How it works

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy based on the belief that energy – ‘qi’ – flows along different channels or ‘meridians’ in our bodies. This flow, it is thought, can become blocked or unbalanced, causing health problems.

Acupuncturists insert fine needles into the skin at points around the body to rebalance the flow. The Western medical interpretation of acupuncture is that inserting the needles could stimulate nerve endings that trigger our brains’ natural chemical pain-relievers.

What it could help

Pain relief and especially tension headaches and joint pain.

Evidence base

Many studies have been done into acupuncture, which is used to treat all kinds of conditions. Some support its claims to relieve pain, although many scientists argue that this is due to the placebo effect, and the psychological benefits of a sympathetic therapist.

What to expect

The acupuncturist should ask for details of your medical history, lifestyle and symptoms. They may examine you physically. Anything from two to a dozen needles will be inserted from about 1cm to 5cm into your skin. The needles may be taken out straight away or left for up to 30 minutes. Related treatments include moxibustion – burning herbs above your skin to ‘warm’ the points and improve energy flow; cupping – using heated cups; and guasha – rubbing the skin vigorously.


It’s advisable to get a doctor’s medical diagnosis of your problem before seeing an acupuncturist as they may not be qualified to do this. If you have acupuncture you should let your doctor know. The needles should be sterilised and disposable. You may feel a tingling sensation or a dull ache during treatment, tired or faint afterwards and suffer bruising where the needles were inserted.

Find out more

Find a therapist


The first consultation will cost between £40 and £80 and follow-up appointments will be about £30 to £70 each. Sessions last about an hour and a course could last several weeks. Acupuncture may also be available on the NHS.

How does acupuncture work?

Leave a comment