Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese pain-relieving treatment that has been used for more than 2,000 years. In the last 30 years it has become more popular in this country and is used in some Pain Clinics.
The treatment involves inserting very fine needles into the skin which stimulates the release of the body’s natural pain killing chemicals (endorphins). These are released at the site where the needles are inserted and in several areas within your body, including the spinal cord where the nerves run, and the brain. Acupuncture is believed to release other natural substances in the body which help healing and recovery.
It can be helpful for pain in the muscles or soft tissues, such as back and neck pain, or for treating headaches. It doesn’t work for everybody, though.
What are the positives and negatives?
There are very rarely any side effects. However, the benefits often don’t last very long - typically between a couple of days to a few weeks. This can lead to regular repeat treatments, or having to tolerate wide variations in pain from week to week.
Can I get it on the NHS?
The NHS currently struggles to support very regular treatments, so unless you are one of a small group of people who gain a sustained benefit from treatment, it won’t usually be offered as a long-term solution for people living with persistent pain.
There is a risk also that people become dependent on a ‘passive treatment’ (someone doing something to you), and this takes the focus away from the ‘active self management’ strategies (being in control of things yourself).
You may be offered a short course of treatment (usually six sessions) if you are really struggling with your pain, but all efforts will be made to teach you other ways of coping in the long run.
As with many other treatments, if there is benefit from acupuncture it is important to use this pain relief to enable you to get fitter and stronger. Most people find this is the best way to live a better life with persistent pain.