuncture works by stimulating the sensory nerves lying under the skin. Stimulating these nerves forces the body to produce natural substances such as endorphins that have various beneficial effects on the body. It is often used for the treatment of various musculoskeletal conditions including dental pain, joint pain, post-operative pain and chronic pain. A wide range of other health conditions are also treated by acupuncture practitioners even though the science behind acupuncture isn’t based on any rigorous evidence.
Acupuncture on the NHS
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends acupuncture as a treatment option for only migraines, chronic tension-type headaches and persistent lower back pain. NHS follows the guidelines issued by NICE on treatment and care of patients.
NHS general practices are allowed to offer treatment only for conditions with an accepted evidence base. The standard tests applied for evidence is the randomised controlled trial which was initially designed for drugs and not for therapies such as acupuncture. The acupuncture treatment doesn’t lend itself to such evidence based testing. Therefore, only a few such studies have been published.
Hundreds of thousands of studies have been published in China, however, regarding the effectiveness of acupuncture for various conditions and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has also listed some conditions that can be treated with acupuncture, so there is certainly credence for a number of conditions.
This is the reason that while GPs have the authority to use their practice funds as they desire but it does not happen in practice. Also, the immense pressure on funding right now means that most patients who want acupuncture for their condition have to pay for private treatment. The cost of an initial session ranges from around £40-£70 whereas follow-up sessions cost in the range of £25-£60 with the average cost of treatment ranging from £30-£50. Therefore, acupuncture treatment can soon become quite expensive if one is in need of regular treatment.
As far as the average length of an acupuncture session is concerned, it ranges from 30 to 60 minutes. The treatment involves an assessment of medical history and general health followed by a physical examination. From this point, the practitioner makes their assessment around a diagnosis and course of treatment, which involves the insertion of needles into specific acupuncture points to help stimulate a healing response. Up to 10 sessions or more are often needed in most courses of treatment, but this can vary.
If you are considering acupuncture treatment, you should discuss this with your GP. Your doctor will advise as to whether acupuncture may be suitable for your condition and may administer the treatment themselves if they have the training.