What is Acupuncture?


Acupuncture is an alternative medicine methodology originating in ancient China that treats patients by manipulating thin, solid needles that have been inserted into acupuncture points in the skin. According to Traditional Chinese medicine, stimulating these points can correct imbalances in the flow of qi through channels known as meridians.

Acupuncture originated in China and other far eastern cultures where it still features in mainstream healthcare, both as a stand-alone therapy and in combination with conventional western medicine.  Acupuncture is now widely used and accepted all over the world.  In the UK more and more people are finding out what acupuncture can do for them. 

Members of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) practise acupuncture based on Chinese medicine principles that have been developed, researched and refined for over 2,000 years.



Who has Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is considered suitable for all ages, including babies, children, the elderly and also those at the end of their life.  It can also be used effectively alongside conventional medicine. Kath works with all ages, across the whole spectrum of life: from those wishing to create a life (infertility and childbirth) and those whose life is near ending (palliative care for the terminally ill)

Many people come to acupuncture for help with specific symptoms or conditions, or to relieve specific pain like osteoarthritis of the knee. Some use acupuncture because they feel generally unwell, but have no specific diagnosis. Others choose acupuncture simply to enhance their feeling of well-being.  



How does it Work?

Traditional acupuncture works to maintain the body's equilibrium by focusing on all aspects of well-being; physical, mental and emotional.

Good health is not just the absence of pain or disease.  According to traditional chinese philosophy, our health is dependant on the body's motivating energy moving in a smooth and balanced way through a series of channels beneath the skin. This energy is known as qi (chi) The flow of qi can be disturbed by any number of factors.  These include emotional states such as anxiety, anger or grief, as well as poor nutrition, hereditary factors, infections and trauma.  When the qi is unbalanced, illness may result.

The acupuncturist inserts ultra fine needles at chosen points along the channels of energy. The aim is to restore its natural balance. Treatment is aimed at the root of your condition as well as your symptoms.  This approach can lead to a more permanent resolution of your problems.



What Happens at a Treatment?

Kath will use a number of different diagnostic methods to get a complete picture of your health and lifestyle, including taking a full medical history, reading your pulses and looking at your tongue.  

Based on this information, she will make a diagnosis and put together your personal treatment plan.  Acupuncture points are selected according to your symptoms.  

The single-use sterile needles come in sealed packs; they will be opened in front of you and disposed of after each treatment.

Before having acupuncture treatment

Before your first acupuncture session there are several things you should bear in mind:

  • many commonly used acupuncture points are located on the lower arms and legs, so it is helpful to wear clothing that allows easy access to these areas
  • try not to go for treatment on an empty stomach or straight after a heavy meal
  • let Kath know if you are completely new to acupuncture so she can take extra time to explain what happens and ensure you are comfortable with the process.

Your first consultation

During your first visit Kath will need to gain a thorough understanding of your main complaint and your general health and lifestyle. This involves asking questions about your current symptoms and your medical history, as well as such things as your sleeping pattern, your appetite and digestion, and your emotional wellbeing. Women are also asked about their menstrual cycle and any past pregnancies and childbirth.

You might feel that some questions appear unrelated to your condition, but the information you give helps to form a complete picture of your health and lifestyle. She will also take your pulse on both wrists and may examine your tongue and feel for areas of muscular tension or pain.

Your main health complaint

When talking about your main complaint, Kath might ask you to describe in your own words what the symptoms feel like and how severe they are. You may also be asked how long you have been having the symptoms, whether they are constant or intermittent and how frequent they are. You should mention any medication that you are taking and whether you have tried any other therapies.

In order to make a diagnosis according to traditional Chinese medicine theory and to find the right treatment approach, she will also want to know more specific details.

Treatment plan and treatment


Based on all the information you have given, Kath will make a diagnosis and put together your treatment plan, which may include lifestyle and dietary advice as well as acupuncture. She will use very fine, single-use, pre-sterilised needles to stimulate specific acupuncture points on your body. Because energy meridians range across the whole body, the points used are not necessarily close to where you experience pain or discomfort. For example, if you suffer from headaches, needles might be inserted in your foot or hand.



As well as needling acupuncture points, Kath may also use other Chinese medicine techniques such as:

  • moxibustion: heat is applied to an acupuncture point or meridian using moxa (a therapeutic herb) and/or heat lamps to warm and relax muscles and qi

  • tuina: Chinese therapeutic massage relieves muscle tension, stimulates acupressure points, opens energy meridians and stimulate the flow of qi

  • cupping: glass cups with a vacuum seal are placed on the skin to stimulate blood flow and clear stagnant qi

  • guasha: vigorous rubbing of the skin increases blood flow and clears stagnant qi.

Lifestyle advice

Kath is likely to suggest ways in which you can enhance the long-term effects of your treatment. This may involve making changes to your diet and daily routine. 


Most people find acupuncture relaxing and often feel very calm after a treatment. You may feel a little tired or sleepy and should take this into account if you are planning to drive or use heavy machinery straight after your treatment.

You should refrain from vigorous exercise after treatment and, ideally, give yourself a little time to rest. It is also advisable not to drink alcohol for several hours after treatment.

Side Effects

Acupuncture has very few side effects and any that do occur are usually mild and self-correcting.  As mentioned above, you may feel a little tired or sleepy.

What Does it Feel Like?



Acupuncture needles are much finer than hypodermic needles used for injections and blood samples which have to be big enough to carry a liquid. 

Therefore they do not puncture the skin with a large needle and are therefore more comfortable. When the needle is inserted you may feel a tingling sensation or dull ache.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

Acupuncture is one of the safest medical treatments, both conventional and complementary, on offer in the UK.

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 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.

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, are mild and self-correcting.

When you receive treatment from a BAcC registered acupuncturist you can be confident that your well-being and safety is at the heart of everything your practitioner does. The following assurances are BAcC standard:

  • BAcC members have completed a first-degree-level training or equivalent in traditional acupuncture including substantial elements of western anatomy, physiology and pathology
  • your BAcC acupuncturist will record all relevant details of your health condition and your medical history before treatment commences. Occasionally, based on this information, he or she may refer you to your GP for further investigation or medical treatment
  • your BAcC acupuncturist uses only pre-sterilised single-use needles which are safely disposed of after your treatment
  • all treatments are carried out in accordance with exemplary professional standards developed by the British Acupuncture Council and detailed in the BAcC Codes of Safe Practice and of Professional Conduct
  • the treatment room and all equipment must conform to standards laid out in the BAcC Code of Safe Practice and in nearly all cases have also been approved by local authority environmental health officers
  • BAcC members have full medical malpractice and public/product liability insurance coverage.

The BAcC is aware of the practice of self-needling, especially for patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and are taught limited but effective treatment to minimise the side-effects of the drug therapy. However, some places now appear to routinely hand out needles to patients for the purpose of self-treatment at home. The BAcC has considerable reservations about the widespread use of self-needling unless patients are properly taught how to avoid injury by using equipment which is appropriate for self-treatment and how to maintain rigorous health and safety standards for their own protection and for the protection of their families. Treatment from a properly trained and qualified practitioner is the best guarantee of safe and effective treatment.