Medical Acupuncture

What is the difference between medical acupuncture and traditional acupuncture?

Medical acupuncture involves the insertion of fine ( always new and sterilised to be used once only ) needles into the body’s muscles / tissues. Depth of insertion is anything between 2-3mm e.g base of the thumb up to 125mm into the deep tissues between the lower back and hip – the piriformis muscle. It has evolved from the TCM ( traditional chinese medicine ) style/theory so that it’s way of working no longer adhere to the concepts of yin and yang and the movement of qi around the body by way of meridians. It acts mainly by

1/ stimulating the nervous system, directly affecting the perception and intensity of pain.

2/ causing very tight muscles ( knots and spasms ) to reset their tonicity i.e relax.

3/ can stimulate the treated area ( especially in areas of chronic low grade grumbly pain and stiffness e.g arthritic necks and lower backs ) so that some low levels of healing is possible as well as pain reduction.

In a case of a stiff painful neck a TCM acupuncturist may use 10-12 needles and leave them in the tissue for 20-30 minutes. Explanations for improvement in symptoms would be because the bodies energy chi, is now once more moving smoothly along their channels ( meridians ). This  rather esoteric reasoning was not liked by the Western Medical powers that be and so they evolved the term medical acupuncture which explained improvements in symptoms in a more acceptable scientific fashion. 

With a stiff neck, I would use maybe 3-6 needles and leave them in for 4-6 minutes. This means that it can be used alongside all the other osteopathic techniques in the same treatment. Very good research carried out in the USA – using brain scans and blood tests – have shown that various changes in the nervous system and blood have all occurred by 5-6 minutes and leaving the needles further had no real use.



 It seem that 15-20% of people react very well to acupuncture. These are the people that may only have one treatment and will have an amazing reduction in pain. Lucky people. The majority of people 50-60% will have a positive reaction but may need 2-4 treatments to improve. Then there are the 15-20% of people who,  you could turn into a hedgehog with needles and still, show no improvement.

When the needle is in, you should feel a dull ache, a tingle, warmth, even nothing at all. If there is any discomfort above ” very mild”, the needle will be removed immediately.



If the patient does not like needles ( a very common situation ) this option is not considered. The most common reaction to being “needled” is that the patient becomes a bit hot and clammy. This is what happens to me!! I have had acupuncture many times in the past. I don’t particularly like it BUT it has helped old problems to my neck, shoulders and forearms.

A rare reaction, I have seen it 3 times in 18 years, is called needle shock. Here the person becomes very faint and nauseous. In these situations, needles are removed, the sufferer lies down, drinks some water and is usually fine after 10-15 minutes.



1/ Arthritic necks and backs.

2/ Frozen shoulders / early impingement syndromes to the top/rear of the shoulder joint.

3/ Spasmed neck and lower back muscles ( high levels of acute pain ).

4/ Tennis and Golfer’s elbow.

5/ Piriformis syndrome ( very deep, spasmed muscle in the deep gluteals ( buttock ) which can cause painful hips, hamstrings AND sciatica.

6/ Knee problems especially tendonitis to the quadriceps and patella tendon.

7/ Spasmed calf muscles – usually found in sportspeople, though not always!

8/ OA to the lower thumb joints.