Acupuncture - is there any

Can you get Acupuncture on the NHS?

Suspicious: Sceptics say much of it the benefits of acupuncture are down to a placebo effectBACK PAIN

THE EVIDENCE The evidence for acupuncture relieving back pain has been so compelling that the government health watchdog NICE now recommends it. In some areas, this is provided by the NHS.

A major review of 29 studies last year by Andrew Vickers, an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, found acupuncture had a clear and ‘robust’ effect on chronic back pain.

EXPERT COMMENT ‘Most of the evidence that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence uses is for lower back pain, but acupuncture can be useful for neck and shoulder pain too, ’ says Dr Tom Margham, a GP and spokesman for the charity Arthritis Research UK.

‘Just as with any other treatment, some people have a better response than others. Many physiotherapists use it as part of a suite of treatments, alongside exercises.’


Suspicious: Sceptics say much of it the benefits of acupuncture are down to a placebo effect

THE EVIDENCE A 2012 review of studies in the Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry suggested acupuncture can be an effective, safe treatment for mild to moderate depression.

But a Cochrane review in 2010 concluded that most trials have found no evidence of acupuncture reducing the symptoms of depression.

The researchers did find proof of an effect on depression after a stroke.

EXPERT COMMENT ‘I don’t think acupuncture works for depression, but I do think it’s good for anxiety and insomnia, ’ says Dr Jamil.

‘Acupuncture increases levels of endorphins, the body’s natural feelgood hormones.’


THE EVIDENCE Between 50 and 80 per cent of women will experience nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy.

One trial of 600 women by Dr Caroline Smith, an acupuncture practitioner at the University of Western Sydney, found their morning sickness symptoms reduced significantly after weekly, 20-minute sessions of acupuncture for four weeks.

Point blank: Believers in the therapy says acupuncture stimulates the body's natural painkillersThere is also a growing body of evidence that acupuncture can help with nausea after surgery or chemotherapy.

A review of 40 studies published by the respected Cochrane Collaboration in 2009 found 25 per cent of patients suffering nausea after an operation would benefit from wrist acupuncture.

EXPERT COMMENT Fertility expert Zita West is a trained acupuncturist and recommends the treatment for morning sickness.

‘Pregnancy is a time when women don’t want to take any drugs, and are looking for a natural route, ’ she says. ‘Acupuncture can help – usually on a pressure point known as pericardium 6, which is inside the wrist.’

Dr Jamil often gives wrist acupuncture to patients before surgery to lower the risk of nausea from general anaesthetic.


THE EVIDENCE The recent study by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center found acupuncture was twice as effective for chronic headache as medication. A review of 22 trials by Technical University Munich in 2009 found frequent headache sufferers had an average 50 per cent fewer episodes after treatment with acupuncture. NICE now recommends acupuncture for tension headaches and migraine.

No pain in the brain: A 2009 study fount that those suffering from frequent headache halved their episodes after treatment with acupuncture

EXPERT COMMENT ‘Everyone with migraine should try acupuncture, ’ says Dr Tanvil Jamil, an NHS GP at Burnham Health Centre, Buckinghamshire. ‘It’s fantastic – often if a patient’s taking migraine tablets, they’ll find they only have to take them very infrequently or may even come off them completely.’


THE EVIDENCE A report published by Arthritis UK earlier this year found ‘consistent evidence’ that acupuncture can ease symptoms of osteoarthritis – although it doesn’t work on rheumatoid arthritis.

EXPERT COMMENT ‘NICE haven’t recommended acupuncture for osteoarthritis but that’s not to say it won’t help, as their decisions are based on cost benefit, ’ says Dr Margham.

‘If you’re stuck for options, it is a safe thing to consider. Try it for a limited time and see if it helps.’



If acupuncture is available on the NHS in your area, your GP may refer you. If you want to find a private practitioner, ensure they are registered with the British Acupuncture Council. ‘Check if they are registered on our website,, ’ says Maureen Cromey, spokesman for the BAcC.

The best thing to do is get a recommendation from a friend, then check they are qualified and call them for a chat or drop in. You need to feel comfortable with them and communicate with them.’ It’s also possible to search for qualified acupuncturists in your local area on the BAcC website.

Once you decide to go ahead, the practitioner will carry out a full consultation before starting treatment.


Ms Cromey recommends starting with one or two sessions and seeing what the effect is. ‘Most people start to feel different after their first session, ’ she says. ‘Just go with the practitioner’s advice.’

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