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Medical Acupuncture
Hilary Whitaker, BSc. (Hons) Ost, PgDip Med Acu.
Registered Osteopath and Medical Acupuncturist

What is Medical Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a treatment technique used for thousands of years where very fine sterile needles are inserted into the muscles through the skin and left briefly to stimulate the nerves and the circulation in the soft tissues. Modern research shows that acupuncture has local effects where the needles are inserted, to improve circulation, reduce pain and normalise muscle tone.  Acupuncture works by relaxing the muscle and allowing the muscles to stretch and move normally.  It also has more general effects in that your body releases endorphins and other hormones called neurotransmitters to give pain relief and create a sense of wellbeing and relaxation.

Therefore one of the most widespread uses for Medical Acupuncture is the relief of discomfort from musculoskeletal pain, particularly myofascial (muscle and soft tissue) trigger points. Sometimes this is called ‘myofascial dry needling’ by osteopaths and physiotherapists.  Trigger points are painful, tender bands in the soft tissues that cause discomfort and can refer pain to other areas. 

When the sterile needle is inserted the nerve endings in the soft tissues recognise that there is a foreign object there, and mobilises its resources to increase the local  circulation, release our natural painkillers (endorphins), and modify the pain signals received in the spinal cord and brain. The overall effect is to relieve pain, increase local blood flow, restore movement and promote tissue healing within the body’s own capacity to do so. Sometimes tiny amounts of stimulation are applied to the needles when they are in, either manually or electrically. The needles are much finer than the kind used for giving injections or taking blood.

Acupuncture is approved by NICE for the treatment of some types of lower back pain, and headaches, and is already available in many GP and hospital pain clinics. It is being increasingly integrated into treatments provided by manual therapists, and also by dentists and vets.

What is not treated?
My focus is musculoskeletal problems and chronic pain. I do not do Traditional Chinese Acupuncture, which claims to be a system of complementary medicine to help treat general health problems, mental health issue, or fertility. I am always happy to discuss things with you over the telephone first if you would like more information about whether this type of acupuncture might be suitable for you.

Is it safe?
Acupuncture is very safe when used by trained practitioners who understand human anatomy and  can assess you and explain the benefits and any risks. Like any treatment there are risks of adverse effects if used without due care. A full case history is taken and a checklist and consent form for you to sign is gone through to ensure that acupuncture is appropriate for you.  The benefits, side-effects and any specific risks will always be discussed with you before proceeding.  There may be specific issues to each case which will be explained after taking the medical history. If you are on any medications please bring a list of them with you. You must tell me if you have ever had any fits or ‘funny turns’, have a pacemaker or other electrical implants, any cosmetic implants, or any blood-borne diseases.

Only single use disposable needles are used. Each needle comes in a sterile blister pack and the needle is in a holder so that the tip that goes into your skin is never handled.

The first session usually involves some minimal acupuncture to see how you react, and if you are uncomfortable or unhappy at any stage the needles can be swiftly removed.  

My qualifications
I have been an Osteopath since 2000 and am registered with the General Osteopathic Council and a member of the British Osteopathic Association.  I am also a Member of the British Medical Acupuncture Society and use a combined approach of osteopathy and needling techniques.  I began using myofascial dry needling in 2002 and studied for a further three years to get a Post-graduate  Diploma in Western Medical Acupuncture on the MSc. programme with the University of Hertfordshire. I am a recognised provider for all major insurance companies.

Always check the credentials of your practitioner because at present in the UK acupuncture is not regulated. Osteopaths who are British Medical Acupuncture Society members (www.medical-acupuncture.co.uk)practice acupuncture alongside traditional osteopathic techniques, as an extra therapeutic modality. As well as also meeting the Code of Practice requirements of our own statutory body, The General Osteopathic Council, we also agree to an additional acupuncture Code of Practice, and must have up-to-date Hepatitis B immunisation and commit to updating our skills and knowledge on regular courses.

School House Osteopathic Clinic is licensed by Chelmsford Council to carry out acupuncture treatments.

Acupuncture can be safely used in pregnancy, and I have attended specialist courses in the treatment of mums-to-be with both Osteopathy and Acupuncture.  In an abundance of caution points over the abdomen and those affecting the uterus are avoided.  Due to the possibility that the pregnant woman’s body may be more susceptible to treatments in the first 12 weeks and the last 4 weeks of pregnancy, use of acupuncture is these weeks is always considered more carefully.

There have been rare cases of epileptic fits after acupuncture, even in people who have been fit-free for many years. It is not clear if this was a total coincidence as it is so rare that no research is available, and BMAS do not contraindicate acupuncture for epileptics who have their fits under control. However unlikely, if you have a history of epilepsy you need to be aware of this. In this situation I prefer not to use acupuncture where other techniques might be used instead.

Not everything can be covered here but the following general points might be helpful:

You must be feeling generally well on the day of the treatment.  You should not have a treatment if you are going down with anything, have a temperature or been recently unwell.  Try not to be rushed beforehand, and ensure you have eaten and had enough fluids earlier in the day, in case you do feel faint or nauseous. If you think you might be affected that way by needles (for instance if you have felt faint having blood taken or injections) try to have someone accompany you.

Wear loose fitting clothing which can be comfortably rolled back to allow needle insertion, or bring a pair of shorts and a vest to change into. If you are body conscious I can use a blanket or towel to cover you once the needles are in place.

Usually the needles are in for approximately 7 – 20 minutes.  You will never just be left on your own alone in the room with the needles in, so do not worry that you will be forgotten about.

You can feel drowsy or drained after so it is wise to make sure you are going home afterwards. Having a Lucozade or tea/coffee and something starchy to eat usually helps this pass.  Some people can react with large amounts of endorphins and if you feel exceptionally sleepy you should not drive long distances.

Acupuncture can be uncomfortable, and briefly stir up your symptoms. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and at any point the needles can be swiftly removed if you cannot tolerate them. Afterwards you may feel that a needle is still in there, and this (normal) sensation can last for a day or so.

Sometimes the needles bruise the skin, especially if you know you bruise or bleed easily. Most people don’t worry about this unless the area is very visible and they are worried cosmetically that it will spoil a photograph, job interview, or special event. There can also be tiny pin-prick bleeding from the needle site, so avoid wearing anything pale coloured or delicate that you are worried about getting blood on. 

Who might acupuncture not be suitable for?
If any of the following apply to you, please ask before booking in for acupuncture: 

If you are at an increased risk of bleeding difficult to stop, due to blood thinning medications (steroids or anticoagulants), or clotting disorders.

If you have an increased risk of infection, reduced immunity, or are on any medications which suppress the immune system (e.g. high doses of steroids, some drugs for rheumatic conditions, or after having chemo- or radiotherapy).

If you are diabetic, have peripheral neuropathy or poor circulation, you should not have needling in the extremities.  Acupuncture is not suitable if you have a connective tissue disease such as scleroderma or PAN.

If you are really nervous about needles or faint easily after a blood test or injections it is not a good idea.  

© Hilary Whitaker, BSc. (Hons) Ost, PgDip Med Acu.
Registered Osteopath and Medical Acupuncturist

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