Some acupuncture originates from Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is based on there being a system of energy channels in the body.
Traditional therapists believe that needles inserted into the skin release a flow of energy and restore a healthy balance to the body. Traditional therapists are not usually registered health professionals.
Western medical acupuncture
This is based on current medical knowledge and evidence-based medicine. It is sometimes available on the NHS.
During an acupuncture session, the therapist inserts fine, sterile needles just below the skin. The needles are put in specific places thought to affect the nerves in the skin and muscle. This can send messages to the brain. Stimulating the nerves in this way may release natural chemicals in the body, such as endorphins. Endorphins are substances that give you a feeling of well-being.
An acupuncturist may be a member of a team working in a pain clinic or part of a palliative care (symptom control) team. Some doctors, nurses and physiotherapists are trained in western medical acupuncture.
Some studies show that acupuncture may help to reduce nausea in people who have had chemotherapy. Acupuncture may also be used to relieve pain and other symptoms or side-effects.
When carried out by a trained professional, acupuncture is generally safe.
It is advisable to check with your doctor about having acupuncture if you are having treatment, such as chemotherapy, that could affect your blood count. The chemotherapy may result in a lower than normal number of white blood cells, which increases your risk of infection.
You should also avoid acupuncture if you have a very low number of platelets (blood cells that help blood to clot), or you bruise easily. This can increase your risk of bleeding.
If you have, or are at risk of, lymphoedema (if you have had some or all of your lymph nodes removed, for example) you should avoid having acupuncture in the limb that is affected or at risk. Lymphoedema is swelling to part of the body caused by damage to the lymphatic system and is hard to reverse. Check with your doctor if you are thinking about having acupuncture.