There are a lot of myths about acupuncture, a medical model that has been around for over 4000 years and used successfully to improve the health and well being of people around world.
Below are 10 of the common acupuncture myths people commonly cite about acupuncture.
Myth 1: Acupuncture hurts — we are using needles after all and they’ve always hurt.
Fact: a typical acupuncture needle is measured in millimetres, with the average width being 0.18mm. To put them into context approximately 20 acupuncture needles held together form the same size as a hypodermic needle. Acupuncture needles are designed to cause minimal pain and in the hands of a skilled and experienced acupuncturist most patients won’t feel the needle being inserted. In fact what you will more than likely feel, is a sensation of numbness, tingling, heaviness, throbbing, an electrical sensation or nothing at all. Acupuncture can be uncomfortable but never painful. This sensation is your own body’s healing energy, called Qi (pronounced Chee) being stimulated and doing its work.
Myth 2: Acupuncture is ancient folk medicine and has no place in modern medicine.
Fact: Acupuncture is a treatment option that many medical institutions around the world recommend. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends acupuncture as a valid treatment for a wide range of health problems as does the National Institute of Health (NIH) who funds many clinical research trials on acupuncture. The United States military use acupuncture as a front line treatment of pain on the Battlefields. In the UK the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends acupuncture of specific health conditions. The British Acupuncture Council (www.acupuncture.org.uk) has produced a series of factsheets which summarise the benefits of acupuncture in treating various health problems supported by research evidence.
Myth 3: Most people who use, or practice, acupuncture are into ‘New Age’ healing
Fact: Most people who use acupuncture choose to do so either as part of the mainstream health treatment or as an alternative treatment after having tried mainstream medicine. More often than not they come to acupuncture as a ‘last resort or after having done some research on how it can help with health and wellbeing. In some cases acupuncture is successful at helping people cope with side effects of conventional treatment e.g. side effects of chemotherapy or as an adjunct to conventional treatment e.g. IVF and fertility treatment.
Myth 4: Acupuncture may conflict with medication, physical therapy and other ‘mainstream’ conventional medical treatments
Fact: There is no conflict between acupuncture and conventional medicine; they complement one another. Acupuncture works nicely as an adjunct to your conventional treatment plan in that it can help cope with side effects of conventional treatment e.g. fertility treatment, pain management, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, etc. Acupuncture is completely safe and drug free so has none of the negative side effects associated with mainstream treatments. In some case acupuncture can be the only suitable treatment , for example in the case of nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy or other medical treatment where there is a reluctance to use medication.
Myth 5: Acupuncture is only useful in treating pain.
Fact: It’s true that acupuncture helps relieves pain, including knee pain; back pain; headache; stomach pain and menstrual cramps. However, acupuncture is also used to treat nausea/vomiting, chemotherapy side effects, morning sickness, hypertension (high blood pressure), skin problems, depression, infertility and lots of other conditions. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the British Acupuncture Council both have list of health conditions which benefit from acupuncture treatment supported by research evidence. You can read more about these here.
Myth 6: Acupuncture has a lot of side effects and you’ll need time off work
Fact: Acupuncture has few to no side effects. After your acupuncture session, you can carry on with your day without any restrictions. Some people may experience some soreness and tiredness after treatment but on the whole my experience is that many end up with a ‘really good night’s sleep’. Some people will go through what is known as a ‘healing crisis’ after treatment but that is the body’s way of rebalancing itself after treatment. Remember acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely fine sterilised stainless steel needles into the body; there is nothing else involved so no drugs or chemicals are inserted into the body. The minimal side effects are the body’s way of starting the process of healing and rebalancing itself after treatment.
Myth 7: Acupuncture’s effects are psychological. It doesn’t really do anything
Fact: Acupuncture and its effects are far from psychological. Studies show that during acupuncture, our brains begin to release chemicals such as endorphins (natural painkillers) Acupuncture also has an anti-inflammatory effect and helps people’s immune system. There is lots of research evidence around which involve the use of fMRI scans which show chemical changes to the body whilst having acupuncture and the identification of acupuncture points as they relate to skin changes and electrical activity. Details of such evidence can be found at www.acupuncture.org.uk .
Myth 8: Once you start acupuncture, you’ll always need acupuncture
Fact: Unlike other forms of treatment acupuncture doesn’t have a half life; in fact as a treatment it is cumulative so adds up each time you have acupuncture. Unlike conventional medicine there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and what all of us traditional acupuncturists aim to do is to treat each person as an individual and so develop a treatment plan that is beneficial to the person in front of us. It really depends on the health condition we are treating and the length of time the condition has been present in the body. For example if the main problem has been around for several months or years then expect to have several sessions of acupuncture over a period of time and where a problem has only developed recently then expect to have less. Each person is different and it depends on what I am treating. On average I work to a schedule of 6-12 sessions for a chronic problems and less on acute problems with reviews built in after the first 3 sessions. In some cases I expect to see an improvement after a single session but will need to treat the person regularly to ensure it is maintained and to rebalance and strengthen the body to manage on its own when acupuncture is completed.
Unlike conventional medication, acupuncture as a treatment is temporary since once we’ve cleared the imbalance the health problems dissipates and the body is able to manage itself again. My experience has been that most patients will then use acupuncture as a ‘top up’ when they feel under the weather which will involve usually a couple of sessions after several months. Ultimately it is up the person having acupuncture who will decide how long they want acupuncture for.
Myth 9: if you do not see results in one or two treatments, then you are unlikely to benefit from acupuncture;
Fact: Everybody responds to acupuncture differently; some will see results after a single treatment whereas others will notice improvement after two or three treatments. In my experience when I’m treating pain in patients I often see results after a single treatment and a reduction in pain immediately. For most people the pain will return but not as intense and the effects of the acupuncture treatment last longer in between sessions since it’s cumulative. Another example is when I’m treating patients with digestive issues that have been around for a long time. I personally have had good results after two or three sessions and a huge improvement in the digestion process after six sessions to the point where the patients has completed acupuncture treatment.
A skilled and accredited traditional acupuncturist will be able tell you if acupuncture treatment is going to beneficial or not. It must also be remembered when seeking out an acupuncturist to consider that as well as providing acupuncture treatment they could also provide lifestyle advice, as acupuncture treatment works well with additional changes to people’s lives e.g. exercise, rest, relaxation, nutrition, etc.
Myth 10: You’ll need a doctor’s referral or a prescription for acupuncture
Fact: No you don’t. In the UK you can find suitably qualified and accredited acupuncturists by asking for referrals or by going onto the British Acupuncture Council’s website. (www.acupuncture.org.uk). There are different kinds of acupuncture treatments around but the most common is that provided by traditional acupuncturists who have a minimum of 3600 hours of acupuncture training at degree level and that provided by health professionals such as physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths and doctors, which is around 200 hours of acupuncture training. In the latter these health professionals carry out acupuncture as an ‘add on’ to their professional training and not as their main role.
Postscript: acupuncture treatment is recognised as a legitimate health treatment by private health insurance and health cash back providers. The medical profession recognise acupuncture as a valid form of treatment and it is available in some primary care groups, on the NHS. On the whole acupuncture is more widely available outside the NHS so most people will need to pay for treatment. Depending on where people are based, the prices vary but on the whole they are usually reasonable and comparable to prices set by other health professionals providing services to members of the public.