General Information About Acupuncture

What is the BMAS?

The British Medical Acupuncture Society is an organisation of regulated health professionals who practise acupuncture alongside more conventional techniques. It is the stated mission of the BMAS to encourage the use and scientific understanding of acupuncture within medicine for the public benefit.  We believe that acupuncture has an important role to play in health care today.

Acupuncture is a medical technique used to treat a variety of conditions and, during the past few years, it has become increasingly popular. Whilst it is exciting that the range of medical applications of acupuncture is increasing, it does mean that every practitioner of acupuncture has a duty to use it responsibly and to ensure that both medical colleagues and their patients are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the technique.

On this page, the BMAS has provided 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 treatment involves fine needles being inserted through the skin and briefly left in position. Sometimes manual or low voltage electrical stimulation is applied to assist the process. The number of needles varies but may be only two or three. The practitioner will assess each patient’s case and treatment will be tailored to the individual; so it is impossible to give more than this general idea of what your particular treatment might involve.

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.

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.

Click here for more detailed information about medical acupuncture and our understanding of how it works

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 1970s 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

The BMAS believes that acupuncture should only be used by trained practitioners who can adequately assess the risks and benefits of applying the therapy.  All members of the Society are regulated health professionals and are subject to the Society’s Code of Practice and Complaints Procedure.   This is 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.

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 are strongly advised to check the credentials of their practitioner.

Acupuncture is a potent therapy, and whilst it is generally safer than most conventional treatments, it should be used with care to avoid serious adverse effects or interactions with other treatments.

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.