The truth about acupuncture

Acupuncture has had a long and sometimes controversial history in modern medicine. For years, many branded it as ‘voodoo’ medicine; something that was all in the mind and didn’t really make a difference when it came to managing real health issues and alleviating pain.

The ancient Chinese method divided medical experts into believers and sceptics. While some hailed its benefits and swore by its healing effects, others claimed it was nothing more than a placebo.

Then, about 12 years ago, a groundbreaking study from the University of Southampton’s Complementary Medicine Research unit found categorically that acupuncture does indeed work.

The study caused Western medical experts to sit up and take notice and acupuncture became increasingly popular with patients looking for alternative ways to manage pain and stimulate the body.

Vice president of Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA) Waveny Holland says the method can be used to treat a range of injuries and ailments and that despite the fact someone is inserting needles into your body, it is rarely painful.

“It is the insertion of very fine single-use sterile disposable needles into acupuncture points to balance the flow of qi (pronounced chee) – the Chinese word for energy,” she says. “Most people will report a feeling of relaxation after an acupuncture treatment and an improvement in symptoms.”

Acupuncture focuses on using the body’s qi – or energy – to stimulate certain points and clear out blockages to allow the energy to flow correctly. As strange as it may sound to some, our body is made of much more than blood, bones and muscles and acupuncture focusses on these differences.

Pressure points are targeted to hone in on certain areas to treat the cause of the problem as well as the symptoms.

So how will you know if it works for you? Holland says it’s not a matter of if, it simply does. “Acupuncture works. It’s not a case of will it work for me. It was the main medical model used in China for centuries, acupuncture was and still is used to treat the variety of medical conditions that affect people.”

She says acupuncture can be used to treat all kinds of pain and numerous studies have found it can help in other areas, like fertility and menopause, too.

As with most kinds of medical treatments, there are risks involved, but with acupuncture, they tend to be minimal. Some patients will experience minor bruising around the area where the needle was inserted, or a small spec of blood at the entry point. In worst case scenarios, Holland says needles inserted too deep could puncture organs, but this is extremely rare.

To make sure you’re getting the best care, it’s a good idea to find a registered practitioner through the AACMA. Just like a doctor, acupuncturists are registered to practice medicine and a good practitioner will always talk through your health issues with you first before beginning treatment.

One question that arises time and time again is, can I use acupuncture on it’s own or should it only be done in conjunction with western medicine?

Holland says it is absolutely safe to use acupuncture on it’s own and many people use it along with their regular GP visits, too.

If you’re feeling a little nervous about giving it a go, it’s a good idea to call a practitioner and talk through the treatment process with them. They should be able to tell you how they work and what areas of the body they will focus on to help you.