What to know about acupuncture

Acupuncture is a technique used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments – but does it actually work?

Through the insertion of thin needles into specific points in the body, acupuncture aims to enhance the body’s ability to heal itself.

How does acupuncture work?

“Acupuncture affects many systems,” explains Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner Matt Power.

He treats clients with a wide range of health issues, including back and neck pain, facial paralysis, infertility, morning sickness and autoimmune diseases.

“When I put the needles into someone, the body responds in many ways,” says Matt.

“We’re passing information on to the body and asking for a response. We either ask the body to increase or decrease what it’s doing – we might get it to relax, for instance, or to increase its production of blood.”

How acupuncture differs from dry needling

“Dry needling is a form of trigger-point release therapy,” explains musculoskeletal physiotherapist Adam Monteith, founder of Evoker.

“It is the placement of needles into a patient’s quite specific muscle tissue in an attempt to reduce muscle tone.”

But it’s not a technique he uses in practice, after trying it as a patient.

“It was a rather unpleasant experience that didn’t offer me any value, so I choose not to impose this now ‘trendy’ treatment on to my patients,” he says.

“It can be a really worthwhile technique, but to me it’s like having a kitchen where you can make five-star gourmet food and you’re just making sandwiches.”

Does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture has become more widely accepted in Australia, according to an Integrative Medicine Research study, yet its efficacy remains a subject of debate.

“Acupuncture has been proven to provide an analgesic effect, but historically this effect has been short-term,” says Adam.

“The western world of medicine deems any symptomatic benefit from acupuncture to be placebo in nature.”

But Matt points to acupuncture’s long history of usage in Chinese hospitals and medical settings, and the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association’s The Acupuncture Evidence Project.

This 2017 review found that from 122 conditions studied, only five rated “no evidence of effect” of acupuncture.

Risks of acupuncture

“There are cases of needle breakage in acupuncture, but this is incredibly rare,” says Matt.

“There are minor side effects that can happen such as a bit of bruising, or sometimes you can feel a bit light headed and nauseous.”

How to find an acupuncturist

Look for a registered acupuncturist who is a member of AACMA.

“Acupuncture is a very flexible and dynamic modality; all of us treat in different ways so it might be worth trying a couple of different practitioners,” suggests Matt.

Written by Samantha Allemann.