It's an ancient method of healing from China that has been used in mainstream medicine in the East for over 5,000 years. Long, very thin needles are used to pierce the skin. These needles are placed very gently on areas that relate to parts of the body called acupoints. These acupoints are based on the idea that we have invisible paths of energy throughout our body and when they are blocked they harm our health.
How does it work?
Acupuncturists believe that the needles unblock our energy, can stimulate our immune system and work on the nervous system to block messages to the brain that you are in pain - which is why acupuncture, on the whole, doesn't hurt.
What conditions can it treat?
It's good for chronic pain such as arthritis, migraines and sports injuries. It can be helpful for some people with alcoholism and eating disorders. Acupuncture can be one of a combination of therapies to treat skin problems such as eczema and breathing problems like asthma.
Sometimes acupuncture works for women who experience hormonal problems such as pre-menstrual syndrome.
Can I have it on the NHS?
Yes, the NHS now backs acupuncture to treat certain ailments. In October 2009, new official guidelines said that patients with persistent lower back pain should be offered acupuncture on the NHS. The recommendation came from NICE (the NHS rationing body), and says that the scientific evidence now shows that acupuncture is effective at treating back pain, and also cost effective if used when other treatments, such as painkillers, don't work. This news comes hot on the heels of another report from the influential medical research review body, the Cochrane Collaboration, saying that headache and migraine sufferers clearly fare better with acupuncture than painkillers.
How much does it cost?
If you get it on the NHS it will be free, although often only for a limited time, perhaps just six sessions, or it will be subsidised. Almost all acupuncturists in the UK are private, so you will have to pay to see them and costs vary widely.
Where can I go to get treatment and find out more information?
Speak to your GP first to see if they can refer you and if they think it will be of any benefit.
You can also contact www.acupuncture.org.uk who will be able to advise you of acupuncturists in your area.