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There’s so much more to acupuncture than just needles

There’s so much more to acupuncture than just needles

By Kevin Durjun, Head of Events at The British Acupuncture Council

When people think about acupuncture, one of the main images that comes to mind is needles. But there is a whole raft of other treatments including massage, cupping, gua sha, herbal medicine and moxibustion that are also offered by acupuncturists, either alongside traditional acupuncture or instead of it. And some don’t use needles to stimulate points at all. Read on to discover more.

Acupuncture is well known as a safe and effective treatment that uses needles to gently encourage the body’s ability to heal itself. However needles are just one aspect of an acupuncture treatment.

When you come for an acupuncture treatment your acupuncture practitioner may spend up to two hours on an initial diagnosis session before they even think about picking up their needles. During this session you can be asked many questions relating to your physical health, your lifestyle, and your medical history. Your practitioner may also ask you questions relating to your personal life - relating to your work, your relationships and also your family history. They ask these questions to help build up a complete picture about who you are and to understand more about why a particular health condition may have arisen.

Many people find unburdening of themselves in a safe and confidential environment to be extremely cathartic in itself, and for some, this process can be very emotional - and the first step in beginning to feel better. 

Once the practitioner understands more about you, they are then able to consider the best way forward for your treatment, and there are many treatment options that an acupuncture practitioner can offer.

These include massage therapies such as tuina which is a Chinese style of massage that encourages movement in the body, or cupping which is when suction cups are applied to specific areas of the body to provide relief. You might be offered gua sha where a special tool is moved across certain areas of the body. Some acupuncture practitioners are qualified in herbal medicine and are able to recommend herbal formulas that can be taken alone or as part of an acupuncture treatment. You might also receive a moxibustion treatment, which is when a small pinch of the herb mugwort is safely burned over the skin which has the effect of gently warming up a specific acupuncture point. You see, an acupuncturist has many treatments in their tool kit that have nothing to do with needles!

At the heart of acupuncture treatment, when given by a fully qualified acupuncture practitioner, lies the relationship between the patient and practitioner. The practitioner works closely with the patient to offer gentle guidance on lifestyle choices and makes recommendations on diet and exercise. As an acupuncture treatment session is confidential, the patient can be free to open up about their deepest personal issues in the knowledge that their practitioner is there to help them to become better without judgement. Trust develops as a patient sees the same practitioner over several sessions and they are able to share and confide more over time.  This intervention can have a profound effect on a person’s sense of wellbeing. In these days of a time-constrained NHS, to be able to spend time with someone in a one-to-one setting is very rare and special; but this is something that acupuncture practitioners can provide every day.

This brings us now to the needles! They are slim, sterile, made of stainless steel and are about the size of a human hair. They are used once on a point and are then safely discarded. Some practitioners use more needles than others. The needles are inserted into the point and may be left in or removed immediately. Many practitioners will use as few as two or three needles per treatment - this can be enough to have a hugely transformative effect. Some don’t even use needles at all - they might use a laser machine or small probes to gently stimulate the points instead. 

If you are considering acupuncture treatment, the most important thing you can do is to select a fully qualified practitioner, such as a member of the British Acupuncture Council, who has been trained to degree level, is fully insured, and able to offer you the most effective treatment to help you to reach your full potential in terms of health and wellbeing.


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