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Ask an expert - general

208 questions

File under general - general

We have to say at the outset that we are not experts in electroacupuncture. Although a significant minority of our members do use EA machines we ourselves only train in traditional acupuncture with manual stimulation, and the kinds of sophisticated instruction in how best to use the machines is not a part of our training. You might find that the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists might be more helpful in that respect because its members more regularly use these machines as an adjunct to their work.

We have looked carefully at the major textbook on electroacupuncture, David Mayor's authoritative volume published a decade ago, and there are no cautions about the use of EA on scar tissue, nor any reports of muscle tearing after EA treatment. We have also conducted a very thorough search of all the databases on adverse events after acupuncture treatment, and there have been no case reports of this kind.

This is not to say that anyone could categorically say that it can't happen; anything is possible and there has to be a first times for any adverse event to happen. However, given the vast extent of the use of EA in China and the Far East we would have expected there to be some mention of any similar adverse events, and there is none.

We are not sure whether your question is an general one or a question based on something which has happened to you. All we can suggest if it is the latter is to go to the professional association to which the practitioner belongs and ask for the matter to be investigate and possibly passed on to their professional insurers if you have suffered any detriment after treatment.

We are sorry that we cannot be more helpful, but as we say, this is not really our field of expertise. 


We would hesitate to use the word 'normal' but it is not unheard of to experience small bumps and itching where needles have been inserted. By far the most common cause is a slight allergic reaction to one of the metals in the needle itself. The stainless steel from which nearly all needles are made often contains traces of other metals, especially nickel, and many people are surprisingly allergic to this. There are also a great many needles which now have a silicone coating to make them easier to insert, and there are a number of people who are surprisingly allergic to this.

Aside from reaction to specific chemicals or metals, there are a number of people who seem for no reason at all to be highly reactive to needles. This can often be useful diagnostic information from a Chinese medicine point of view, and a practitioner can adjust treatment to a degree to address the issue and also try to minimise the effect.

There is no need to be concerned. These sorts of reaction usually last for no more than 24-48 hours, and have usually subsided by then. There is nothing to worry about as far as infection is concerned. Everyone now uses single use disposable needles which are never re-inserted and come already sterilised. 

The best thing to do is to have a chat with your practitioner and get their advice. If the reaction continues beyond 48 hours then it may be worth seeing your GP to get hold of some antihistamine medication and let them have a look at what is going on, but we think that you are unlikely to need to do this. We sincerely hope not anyway|


File under general -- general

We think that with the range of symptoms you have, and considering their nature, the first thing to do if you haven't already done so is to visit your GP to see what they make of the signs and symptoms. There are a number of quite serious conditions which can generate symptoms like this, and the first thing we would do if you came to us would be to refer you to your doctor for examination and blood tests. This would eliminate some of the possibilities at a stroke, but may actually lead to an important diagnosis and treatment.

If it turns out that there is nothing to be worried about in conventional medicine terms, then it would be advisable to visit a BAcC member local to you for them to take a look at what is happening. We can think of a number of reasons why the problem might be manifesting, when viewed from our perspective, but without sight of the problem itself we would be reluctant to start making guesses which would in all probability be wrong.

We would also be looking at dietary and environmental factors which might be involved. A surprising number of our patients have allergies and sensitivities of which they are not aware and which cause reactions across the body. The same sometimes happens with cosmetics and detergents. We are sure you have looked at factors like this, but we always check because it can cause these sorts of problems.

Even if there is no obvious cause from a Chinese medicine point of view, we hold the view that putting the system back in balance will always help to reduce symptoms. There is also a very considerable body of evidence about the use of acupuncture for pain relief, and while this can never guarantee that the problem will go it can sometimes offer long stretches without discomfort, for which many patients are very grateful.

As we said, however, this is an unusual problem for which it would be necessary to examine what was happening before venturing a view about how amenable it would be to treatment.


Q: I am trying to find out if I can have acupuncture as an anaesthetic for a knee operation in the UK. Is this possible in a hospital and are there any practitioners in the UK please?

A: We have been asked about the use of acupuncture anaesthesia a number of times, and a typical answer has been:

The answer to your question is that in theory acupuncture can be used as an anaesthetic, but we suspect that you will find it very difficult to locate a practitioner prepared to do it.

After Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s, and the remarkable pictures of people having some very serious operations using acupuncture anaesthesia (AA) , there was something of a surge of interest in the West in researching the use of acupuncture for pain relief and even trying to use AA. However, what the images from China did not show was that in every case there was a bank of conventional anaesthetic equipment ready for immediate use in case the AA wore off. The effects were not always guaranteed and reliable, and in the past two decades its use has now diminished to being an occasional novelty rather than mainstream practice.

We did have a colleague who agreed with great reluctance to use AA for a rhinoplasty in a patient who could not have a general anaesthetic, but he did have to study books to work out what to do. The fact that the operation went well, there was less bleeding and the patient recovered much faster was not enough to make him succumb to the blandishments of the consultant who wanted to offer him a permanent slot. He found the whole business far too stressful.

If you can find someone willing to do this your best bet may be someone who regularly uses electro-acupuncture (EA). This has the advantage of being consistent over time, and can also be ramped up if the effect starts to diminish. You might well find that some of the medical acupuncturists are more conversant with this than traditional acupuncturists, and indeed some of the physios who use acupuncture may also use EA more. Both of their registers ( and may offer search options, as well as our own. We think you may just have to ring around until someone points you towards a practitioner they know of who regularly uses EA and may be prepared to do AA.

We are not sure that we can say any more or better than this. The only times we have come across someone having AA in the West are when an operation is necessary but for some reason the patient cannot tolerate either general anaesthetics or epidural injections. There would have to be a very strong reason for doing it, we suspect, for a consultant to be able to take what may be an enhanced risk in working in this way.

That said, a great deal depends on the operation for which you are lined up. If we are talking serious surgery like knee replacement or similar then we think it is highly unlikely. However, for arthroscopy and a number of much simpler procedures you may be able to make a case. You would probably have to sign some very serious disclaimers and make a very robust case for sidestepping the usual procedures, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

We wish you luck, and hope that you do manage to find someone who can help you.

Q: I finish law university but I want to become professional acupuncturist. I would like to know which schools offered the best knowledge which can be approved anywhere especially in Europe.  I would prefer to learn it in China or Japan but if there is any good school in Europe It can be my choice as well.

A: We can only really comment on the schools of which we are aware in the UK. The ones of which we have direct knowledge are those accredited by the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board, whose website offers a wealth of useful information about training in traditional acupuncture in the UK. Graduates of accredited course have automatic eligibility to enter the BAcC, subject to acceptable health and criminal record checks.

The issue for you, though, is that while there is no statutory regulation of acupuncture in the UK, which means that people can practise with all sorts of level of qualification under what is called common law, this is not the case across Europe. Some countries, like France and Italy, still technically regard acupuncture practised bu non-doctors a criminal act, while others like Germany and Holland, have secondary requirements for anyone wanting to operate as a healthcare practitioner. As such there are no qualifications which guarantee that someone can move freely around Europe as an acupuncture practitioner. The same would apply even if you travelled to China or Japan to get your qualification. In the BAcC we have no reciprocal recognition of qualifications with other countries, and we interview every candidate for entry who is not a UK graduate. We believe the same applies elsewhere.

It may well be that you have to work back to front - decide where you might want to work and then investigate what the baseline qualification is for these countries, and also whether you would be able to get  away with practise as a non-doctor. In France, for example, we know of few prosecutions, even though many traditional practitioners work there, and when people are caught the fines they get are strangely equivalent to what the registration fees would have been had they been official.

We do belong to a European network, the ETCMA, and it may be possible to use the contact details from here to ask member colleagues what currently applies in their countries, and what the relationship is between training and registration.

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