Alec Tinker Osteopath in Yorkshire – Back pain, Rehabilitation, Sports Injuries

Western Medical Acupuncture

The use of acupuncture by doctors, osteopaths, physios and chiropractors has increased in recent years due to its growing reputation as an effective way of relieving pain. It can be used for treating a wide variety of musculoskeletal conditions which as an adjunct to osteopathy treatment may help patients recover quicker.


When people think of acupuncture, the immediate thought is of the Chinese version, however in 1991 a man named Otzi was found in Italy with small tattoo markings on him which correspond to traditional acupuncture sites. The body was dated as being over 5000 years old. Predating this are The Vedas which are the most ancient scriptures of Hinduism that mention the use of acupuncture. These were written in 1300BC but are thought to have been passed down by word of mouth since 7000BC.

How does it work?

Current research suggests that acupuncture works in a number of different ways. When the needle is put into the skin and muscle it stimulates nerves within that tissue. This stimulation causes substances to be released which cause blood vessels to dilate increasing blood flow to the area and deeper tissues. When the nerves are stimulated a signal is sent first to the spinal cord. At the level where the nerve enters the spinal cord the signal is thought to depress the activity at that level which reduces the response of the painful stimulus. The signal then travels up the spinal cord to the brain stem where the signal activates the body’s pain suppressing mechanisms.  From the brain stem the signal is then sent to different areas of the brain including the thalamus and limbic systems that regulate our organ systems and our perception of pain.

Pain is a feeling produced by the brain to let us know that something is not right or/and that we are in danger.  All these different physiological effects result in the brain perceiving that there is no need to produce such a strong feeling of pain and so the brain reduces the pain.

Below is a summary of physiological effects

Local effects Afferent nerve stimulation
Blood vessel proliferation
Nerve growth
Segmental effects Pain modulation
Autonomic modulation
Extrasegmental effects Enhanced descending inhibition
General effects Limbic system deactivation
Endorphin release
ACTH release
Oxytocin release

(Table is taken from: An Introduction to Western Medical Acupuncture by Adrian White, Mike Cummings and Jacqueline Filshie)

Is it safe?

Yes, it is generally considered to be extremely safe. Serious side effects are very rare and have been recorded as being less than one per 10 000 treatments.

There are some possible side effects these include drowsiness or fainting after treatment, minor bleeding or bruising 3% and pain during treatment 1%. It is important that before having acupuncture the practitioner must be made aware:

  • if you have experienced a fit or faint before
  • if you have a pacemaker or any other electrical implants
  • if you have a bleeding disorder
  • if you are taking anticoagulants or other medication
  • if you have damaged heart valves or any particular risk of infection

These side effects are very minor and should not put people off seeking acupuncture for their problems as people have been doing for many thousands of years.

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