What sorts of conditions respond to acupuncture?

  • Acupuncture is effective in a range of painful conditions and is commonly used for short-term relief of chronic low back pain and neck pain, and can help with the management of knee pain caused by osteoarthritis.
  • There is good evidence that it is effective in the short term relief of tension type headaches and migraine, and of temporomandibular joint pain.
  • Short term improvements in the symptoms of overactive bladder syndrome (through electroacupuncture at the point SP6).

The list above is limited by the current rules governing advertising, and how they are interpreted. If you have a question about the possible role of acupuncture in a specific medical condition or in the treatment of an individual patient please contact Allyson at the BMAS London Teaching Clinic.

What is involved in having acupuncture?

Every patient will have an initial assessment, followed by a course of treatment suitable for the condition.

Treatment is usually provided in six consecutive appointments but may be less if the condition responds quickly. However, if the practitioner feels that your condition can not be treated with acupuncture, you will be recommended to see your GP or appropriate specialist.

The treatment itself 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.

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:

Who will give the acupuncture treatment?

All BMAS acupuncturists are regulated healthcare professionals, who have also undertaken additional training in Western medical acupuncture. Many of them are GPs although increasing numbers come from other healthcare professions.

BMAS members are trained to work within the scope of their primary profession, and are able to use their orthodox healthcare training to assess and safely treat conditions a variety of conditions that are suitable for acupuncture.

Health Care Providers and insurance schemes

Some private health care providers such as BUPA, PPP and WPA pay for treatment under their health care policies. They will usually only do this if the treatment is being provided by an accredited BMAS member. If you are a member of a health care scheme, please telephone them for further information.