What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture involves placing very fine needles into the body for therapeutic purposes.

What is the difference between medical acupuncture and traditional acupuncture?

Acupuncture probably first developed in China more than 2,000 years ago. Energy (qi or chi) was thought to move around the body in channels (meridians) and dysfunction arose when qi was either blocked or deficient. Acupuncture needles were thought to release or stimulate qi. Examination of the tongue and pulse were important in making a diagnosis. ‘Traditional’ acupuncture practitioners continue to use this model to guide their practice today.


‘Medical’ or ‘Western’ acupuncture is based on modern scientific principles (see ‘How does acupuncture work?’ below). Practitioners use acupuncture to relax muscles and relieve pain.


I am fully qualified in both traditional and medical acupuncture. My practice is based primarily on medical acupuncture but I also use my knowledge of traditional acupuncture to guide my choice of points.


How does acupuncture work?

By stimulating nerve fibres in the skin and muscle, acupuncture causes the release of substances in the area around the needle, particularly calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). This results in dilatation of the blood vessels and local tissue healing.


The stimulated nerves also send signals into the central nervous system, where they depress pain signals entering the spinal cord. This is thought to be the main mechanism by which acupuncture relieves pain.


The nerve signals continue to pass from the spinal cord into the brain. Endorphins are released, and different parts of the brain stimulated by acupuncture include the brainstem, hypothalamus, limbic system and cerebral cortex. The effects of this stimulation may include body-wide pain suppression, a feeling of relaxation and changes to hormonal regulation.

What conditions can acupuncture help?

Good quality evidence shows that acupuncture can alleviate pain related to many musculoskeletal complaints, including back pain, arthritis and headaches. There is also evidence that acupuncture can relieve symptoms of a range of other conditions, including menopausal hot sweats, painful periods, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, overactive bladder and hayfever. Acupuncture can be used to help some of the side effects of cancer treatments including dry mouth, peripheral neuropathy and aromatase inhibitor-induced joint pain. Some examples of acupuncture research are given in ‘Further reading’.

What is electroacupuncture?

Acupuncture needles can be connected to an electroacupuncture machine, which pulses electricity through the needles. This provides a stronger treatment. 

Is acupuncture safe?

I always use sterile needles, which are used once and disposed of afterwards. I carefully consider each client’s medical history to ensure acupuncture is appropriate for them. Clients who take warfarin (and other coumarins) may have acupuncture if their INR is stable and within 2-3. I have been vaccinated against Hepatitis B.

Is acupuncture painful?

I use a range of needle widths to accommodate each client’s preference for strength of treatment. When carried out with care and precision, there is often little or no sensation of the needles. When electro-acupuncture is used, the client can decide how strong they prefer the stimulation to be.

©Elizabeth Halsey 2018