One of the techniques we may suggest in appropriate cases to treat our patients is acupuncture. At Devonshire Osteopaths we practise a form of acupuncture or dry needling, consistent with the western medical model. This article explains briefly what acupuncture is and how we use it.

Traditional Chinese acupuncture

Acupuncture probably originated in China, where it is used as one of a range of treatments provided within Traditional Chinese Medicine (often called TCM). Although TCM is taught in medical schools in China, TCM doctors have a very different way of looking at how the human body works. The TCM idea of disease and symptoms is hard to reconcile with the western medical model of disease.

In TCM, the underlying principle is that illness and pain occur when the body’s ‘qi’ – a Chinese word meaning vital energy – cannot flow freely through the body’s channels or meridians. The meridians can become obstructed, in much the same way, it is believed, as a trapped nerve or blocked artery. This can be for any number of reasons such as emotional and physical stress, poor nutrition, infection, or injury.

By inserting 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.

Acupuncture is not yet a legally regulated profession in the UK, but there is a move towards legal regulation, driven by concerns over safety and public accountability. The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) is the leading self-regulatory body for the practice of traditional acupuncture in the UK (http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/index.php). All BAcC members are bound by its Code of Professional Conduct and its Code of Safe Practice.

The British Acupuncture Accreditation Board (BAAB) accredits courses awarding either BSc (Hons) or BA (Hons) degrees involving at least 3,600 hours study. Full-time study lasts at least three years. Part-time study will take longer.

Western Medical Acupuncture

Many Western doctors believe that acupuncture treatment does work in a wide range of conditions and for a variety of patients and are able to explain its effectiveness in terms of physiological and neurological processes.

The British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) supports this approach, taking the view that there is a great deal of Western scientific research into pain that has helped in the understand how acupuncture might work. In particular, it is known that acupuncture causes the release of natural pain-killing and healing chemicals within the body.

The BMAS was formed in 1980 as an association of medical practitioners interested in acupuncture (http://www.medical-acupuncture.co.uk/). It is now a nationwide group of over 2700 registered doctors and allied health professionals who practise acupuncture alongside more conventional techniques. The BMAS believes that acupuncture has an important role to play in health care today and promotes the use of acupuncture as a therapy following orthodox medical diagnosis by suitably trained practitioners. BMAS runs training programmes in the UK for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals.

Some members of the BMAS are not only trained as orthodox healthcare professionals, but are also trained in TCM. Most members of the BMAS, however, use Western medical acupuncture within their usual professional practice. They often use the descriptive title “medical acupuncturist”.

Acupuncture at Devonshire Osteopaths

We are trained by BMAS in medical acupuncture, or ‘dry needling’ as it is often known. We use acupuncture as an adjunct to our osteopathic skills. Where we feel acupuncture would be appropriate, we discuss it with our patients to obtain informed consent – the choice is always the patient’s. We find that acupuncture is useful to effect muscle relaxation, and can often do so without the soreness that may accompany soft tissue techniques. Typically we use typically four or more sterile ultra-fine needles, and we may leave them in the body for about five minutes. Once removed, we may then use other manual techniques to encourage the tissue changes desired.