Q. Last week I had acupuncture to treat neck and shoulder injuries caused by a fall in December and I could not believe how painful, both during and for 24 hours after the treatment it was. Is this normal? I recieved the treatment in an NHS hospital by a senior physiotherapist. My next appointment is tomorrow and I am dreading it.
A. One of the principal reasons for differences in technique between professional acupuncturists and medical professionals using acupuncture lies in the underlying theory on which the practice is based. The traditional acupuncturist is primarily concerned with the energies of the body, the term 'qi' which the Chinese use to describe all aspects of physical existence, and treatment can often be very subtle and gentle. The medical acupuncturist, however, is more often working on the basis of muscular and neurophysiological approaches. This can often involve the use of what are called 'trigger points', knots in the muscle tissue, and needling these can often be quite painful. The more physically based treatment often calls for a broader gauge of needle than BAcC members generally use, and it's something of a simple truth that the thicker the needle, the more likely it is to cause discomfort.
A great many physiotherapists have added some of the Chinese medical approaches to their repertoire and are equally subtle in their approach, so we would not want to generalise too much on the basis of a single report. It may be as simple as the fact that this person's technique is not that good, or equally that you are one of a small group of people who are extremely sensitive to acupuncture treatment and have to weigh the benefits of treatment against the discomfort of the needles.
All healthcare professionals can only work with the patient's consent, though, and if there is any aspect of a treatment which you do not like you are within your rights to withhold consent. Any practitioner that continues to use a modality after consent has been withdrawn immediately puts themselves on the wrong side of their professional code of conduct.