Acupuncture forms part of traditional Chinese Medicine. Various sources have proposed that the acupuncture dates back to anything from 3000BC to 1000BC.

Like Traditional Chinese acupuncture, western acupuncture uses meridian points, but applies it to western scientific reasoning with consideration to anatomy and Neuro-physiology. Practitioners that provide western acupuncture do not use traditional Chinese mode of assessment and diagnosis to treat their patients. Instead practitioners aim to promote healing through stimulation of the nervous system at the local level. Hence, Physiotherapists often provide other forms of treatment, for example manual therapy or a home exercise program, in conjunction with acupuncture.

Acupuncture is now being used in Western medicine to treat pain and is one of the many skills employed within physiotherapy as part of an integrated approach to the management of pain and inflammation. Physiotherapists have been using acupuncture for almost 40 years and are the largest providers of acupuncture within the NHS, basing their treatments on scientific research and clinical evidence. Recent studies have shown that acupuncture produces natural pain-relieving chemicals such as melatonin and serotonin which can influence sleep and feelings of well-being

Conventional acupuncture involves the use of single-use, pre-sterilised disposable needles of varying widths, lengths and materials that pierce the skin at the acupuncture points. The physiotherapist will determine the locations of these points on the basis of an assessment of the cause of the problem. A number of needles may be used during each treatment, and these are typically left in position for between 20 and 30 minutes before being removed.

Trigger point acupuncture may also be used to facilitate relaxation in specific muscles following traumas, for longer-term unresolved muscle pain, or as a means of increasing muscle length in order to aid stretch and rehabilitation. In the latter case, the needle is inserted into the affected muscle until the tissue is felt to relax under the needle, which is then removed. Trigger point needling often produces an effect much more quickly, and therefore, does not require the 20–30-minute treatment time.

Why use acupuncture in physiotherapy?

In the UK there are largely two types of professional groups that practise acupuncture. One group has studied acupuncture as part of three years of Chinese Traditional Medicine studies; the other will have completed three years of Western medical studies (to become a doctor or a physiotherapist for example) and have learned about acupuncture as a post-graduate study, concentrated on and applicable to their western training.

Physiotherapists are the largest group of medical professionals in the UK practising acupuncture.

The vast majority of acupuncture treatments in the UK is for musculoskeletal (physiotherapy requiring) conditions.

AACP members are Chartered Physiotherapists who had full medical training and in addition many have worked for at least one year with patients in a hospital setting or in private practice, before starting their acupuncture learning. So they are fully aware of the physiology (functioning) of the body through their physiotherapy study and practical work.

Their additional acupuncture learning exists of 300 hours theoretical and practical studies and assessments, predominantly in the musculoskeletal area in which they graduated in the first place and based on evidence based western acupuncture research.

After successful completion of the acupuncture course, the AACP ensures that its members conduct regular CPD to keep up to speed with latest developments.

Full (accredited) membership of AACP is granted only on evidence that a physiotherapist has completed at least 300 hours of theoretical and practical training and assessments on courses approved by the Association.

What happens when I see my physiotherapist for acupuncture?

It is a good idea to make sure you have something to eat 1-2 hours before your treatment.

When you first see your physiotherapist, he or she will take your full medical history and ask you about your current health problems.

Between 1 to 10 needles may be used at a time at an acupuncture session. The number of needles used will vary according to your condition and symptoms.

The needles are inserted through the skin either at the sites where you feel pain, away from the pain or a combination of both. The needles are usually left in for a few minutes up to 30 minutes. During the treatment, your physiotherapist may stimulate the needles by gently rotating them. This is done to increase the treatment’s effectiveness.

The needles are removed at the end of the session. You will then be asked to rest for a few minutes before you leave.

How does acupuncture work?

Medical Acupuncture is one of the many skills employed by AACP physiotherapists as part of an integrated approach to the management of pain and inflammation. Scientific research and clinical evidence have shown that Acupuncture can reduce pain by stimulating the brain and spinal cord to produce natural pain-relieving chemicals such as endorphins, melatonin (which promotes sleep) and serotonin (to promote well-being), to name but a few. These chemicals assist the body’s healing processes and offer pain relief as a precursor to other treatments such as manual therapy or exercise in order to aid recovery.

How many sessions will I have?

The overall number of treatment sessions required will depend on you, your condition and your physiotherapist’s assessment. Most patients receive a course of 4-6 treatments although just one or two treatments may be enough. Sometimes 1 or 2 ‘top up’ treatments are required. Treatments are normally given at 1-2 weekly intervals. It is generally clear after a few sessions whether or not acupuncture will benefit you and if the treatment should be continued.

Can anyone have acupuncture?

There are certain health conditions that may stop you receiving acupuncture or mean that the treatment should be used with caution. It is important to let your physiotherapist know:

• If you have ever experienced a fit, seizure, faint or if you have epilepsy;
• If you have a pacemaker or any other electrical implant;
• If you have a bleeding disorder e.g. haemophilia;
• If you are taking anti-coagulants or any other medication;
• If you have damage to heart valves, or have any risk of active infections;
• If you are pregnant or trying to conceive;
• If you have a known metal allergy – specifically to stainless steel;
• If you have a needle phobia;
• If you have a known infection or poor skin condition in the area to be treated;
• If you have a deficient or weakened immune system;
• If you have diabetes;
• If you have low blood pressure;
• If you have been prescribed any medicine;
• If you have cold/flu symptoms or feel generally unwell.


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