Can acupuncture be used to treat my problem?

There is very good scientific evidence showing that acupuncture can help with short term relief of knee, neck and low back pain, and tension type headaches and migraine. It has also been shown to relieve nausea and vomiting in some situations. For other problems, there is little good scientific evidence that we can rely on because not enough good quality research work has been done. The commonest reason to try acupuncture is to treat painful problems.

Acupuncture can be used to treat a range of conditions and practitioners often vary enormously in the kind of conditions they are happy to treat. So, whether acupuncture can help you can only really be decided after discussion.

Results can never be guaranteed. Some people react very well to acupuncture while other people notice little change. In addition, some patients notice that acupuncture promotes relaxation, and results in a feeling of improved wellbeing. Many find that they feel better after acupuncture treatment, even if, unfortunately, there is no real improvement in their medical condition.

To give you an idea of the range of conditions acupuncture can be used to treat, please follow this link.

Is acupuncture safe?

In the hands of properly trained practitioners, acupuncture appears to be a very safe form of treatment. It is certainly safer than many of the drug treatments we use. However, any procedure that involves inserting needles into the body has some potential problems. In addition, there are a few "side effects" produced by acupuncture treatment that can be troublesome in certain people.

Here is a list of some of the side effects you may, or may not, experience:

  • Momentary discomfort where the needles are inserted
  • Drowsiness and sleepiness
  • Bruising
  • Temporary worsening of your symptoms
  • Fainting
  • Onset of a migraine headache, if you are a sufferer
  • Feeling faint, during or after treatment.

Here is a list of some of the rare, but serious, problems that may be a risk:

  • Damage to an internal organ from insertion of a needle
  • Infection in the area where the needle was inserted
  • Infection from Hepatitis or HIV if dirty needles are used
  • Infection spreading through the blood system to infect previously damaged heart valves.

Please remember that, luckily, the above problems are very rare.

Acupuncture should be used with due caution in pregnant women, although there are no established risks that are specific to pregnancy.

Where can I find out more about the risks?

The best information about the safety of acupuncture can be found in five published studies.

The first two, from 2001, were both published in the British Medical Journal:

This research was followed-up with a patient study:

A comprehensive study of adverse events across the world was published in 2004:

The most recent and comprehensive prospective study examined the outcomes of over 2.2 million treatments and found an incidence of 8.6% experiencing an adverse event, the most common being headaches, fatigue or bruising. There were two cases of collapsed lungs, but only one required treatment. In general serious adverse events were shown to be very rare:

Why choose a medical acupuncturist?

Acupuncture may be very useful in improving symptoms you experience, such as pain. However, although acupuncture may help you to feel better, acupuncture will not cure a serious underlying problem, such as serious lung disease, heart disease, tumours or cancers, for example. It is, therefore, important that you continue to seek normal medical advice and continue with essential medical treatment. A medical acupuncturist will be able to discuss your medical problems with you, will understand the results of medical tests you have had, and will understand what medication you are taking and why. He or she can advise you on whether you need to consult your own doctor, and will be able to discuss your case with your own doctor, with your permission and when necessary.

Which practitioners are listed on the BMAS Website?

Practitioners listed on the BMAS website are regulated health professionals who have completed at least six hours of update training in the last twelve months.  Many have further qualifications and you can see details by hovering your cursor over the coloured box alongside the practitioner's name.  Only BMAS members who have chosen to make their contact details public appear here.

If in doubt about the credentials of one of the listed practitioners, please apply to the BMAS administrator for verification of details.

No practitioner listed in your area?

You can contact the British Medical Acupuncture Society for a list of practitioners in your area of the UK. Please don't forget to include your name and address with your request.

BMAS House, 3 Winnington Court
Northwich, Cheshire CW8 1AQ
Tel: 01606 786782
Fax: 01606 786783

BMAS members - would you like to be listed?

Only fully accredited BMAS members can be listed on our Web site. You can find out how to become accredited in the Members area of the website.

How can I train to be an acupuncturist?

This varies depending which country you live in. The answer below applies to the UK only. If you live elsewhere, please contact a local acupuncture society to find the answer to your question.

You will find some societies listed by following the links below:

AACP Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists
American Academy of Medical Acupuncture
Association for British Veterinary Acupuncturists
Australian Medical Acupuncture College
British Acupuncture Council
Canadian Medical Acupuncture Society
Danish Medical Association of Acupuncture
Dutch Acupuncture Association (NAAV)
French federation of acupuncture associations (FAFORMEC)
ICMART (International Council of Medical Acupuncture and Related Techniques)
Norwegian Society for Medical Acupuncture
Portuguese Medical Acupuncture Society
Turkish Medical Acupuncture Association
(USA) Society for Acupuncture Research
Seville Regional Society of Acupuncture

In the UK, at present, there are no regulations governing acupuncture training and no regulations governing the practice of acupuncture.

The British Medical Acupuncture Society is a society of health professionals. We believe that acupuncture should be used as part of ordinary medical practice. Our courses are concentrated and concise because we already presume a certain level of medical knowledge.

Therefore, we only offer training to healthcare professionals who are registered by statute in the UK. This includes doctors, dentists, vets, nurses, physiotherapists, midwives, health visitors, osteopaths, chiropractors, podiatrists etc.

Details of our training courses can be found on our Web site.

What is the history of acupuncture - how did it start?

Acupuncture has been practiced for many centuries, and by many different countries and cultures. However, we believe acupuncture started in ancient China, possibly as long as 4,000 years ago.

For a brief view of the history of acupuncture in China, you can read this published summary by Professor Kan-Wen Ma.

For a short description of the 'modernisation' of acupuncture, you can read this published letter by Dr Anthony Campbell.

Why do you use the term 'medical acupuncture'?

Acupuncture originated from China, where it is used as one of a range of treatments provided in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine is 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 our modern western knowledge of disease. You should also be aware that China also trains large numbers of conventional medical doctors. It is a myth to believe that TCM is the only treatment available for the billions of people who live in modern day China. In fact, the Chinese seem to live with a mixture of both TCM and modern medicine.

Many Western doctors accept that acupuncture treatment does work in a wide range of conditions and for a variety of patients. We want to use this treatment to help our patients. However, our modern medical knowledge makes it very hard for Western doctors to accept the teachings of TCM - which to many Western doctors do not fit with our modern understanding of how the body works and are not supported by scientific evidence.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of Western scientific research into pain, which has helped us understand how acupuncture might work. In particular, we know that acupuncture causes the release of natural pain-killing and healing chemicals within our bodies.

Some of the members of the BMAS are not only medical doctors, but are also trained in TCM. However, most of the members of the BMAS simply use acupuncture as part of their medical practice. They are "medical" acupuncturists.

We often have debates within the society about the value of TCM. It is useful to have two different approaches to acupuncture because this stimulates thought and encourages research.