Word on Health

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Word On Acupuncture

Our thanks to the British Acupuncture Council (BAC), the UK's largest professional self-regulatory body for the practice of traditional acupuncture, for allowing us to reproduce the information below.  We'd also like to thank traditional acupuncture practitioner & BAC member, Rhiannon Griffiths for her contribution to this week's 'on-air' report which you can hear via the radio player further down this page.

Traditional Acupuncture - a growing body of evidence-based clinical research shows that traditional acupuncture safely treats a wide range of common health problems.  Traditional acupuncture is a healthcare system based on ancient principles which go back nearly two thousand years.  According to the BAC with 2.3 million acupuncture treatments carried out each year, traditional acupuncture is one of the most popular complementary therapies practised in the UK today.  

Traditional acupuncturists believe that the underlying principle of treatment is that illness and pain occur when the body's qi, or vital energy, cannot flow freely. There can be many reasons for this; emotional and physical stress, poor nutrition, infection or injury are among the most common. By inserting ultra-fine sterile needles into specific acupuncture points, a traditional acupuncturist seeks to re-establish the free flow of qi to restore balance and trigger the body's natural healing response.

The focus is on the individual, not their illness, and all the symptoms are seen in relation to each other. Each patient is unique; two people with the same western diagnosis may well receive different acupuncture treatments.

Until the 1940s, when the Chinese government commissioned the development of a uniform system of diagnosis and treatment, somewhat misleadingly referred to as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), nearly all training had been apprentice-style with masters and within families. The same applied when acupuncture travelled overseas to Japan and South East Asia.  As a consequence of this there are many different styles of acupuncture which share a common root but are distinct and different in their emphasis. (You may read of TCM, Five Elements, Stems and Branches, Japanese Meridian Therapy, and many others, all of which have their passionate devotees. The BAC though, has, they tell us, long embraced this plurality under the heading "unity in diversity" and sees the variety of approaches as the mark of a healthy profession.)

Is acupuncture safe? According to the BAC there are very few side effects from acupuncture when practised by a fully qualified practitioner of traditional acupuncture. Any minor side effects that do occur, such as dizziness or bruising around needle points, they claim, are mild and self-correcting.

Two surveys* conducted independently of each other and published in the British Medical Journal in 2001 concluded that the risk of a serious adverse reaction to acupuncture is less than 1 in 10,000. This, it is claimed, is far less than many orthodox medical treatments. (*One survey was of traditional acupuncturists and the other of doctors who practise acupuncture. A total of 66,000 treatments were reviewed altogether, with only a handful of minor and transient side effects recorded. *A 2003 survey of 6,000 patients of acupuncture produced almost identical figures.)

If you choose to receive treatment from a BAC registered acupuncturist, the association tell us you can be confident that your well-being and safety will be at the heart of everything your practitioner does. Their members will:

  • Have completed a degree-level training or equivalent in traditional acupuncture including substantial elements of western anatomy, physiology and pathology.
  • Record all relevant details of your health condition and your medical history before treatment commences. Occasionally, based on this information, the practitioner may refer you to your GP for further investigation or medical treatment.
  • Only use pre-sterilised single-use needles which are safely disposed of after your treatment.
  • Carry out all treatments in accordance with exemplary professional standards developed by the British Acupuncture Council and detailed in the the association's code of safe practice and professional conduct.
  • Ensure the treatment room and all equipment conform to standards laid out in the the association's code of safe practice and in nearly all cases, will have also been approved by their local authority environmental health officer.
  • Have full medical malpractice and public/product liability insurance cover.

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.