Acupuncture is based on scientific evidence that shows the treatment can stimulate nerves under the skin and in muscle tissue. This results in the body producing pain-relieving substances, such as endorphins. It is likely these substances are responsible for any beneficial effects seen with this form of acupuncture. Traditional acupuncture is based on the belief that an energy, or "life force", flows through the body in channels called meridians. This life force is known as Qi (pronounced "chee"). Practitioners who adhere to traditional beliefs about acupuncture believe that when Qi does not flow freely through the body, this can cause illness. They also believe acupuncture can restore the flow of Qi, and so restore health.
How acupuncture is performed
Typically, an initial acupuncture session will involve an assessment of general health, a medical history and a physical examination, followed by insertion of the acupuncture needles.
Most acupuncture sessions last between 20 and 40 minutes.
Courses of treatment often involve up to 10 separate sessions, but this can vary.
Insertion of the needles
After taking an appropriate medical history, the acupuncture practitioner will begin the insertion of the acupuncture needles. These needles are inserted into specific places on the body, which practitioners call acupuncture points.
During the session, you will usually be asked to sit or lie down. You may also be asked to remove some clothes so the practitioner can access the relevant parts of your body.
The needles used are fine and are usually a few centimetres long. They should be single-use, pre-sterilised needles that are disposed of immediately after use.
Acupuncture practitioners choose specific points to place the needles based on your condition. From 1 to 12 points will typically be used during a session, and sometimes more depending on the number of symptoms you have.
The needles may be inserted just under the skin, or deeper so they reach muscle tissue. Once the needles are in place, they may be left in position for a length of time lasting from a few minutes up to around 30 minutes.
You may feel a tingling or a dull ache when the needles are inserted. You should not experience any significant pain. If you do, let your practitioner know straight away.