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Medical Acupuncture

Western medical acupuncture, sometimes referred to as Trigger Point Acupuncture or Trigger Point Dry Needling, is a therapy where the practitioner inserts fine needles into specific points in the body to encourage healing and pain relief.  These points can be either tender areas in muscle, or specific sites that stimulate nerves in the skin or muscle.   It is an adaptation of Chinese acupuncture used by conventional Western medical and allied health professionals that utilises a modern understanding of human anatomy and physiology to bring about changes in the nervous and musculoskeletal system.

What is it used for?

Medical acupuncture can relieve pain, decrease inflammation and relax muscles. Medical acupuncture is mainly used to treat musculo-skeletal pain, including tight knotted muscles or “trigger points”.  It enables access to deeper tissues that may be inaccessible to massage.

Acupuncture has been used extensively for hundreds of years to treat low back pain. Although acupuncture for low back pain is no longer available on the NHS (it was removed in 2016) there are lots of studies which show it is an effective way to ease low back pain and lots of our patients love it! The removal of acupuncture was controversial and appears not to be related to if it works!  You can read what the BMJ has to say about the effectiveness of medical acupuncture here

Want to learn more about medical acupuncture? We look in more detail below at:

There are a number of physiological processes involved. The basic idea is that stimulating acupuncture points can:

  • Release specific chemicals and hormones that reduce pain and increase well-being.  These include endorphins and serotonin.
  • Increase blood flow, which can aid healing.
  • Influence the endocrine system, and so help with hormonal problems.
  • Stimulate the nerves that send messages from the brain to the body, and back.
  • Reduce pain messages within the brain and spine.

Fine needles are inserted into and beyond the skin into precise muscular knots called “trigger points” or more classical acupuncture points.   It is thought that this creates an increase in blood flow and oxygen precisely where it is needed in the muscles tissue thus allowing that portion of muscle to relax and the associated pain and other phenomena to improve. Trigger points are often responsible for the excessive tension, (referred) pain and other problems associated with tension headaches, whiplash, fibromyalgia and related disorders. The needles can also be used to release stubborn deep bands of muscle that are just too difficult to reach with hands on therapy alone, for example the deepest layer of muscles in the back or the deep buttock muscles.

Medical acupuncture is practised alongside osteopathy at Shefford Osteopathic Clinic.  You will be assessed by your practitioner who may decide that acupuncture would be beneficial for you, or you may request to be treated using acupuncture.

After taking your medical history and examining you, fine sterile needles are inserted through the skin and left in position.  Sometimes they may be turned gently to enhance their effect.  The number of needles varies according to the situation, but may be only two or three.

Yes, only sterile, single-use, disposable needles will be used.

Sometimes not at all, sometimes a little.

People sometimes imagine that acupuncture needles are like those used to give injections. In fact, they are much, much finer – so fine that they pass between skin nerve endings. This means that most of the time there is so little sensation that you may not even know the needle has been put in or taken out.

Many patients feel relaxed once the needles have gone in, and the worst you are likely to experience is a short period of discomfort. Some points produce a dull, heavy feeling, others an ache, others a tingling feeling. If very tense muscles are being treated, you may feel a stronger discomfort or muscle twitch. Very occasionally, people feel faint during a treatment.

As part of our training, we ourselves have been needled hundreds of times. We won’t needle any points on you that we haven’t had demonstrated on us – so you can be sure we know exactly what it feels like!

Then our osteopaths will use alternatives such as acupressure or trigger point massage. This may not produce as much or as quick an improvement as with intramuscular acupuncture but these are still very effective techniques.

Make sure you inform the practitioner of the following before undergoing acupuncture treatment:

  • if you have ever fainted, had a fit or experienced a ‘funny turn’
  • if you have a bleeding disorder (haemophilia).
  • if you have damaged heart valves or a particular risk of infection.
  • if you have a pacemaker or any other implants of an electrical nature.
  • if you are taking anti-coagulants or any kind of medication.
  • if you carry any blood borne viruses (such as HIV, Hepatitis B or C).
  • if you have had a strong reaction to acupuncture in the past.

Acupuncture is very safe.  Serious side effects are very rare – less than 1 per 10,000 treatments.

Many people find acupuncture deeply relaxing.  Drowsiness occurs after treatment in a small number of patients, and, if affected, you are advised not to drive.

There is a slight possibility of minor bleeding or bruising after the insertion of acupuncture needles.

Some people do faint during treatment but this is very rare.

Western medical acupuncture has evolved from traditional Chinese acupuncture. It uses many of the same techniques, but is based around modern Western understanding of how the body works rather than on the ancient Chinese principles of health and disease.

Practitioners of traditional Chinese acupuncture aim to improve the balance of Yin/Yang and circulation of qi (“chi”) energy that according to traditional Chinese theory is thought to flow just under the skin. Hence, with traditional Chinese acupuncture, needles are often just inserted into the skin and no deeper, usually without any discomfort; it is not uncommon to use 20 or 30 needles. However with the medical acupuncture we offer the aim is to release tight bands of muscle or “trigger points” so the needles are taken that bit deeper into the muscles. Ideally this will produce a definite involuntary “twitch” response in the muscle indicating the precise individual muscles fibres at fault have been targeted. Often moving the needle just one or two millimetres can make all the difference to an effective treatment.  This technique is no more uncomfortable than experiencing a deep massage and it is perfectly safe, provided the practitioner has an expert knowledge of human anatomy (as all ours do). With trigger point acupuncture usually fewer needles are used than with traditional Chinese acupuncture, commonly between 1 and 10.

Medical acupuncture is practiced by healthcare practitioners and is generally regarded as part of conventional medicine. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) specifically recommends the use of acupuncture for lower back pain.

Currently there are no laws in place in the UK regarding the level of training required to become a medical acupuncture practitioner. However, those seeking the therapy often find it reassuring to know their practitioner is trained to a high standard and is working to certain levels of good practice.

There are many professional associations in existence which have taken on a self-regulatory role for medical acupuncture, requiring members to meet certain eligibility requirements and abide by a code of ethics and complaints procedure.

Whilst the eligibility requirements will differ for each professional organisation, generally potential members will need to provide evidence of the appropriate acupuncture training as well as proof that they are a medical professional such as a doctor, nurse or physiotherapist etc.

Our therapists have been trained by, and are member of, The British Medical Acupuncture Society.  This is an organisation for practising UK doctors and related health professionals who are trained in the use of medical acupuncture. The British Medical Acupuncture Society runs training and education programmes, and awards qualifications to appropriately trained members.   It supports the use of proper evidence based treatments and research into how acupuncture works and members must abide by the BMAS Code of Practice.

Karen and Andrew are trained in medical acupuncture or “Trigger Point Dry Needling”. They have found this to be an invaluable adjunct to osteopathic treatment, dramatically improving the treatment responses and rates when coupled with the other forms of treatment on offer at Shefford Osteopathic Clinic.

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At the assessment, we’ll take some details from you and build your case history. We’ll discuss why you’ve come to see us and where you have any aches and pains. Then we’ll examine you with the aim of giving you the appropriate treatment.

This will take a little while to complete, but it’s a necessary part of the ethical guidelines we work to. The guidelines are there to make sure everything is done professionally and to a high standard of patient care. I’m sure you agree that’s a good thing!

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