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What Acupuncture Can Treat

According to the World Health Organisation, the National Institutes for Health, and clinical experience, Acupuncture is effective at treating a wide variety of conditions including the following:

Back Pain & Sciatica I Chronic Pain I Dysmenorrhea / Endometriosis I Fibromyalgia

Frozen Shoulder I Headache / Migraine I Female Infertility I MaleInfertility I Stress / Anxiety

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) I Sports Injuries I Menopausal Symptoms


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Back Pain & Sciatica

Back pain and Sciatica can affect anyone at any age and most people will suffer from it at some point in their lives. It is the UK’s leading cause of disability and one of the main reasons for work-related sickness absence. The condition affects more than 1.1 million people in the UK, with 95% of patients suffering from problems affecting the lower back. Back pain and Sciatica currently costs the NHS and community care services more than £1 billion each year*. Most lower back pain is caused not by serious damage or disease, but by sprains, muscle strains, minor injuries, or a pinched or irritated nerve. It can also occur during pregnancy, or because of stress, viral infection or a kidney infection.

How acupuncture can help

Research has shown that acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment and at least as good as (if not better than) standard medical care for Back pain and Sciatica. It appears to be particularly useful as an adjunct to conventional care, for patients with more severe symptoms and for those wishing to avoid analgesic drugs . It may help back pain in pregnancy and  work-related back pain, with fewer work-days lost

 Acupuncture can help Back pain and Sciatica by: 

providing pain relief – by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord .

reducing inflammation – by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors .

improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility – by increasing local microcirculation , which aids dispersal of swelling and bruising.

reducing the use of medication for back complaints .

providing a more cost-effective treatment over a longer period of time .

improving the outcome when added to conventional treatments such as rehabilitation exercises .

 The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines on best practice now recommend that GPs offer a course of 10 sessions of acupuncture as a first line treatment for persistent, non-specific low back pain*.

 * National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence clinical guideline 88 – Low back pain. TOP

Chronic Pain

Persistent (chronic) pain is a widespread problem that affects around 8 million people of all ages in the UK. Chronic pain may be defined as pain that lasts beyond the usual course of the acute disease or expected time of healing, and it may continue indefinitely.

Typical chronic pain conditions include: osteoarthritis; rheumatoid arthritis; low back, shoulder and neck pain; headache and migraine; cancer pain; fibromyalgia; neuropathic pain (e.g. sciatica, trigeminal neuralgia, post herpetic neuralgia); chronic overuse conditions (e.g. tendonitis); and chronic visceral pain (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome, interstitial cystitis, endometriosis)

How acupuncture can help 

In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety (Wu 1999).

Acupuncture may help relieve chronic pain by:stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors (e.g. neuropeptide Y, serotonin, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal chord. TOP


Dysmenorrhea /
Endometriosis

Dysmenorrhea is painful cramps originating in the uterus just prior to or during menstruation.

How acupuncture can help

Recent systematic reviews found that both acupuncture and acupressure are effective for primary Dysmenorrhea, providing significantly more pain relief than pharmacological treatments.

Acupuncture may help reduce symptoms of Dysmenorrhea :

Endometriosis is a chronic condition characterised by growth of endometrial tissue in sites other than the uterus, most commonly in the pelvic cavity, but also in other parts of the body . This ectopic tissue responds to the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle, with subsequent bleeding, inflammation, and pain. If the ovaries are affected, endometriotic ovarian cysts may develop .  Although the condition may be asymptomatic, common symptoms include Dysmenorrhea, dyspareunia, non-cyclical pelvic and abdominal pain, and subfertility .

How acupuncture can help

In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress .

There is preliminary evidence to support acupuncture as an effective treatment for Endometriosis, with one small sham controlled trial and a few comparative studies against Western medication (Y, though further research is needed to confirm this. It has been shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically be of benefit in people with Endometriosis by:

providing pain relief - by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, reducing inflammation. TOP



Fibromyalgia

Around 1 in 25 of the UK population has fibromyalgia, a lifelong condition involving widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and functional impairment, without any known structural or inflammatory cause

In fibromyalgia, abnormalities in central pain-processing and the release of neurotransmitters including serotonin and noradrenaline lead to lower pain thresholds Predisposing factors for the condition include female gender, anxiety, trauma and viral infection American College of Rheumatology diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia are widespread pain lasting at least 3 months, affecting both sides of the body, above and below the waist; plus pain at 11 or more of 18 designated possible tender points.

The main aims of therapy are to reduce symptoms, to improve function, and to help patients adapt to the condition .

How acupuncture can help

In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety. TOP



Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is a common, painful and sometimes disabling condition that can last for months or years. The characteristic symptoms are pain, stiffness, and limitation of active and passive shoulder movements. They may be severe enough to interfere with everyday activity (e.g. driving, dressing or sleeping), and may prevent some patients from working.

There is no universally accepted definition of frozen shoulder and the cause is poorly understood. It is thought that scar tissue forms in the fibrous capsule surrounding the shoulder joint , causing it to thicken and contract, so restricting shoulder movement. Frozen shoulder is most common in people aged 40–60 years and, in up to 20% of those affected, it will later develop in the other shoulder . Risk factors include female sex, older age, shoulder trauma and surgery, diabetes, and cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and thyroid disease

How acupuncture can help

Acupuncture can reduce pain, inflammation, muscle and joint stiffness, and so may help in the treatment of frozen shoulder. TOP



Headache / Migraine

Headache is one of the most frequent reasons for medical consultations, in both general practice and neurology clinics.

Tension-type headache is the term used for infrequent and frequent episodic, as well as chronic, tension-type headaches. This type of headache is primary (i.e. the headache itself is the disorder, rather than secondary to another condition). Tension-type headaches are characterised by pain that is typically mild or moderate in intensity, bilateral, and pressing or tightening in quality, but does not worsen with physical activity.  The headaches are daily or very frequent, and last from minutes to days.

How acupuncture can help Headache

In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress (Hui 2010)

Acupuncture may help to relieve tension-type headache by:

increasing endorphins and neuropeptide Y levels , which can help to combat negative affective states;

stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord

reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors

increasing local microcirculation, which aids dispersal of swelling.

Migraine is a primary headache disorder manifesting as recurring attacks, usually lasting for 4 to 72 hours and involving pain of moderate to severe intensity . Typical characteristics of the headache are unilateral location, pulsating quality, moderate or severe intensity, and aggravation by routine physical activity. Sufferers may also experience auras, photophobia, phonophobia, nausea and vomiting. Migraine is a common disorder a UK follow-up study found the migraine incidence rate to be 3.69 cases per 1,000 person-years, and to be around 2.5 times higher in women than men . help

How acupuncture can help Migraines

There have now been many controlled trials of acupuncture for migraine, with some large, high-quality ones in recent years. The results of the latest reviews are quite consistent: acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment/basic care for managing  migraine, and appears to be at least as effective as drug therapy, with few contraindications or unpleasant side effects . There is preliminary qualitative evidence from patients that acupuncture can increase coping mechanisms as well as relieve migraine symptoms .

 Migraine is thought to begin as an electrical phenomenon in the cerebrum that then affects blood vessels, biochemistry, and causes neurogenic inflammation.

Acupuncture can help in the treatment of migraine by:

Providing pain relief – by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins and other neurochumoral factors and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord.

Reducing inflammation – by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors. TOP



Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) describes a collection of symptoms, commonly including chronic abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and altered bowel habits. It is a functional disorder of the intestines, occurring in the absence of visible structural abnormality.

IBS affects up to 22% of people in the UK and is the most common functional digestive disorder seen by GPs. Women are 2-3 times more likely to develop IBS, and often suffer more symptoms during their periods. The condition often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. Predisposing factors may include a low-fibre diet, emotional stress, use of laxatives or a bout of infectious diarrhoea. It is typically a chronic, recurrent disorder, associated with substantial health, social and economic costs. Pain and impairment from IBS can lead to frequent doctor visits, hospitalizations and workplace absenteeism, and can cause depression.

The cause of IBS is unclear, but it appears that sensory nerves in the bowel are hypersensitive in people with IBS and may overreact when the bowel wall stretches. Intestinal muscles can be hypo- or hyperactive, causing pain, cramping, flatulence, sudden bouts of diarrhea, and/or constipation. The symptoms are usually triggered by stress or eating. Systematic reviews of the research literature suggest that conventional medications are of limited benefit in IBS .

How acupuncture can help

Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may benefit IBS symptoms by:

Providing pain relief .

Regulating the motility of the digestive tract .

Raising the sensory threshold of the gut. Various possible mechanisms have been identified, involving spinal nerves and NMDA receptors and a range of neurotransmitters . A lowered threshold to bowel pain and distention are hallmarks of IBS.

Increasing parasympathetic tone . Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which can stimulate colon spasms, resulting in abdominal discomfort. In people with IBS, the colon can be oversensitive to the smallest amount of conflict or stress. Acupuncture activates the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation or ‘rest and digest’ response.

Reducing anxiety and depression . The distress provoked by IBS symptoms can lead to a vicious cycle of anxiety-pain-anxiety, while the embarrassing nature of the condition can lead to feelings of depression. Acupuncture can alter the brain’s mood chemistry, increases production of serotonin and endorphins , helping to combat these negative affective states.

There is consistent evidence that a course of acupuncture improves IBS symptoms and general wellbeing .

Acupuncture can be safely and effectively combined with Western biomedicine, and other treatments such as relaxation exercises, herbal medicine and psychotherapy. In addition to offering acupuncture and related therapies, acupuncturists will often make suggestions as to dietary and other lifestyle changes that may be helpful in combating IBS symptoms. Working with a supportive therapist can also help people suffering from IBS to change their negative health beliefs and improve their coping mechanisms, which can have a positive influence on both mood and symptoms. TOP



Female Infertility

Infertility is the inability of a couple to get pregnant despite having regular unprotected sex. A couple is regarded as infertile if, after regular sexual intercourse, they have not conceived in two years. It is estimated that one in seven UK couples has difficulty conceiving . Identifiable causes of infertility include: ovulatory disorders in 27% of couples; tubal damage in 14% of couples; low sperm count or low sperm quality in 19% of couples. In 30% of couples the cause of infertility remains unexplained . Female fertility declines with age, but the effect of age on male fertility is less clear The difficulties couples encounter when facing fertility problems can lead to stress, which may further decrease chances of conception . Acupuncture is a popular treatment choice for infertility .

How acupuncture can help

Research has established plausible mechanisms to explain how acupuncture may benefit fertility:

regulating fertility hormones - stress and other factors can disrupt the function of the hypothalamic pituitary-ovarian axis (HPOA), causing hormonal imbalances that can negatively impact fertility. Acupuncture has been shown to affect hormone levels by promoting the release of beta-endorphin in the brain, which affects the release of gonadotrophin releasing hormone by the hypothalamus, follicle stimulating hormone from the pituitary gland, and oestrogen and progesterone levels from the ovary ). Further details of these processes are emerging, for example mRNA expression of hormones, growth factors and other neuropeptides

increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs - stress also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which causes constriction of ovarian arteries. Acupuncture inhibits this sympathetic activity, improving blood flow to the ovaries , enhancing the environment in which ovarian follicles develop. It also increases blood flow to the uterus , improving the thickness of the endometrial lining and increasing the chances of embryo implantation.

counteracting the effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility. By reducing sympathetic nerve activity and balancing hormone levels, acupuncture has been shown to reduce the number of ovarian cysts, stimulate ovulation, enhance blastocyst implantation and regulate the menstrual cycle in women with PCOS . It may also help to control secondary effects such as obesity and anorexia . TOP

Male infertility

Male fertility requires normal sperm production and sperm transport, and adequate sexual performance, functions that require normal levels of testosterone. Male infertility can be due to a number of factors, including abnormal spermatogenesis; reproductive tract anomalies or obstruction; inadequate sexual and ejaculatory functions; and impaired sperm motility . In 30-40% of men, no cause for infertility is found . However, in such men, semen analysis reveals a decreased number of spermatozoa, decreased sperm motility and many abnormal forms of sperm. Factors that alter spermatogenesis include endocrine disturbances such as low testosterone levels, exposure to medicines or environmental toxins, varicocele, increased scrotal heat, systemic diseases, smoking and alcohol, and testicular torsion and trauma . Erectile and ejaculatory dysfunction may be associated with psychological factors, hypogonadism, spinal cord disease, and metabolic and vascular conditions such as diabetes . Sperm motility can be reduced in immotile cilia syndrome or in the presence of antisperm antibodies .

How acupuncture can help

Some clinical trials suggest that acupuncture improves sperm motility , increases sperm count , improves sperm quality and has a beneficial effect on psychogenic erectile dysfunction . The research results are promising but still at a preliminary stage in terms of numbers and quality of studies.

 Acupuncture may help in the treatment of male infertility , by:

lowering scrotal temperature ;

enhancing local microcirculation, by increasing the diameter and blood flow velocity of peripheral arterioles;

reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors 

by improving sperm maturation in the epididymis, increasing testosterone levels, and reducing liquid peroxidation of sperm. TOP



Menopausal Symptoms

The menopause, defined as the end of the last menstrual period, occurs at a average age of 53 years . The change in hormone levels during the perimenopause and menopause, particularly the decline in levels of oestrogen, can cause acute menopausal symptoms; for example, about 30–70% of women in Western countries will experience vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats . Some women also report vaginal dryness and psychological symptoms, including tiredness, sleep disturbances, mood swings, forgetfulness and loss of libido . The average duration of menopausal vasomotor symptoms is about 4 years but, in around 10% of women, they last longer than 12 years .

How acupuncture can help

Acupuncture may help reduce symptoms of the menopause and perimenopause by:

regulating serum estradiol, follicle stimulating hormone and luteotrophic hormone (Xia 2008);

increasing relaxation and reducing tension . Acupuncture can alter the brain’s mood chemistry, reducing serotonin levels  and increasing endorphins and neuropeptide Y levels , which can help to combat negative affective states.

stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord. TOP



Sports Injuries

Sports injuries are common, and vary from minor toe injuries to major complex trauma. Usually, only soft tissue is damaged, but there can also be fracturing of bone. Soft tissue injuries include sprains, strains and bruising. A sprain is a partial or complete rupture of a ligament, a strain is a partial tear of muscles and a bruise is a rupture of tissue leading to a haematoma. Any soft-tissue injury can lead to a tenderness, swelling, haematoma, scarring, fibrosis and loss of function.

Most commonly, sports injuries affect the lower limb, particularly the ankle (e.g. Achilles tendinopathy, sprains) and knee . Other common sporting injuries include those of the shoulder ; elbow , wrist (e.g. strains, sprains, breaks); leg ; and back (e.g. acute lumbar sprain). Injuries can be caused by trauma as a result of a sudden impact or awkward movement, or can develop over time often due to continual use of the same joints or muscle groups. Contributing factors can be not warming up, using inadequate equipment or training too hard for current level of fitness.

The aims of therapy are to relieve pain, control inflammation, hasten resolution of a haematoma, and accelerate repair. Also, there should be restoration of function and recovery of muscle power. Conventional approaches to sports injuries include RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation), anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics, immobilisation, corticosteroid injections, physiotherapy and surgery.

How acupuncture has helped

Acupuncture reduced pain in patients with plantar fasciitis ;

electroacupuncture had better therapeutic effects than medication, both in the short and long term, in patients with acute lumbar strain

acupuncture plus warmed needle relieved the pain of knee pain.

acupuncture reduced NSAID intake and relieved pain in patients with shin splints ;

acupuncture reduced the pain of patellofemoral pain;

acupuncture was effective for soft tissue disease).

Altogether, there is a paucity of controlled trials of acupuncture for sports injuries, so we also refer to some of the uncontrolled studies. Case histories suggest acupuncture might be helpful in the treatment of shoulder injuries , injuries of the knee and plantar fasciitis , but these results need confirming.

Acupuncture may help relieve symptoms of sports injuries, such as pain and inflammation by:

stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins , and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord;

reducing inflammation,

improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility , aids dispersal of swelling. TOP



Stress / Anxiety

New research released this year suggests that a staggering one in six people suffer from stress*. There are many different causes of stress which are primarily related to a situation or event and how a person deals or responds to that situation. The signs of stress can therefore differ from one person to the next and may manifest in the form of conditions such as IBS, anxiety, migraines, insomnia or depression, back pain and fatigue.

Those suffering from stress symptoms use a number of coping mechanisms with many people finding traditional acupuncture effective in not only helping relieve symptoms but to also identify and treat the root cause of stress.

Stress, or any intense emotion, acts like a traffic jam, blocking the free flow of energy (Qi) in the body -  when under a lot of stress the body releases stress hormones which can have an adverse effect and can cause muscles to tighten which reduces blood flow and provision of nutrients and oxygen to the tissues**.

Through traditional acupuncture, these energy blockages can be addressed.

How acupuncture can help

Many people have found that acupuncture can be effective in helping to treat Stress/Anxiety and the various conditions that are symptomatic of stress. These include insomnia, back pain, migraines, anxiety and depression.

With regards to Stress/Anxiety an acupuncturist will aim to identify what imbalances are causing the symptoms of stress, rather than treating the condition in isolation.

Acupuncture has been found to be effective in treating various stress related conditions:

Back Pain:  One of the ways in which acupuncture can help back pain is by improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility.

IBS: Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which can stimulate colon spasms, resulting in abdominal discomfort. In people with IBS, the colon can be oversensitive to the smallest amount of conflict or stress. Acupuncture activates the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation or ‘rest and digest’ response.

Migraines: By stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins and other neurochumoral factors and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord, promoting pain relief

Chronic Fatigue:

Anxiety: Acupuncture can alter the brain’s mood chemistry, reducing serotonin levels and increasing endorphins , which can help to combat negative anxiety

Depression: Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional wellbeing

Insomnia: Acupuncture can alter the brain’s mood chemistry, reducing serotonin levels  (and increasing endorphins , which can help to improve sleep. TOP

Find out more.

Contact Lucy Bagley on 01304 373920 or send an online message.
You may also
download a pdf of the latest BAcC information leaflet.

 

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MBAcC BRITISH ACUPUNCTURE COUNCIL

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