Some 2.3 million acupuncture treatments are carried out each year in the UK, making it one of the most popular complementary therapies.
But like many alternative treatments, acupuncture is often still misunderstood. I visited top acupuncturist Maureen Cromey, who trained in Chinese medicine and has 26 years' experience in acupuncture, for treatment and also to sort out the facts from the fiction concerning the therapy.
Acupuncture is effective for various ailments
True. People have it to help them quit smoking, combat insomnia, reduce anxiety, to support recovery from injury or surgery, to relieve pain and symptoms associated with problems like osteoarthritis and auto-immune diseases.
As I’m a busy working mum, Maureen treated me for stress, placing roughly 12 needles in various points across my body, helping to unlock my stress and calm me down.
False. Acupuncture needles are super fine so you hardly feel them when they're inserted into the skin. Once the needles are in, however, you may feel a range of sensations such as tingling or burning.
During my session with Maureen, I felt no pain except for a slight throbbing sensation as a needle went into my ear. Maureen explained that this was related to my adrenal gland. As this gland helps mobilise your body's response to stress – and as I was super stressed - it made perfect sense that this one stood out.
It can work alongside mainstream medicine
True. In its traditional form, acupuncture stems from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the origins of which date back around 2,500 years. While its ancient principles have held strong, these days it's often used alongside modern medicine.
Maureen herself trained in China and spent time at a hospital where TCM was routinely used alongside modern treatments. Impressed by what she saw, she's now convinced that a combination of the two is the key to optimum health.
False. While it’s not super cheap, acupuncture needn’t cost the earth. Maureen does advise a longer course of treatments for effective long-term results, but a few sessions can normally sort out most problems.
More recently, there has been a rise in low-cost multi-bed acupuncture clinics, where several people are treated together in one large room. While the surroundings may not be as plush as Maureen’s Chiswick clinic, the treatments are just the same and can work out extremely cost-effective if you do need more than one or two sessions.
You can find a clinic near you on the official website of The Association of Community and Multibed Acupuncture Clinic.
There are side effects
True. The most common side effects of acupuncture are things everyone wants such as better sleep, more energy, better digestion and less stress. However some patients will also get some less desirable side effects.
“It can be very normal to experience heightened symptoms to being with,” says Maureen. This means if you’re being treated for back pain, the pain may get worse before it gets better.
While other physical side effects include drowsiness, bruising, soreness and dizziness, there can also be an emotional release.
“Don’t be alarmed if you suddenly feel very emotional or overwhelmed,” says Maureen. “That’s normal too. So is falling asleep, as some people find it very relaxing.”
Everyone can have acupuncture
False. While acupuncture is pretty safe, some people may do have to be extra cautious. The NHS advises people with bleeding disorders, such as haemophilia - where blood is unable to clot – to be careful about having treatments as inserting the needles can sometimes cause bleeding.
As with all treatments, it’s also advisable to tell your therapist if you’re pregnant as some acupuncture points cannot be safely used during pregnancy.
To ensure your acupuncturist is fully qualified and that you get a high standard of treatment, look for a registered member of the British Acupuncture Council, an accredited member of the Professional Standards Authority.
March 3-10 is Acupuncture Awareness Week. For more information, visit www.introducingacupuncture.co.uk