What is the BMAS?
Acupuncture is a medical technique used to treat a wide variety of conditions. The British Medical Acupuncture Society is an organisation of regulated health professionals who practise acupuncture alongside more conventional techniques. The BMAS believes that acupuncture has an important role to play in health care today.
During the past few years, acupuncture has become increasingly popular. Whilst it is exciting that the range of medical applications of acupuncture is increasing, it does mean that the responsible practitioner of acupuncture has a duty to educate both other medical colleagues and the general public about the strengths and weaknesses of the technique.
Very large claims have been made for acupuncture in the past. Not all of them can be substantiated. Such claims are worrying and can alienate many people - doctors among them - who might otherwise be sympathetic to the view that acupuncture can, in selected cases, be an effective method of treatment.
On this page, the BMAS has provided detailed information to help you decide whether acupuncture might be a useful treatment to try for your condition. We also provide information to help you select an appropriate practitioner.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a treatment which can relieve symptoms of some physical and psychological conditions and may encourage the patient's body to heal and repair itself, if it is able to do so.
Acupuncture stimulates the nerves in skin and muscle, and can produce a variety of effects. We know that it increases the body's release of natural painkillers - endorphin and serotonin - in the pain pathways of both the spinal cord and the brain. This modifies the way pain signals are received.
But acupuncture does much more than reduce pain, and has a beneficial effect on health. Patients often notice an improved sense of wellbeing after treatment.
Modern research shows that acupuncture can affect most of the body's systems - the nervous system, muscle tone, hormone outputs, circulation, antibody production and allergic responses, as well as the respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems.
The practitioner will assess each patient’s case and treatment will be tailored to the individual; so it is impossible to give more than a general idea of what treatment might involve. Typically, fine needles are inserted through the skin and left in position briefly, sometimes with manual or electrical stimulation. The number of needles varies but may be only two or three.
Treatment might be once a week to begin with, then at longer intervals as the condition responds. A typical course of treatment lasts 5 to 8 sessions.
Uses for acupuncture
Taking the above into consideration, here are some of the ways in which acupuncture may be effective:
- Pain relief for a wide range of painful conditions. It is commonly used to treat musculoskeletal pain, for example - back, shoulder, neck and leg pain
- It has been used successfully to treat headaches, migraines, trapped nerves, chronic muscle strains, sports injuries and various kinds of arthritic and rheumatic pain
- Functional bowel or bladder problems such as IBS or even mild forms of incontinence
- Menstrual and menopausal symptoms, eg period pains and hot flushes
- Allergies such as hay fever, perennial allergic rhinitis, and some types of allergic rashes such as urticaria and prickly heat.
- Some other skin problems such as rashes and ulcers, itching, and some forms of dermatitis
- Sinus problems and chronic catarrh
- Dry mouth and eyes
- Help with stopping smoking.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does give a rough idea of the wide range of conditions that respond to acupuncture treatment. Remember that before starting acupuncture, the practitioner must be sure of the diagnosis and that all the necessary tests have been carried out which might point to any serious or potentially serious condition, perhaps requiring other forms of treatment.
Acupuncture - past, present and future
Acupuncture-like techniques may have been used for over 5000 years, if evidence from Ötzi the Iceman is considered; however, the most well known system of acupuncture was developed in the Far East from around 2000 years ago. This was first introduced into Europe in the 17th Century, but widespread interest in the technique did not develop until the political events of the early 1970's allowed travel restrictions between East and West to be eased.
In the past thirty years, because of the huge public interest in the subject, considerable scientific research on acupuncture has been carried out - although much remains to be done. We now know much more about how acupuncture works and some of the myths can be laid to rest. It is demonstrably untrue to say that the results of acupuncture are all in the mind.
As we learn more about it, the possibilities of using acupuncture alongside orthodox medicine increase. The distinction between complementary or alternative medicine and conventional medicine is becoming blurred as acupuncture is accepted in medicine. Acupuncture is already available in most hospital pain clinics and it is provided by an ever-increasing number of GPs and hospital doctors.
Where to go for acupuncture
At the moment, anybody in the UK is allowed to call themselves an acupuncturist and can start advertising and practising acupuncture immediately, regardless of qualifications or experience. This is not ideal within a healthcare setting, so patients must check the credentials of their practitioner.
BMAS members are subject to our Code of Practice and Complaints Procedure in addition to meeting the requirements of the statutory regulatory body for their profession. Our Code of Practice is available to download as a PDF file.
Download the BMAS Code of Practice.
Acupuncture is a potent therapy, and whilst it is generally safer than most conventional treatments, if used without due care it can have serious adverse effects or interactions with other treatments.
Acupuncture should only be used by trained practitioners who can adequately assess the risks and benefits of applying the therapy.
The ideal promoted by the BMAS is that acupuncture should be fully incorporated into orthodox medicine and used as one of the therapeutic tools available in treatment of a defined range of conditions.
To find a BMAS member practising acupuncture near you use our Find a Practitioner function, or visit the BMAS London Teaching Clinic, established as a centre of excellence for the practice of medical acupuncture.