Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture involves inserting very fine needles into specific points on the skin along what are believed to be lines of energy or meridians. Acupuncture is focused on correcting imbalances of energy in the body and encouraging it to heal itself.
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years, before the discovery of antibiotics and Western medicine, to treat a range of physical and mental conditions, and to improve general health.
As well as needles, acupuncturists use a combination of techniques including electro stimulation, heat lamps, remedial massage and vacuum cupping.
The classical theory behind acupuncture is that the functioning of the body is governed by the flow of blood and the flow of Qi (energy) through a system of channels under the skin (meridians). When flow is impaired, illness is said to occur. The flow of Qi and blood may be disrupted by such things as physical trauma, poor diet, overwork, emotional upset, stress and anxiety. Inserting fine needles at various points along the meridians is thought to assist the body in restoring balance thereby restoring good health.
Blockages in the flow of Qi and blood may manifest as pain, hot or cold sensations, fatigue, changes in mood, or changes in skin colour (eg pallor, dark circles under the eyes). Acupuncturists use these signs along with pulse, abdominal palpitation, and tongue coat observations to assist in determining which point or points to use in treatment with acupuncture or herbal formulas.
Treating each patient as an individual is at the core of acupuncture treatment and is vital in assisting the body to rebalance itself, as every individual is different.
To practice acupuncture in Australia you must be registered by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Some healthcare practitioners offer acupuncture after completing a short course, whereas acupuncturists who are registered under the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia are required to have hundreds of hours of needling training.
Since July 2012, Chinese medicine practitioners have to be registered under the national registration and accreditation scheme with the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia and meet the registration standards.
Chinese medicine practitioner registration has three divisions:
- Chinese herbal medicine
- Chinese herbal dispensing
The minimum requirement for registration in Australia is a bachelor's degree of four years in related fields.
There are more than 4000 practitioners registered with the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia.
For more information on the units of study required to meet the education conditions for registration visit the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia website.
Regulation assists the public in ensuring the registered acupuncturists and Chinese medicine practitioners they visit have a suitable level of training and skills.
After completing a short course, some healthcare practitioners offer what is called “dry needling”. Dry needling is just one facet of traditional acupuncture. These practitioners do not have the same level of education and are not held to the same high standards as registered acupuncturists. Australian health insurance funds cover acupuncture from registered acupuncturists as an “extra”; dry needling from an unregistered practitioner is not covered by health insurance.
What can acupuncture treat?
There are requirements under the National Law to ensure Chinese medicine practitioners do not make any false, misleading or deceptive claims around the effectiveness of acupuncture and other Chinese medicine techniques, and that they don’t create an unreasonable expectation of the benefits.
The National Law requires a higher standard of evidence to support therapeutic claims. According to the National Boards acceptable evidence needs to be based on findings obtained from quantitative methodology such as systematic reviews and randomised controlled and high quality controlled trials.
The Acupuncture Evidence Project published in January 2017, investigated the state of evidence regarding acupuncture with a focus on systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
The Acupuncture Evidence Project shows strong evidence to support the use of acupuncture for:
- Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Chronic lower back pain
- Headache – tension-type and chronic
- Knee osteoarthritis
- Migraine prevention
- Postoperative nausea and vomiting
- Postoperative pain
The Acupuncture Evidence Project shows moderate evidence to support the use of acupuncture for:
- Acute lower back pain
- Asthma in adults
- Back or pelvic pain during pregnancy and labour pain
- Cancer pain and cancer-related fatigues
- Depression (with antidepressants)
- Dry eye
- Hypertension (with medication)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Lateral elbow pain
- Menopausal hot flushes
- Neck pain
- Perimenopausal and postmenopausal insomnia
- Plantar heel pain
- Post-stroke insomnia, shoulder pain and spasticity
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Prostatitis pain/chronic pelvic pain syndrome
- Recovery after colorectal cancer resection
- Restless leg syndrome
- Schizophrenia (with antipsychotics)
- Shoulder pain
- Smoking cessation (up to 3 months)
- Stroke rehabilitation
- Temporomandibular pain
You can read a plain English summary of the Acupuncture Evidence Project on the AACMA website.
Regulation assists the public in ensuring registered acupuncturists and Chinese medicine practitioners have a suitable level of training and skills. If you are considering acupuncture, look for a registered and experienced practitioner.
Acupuncture performed by a suitably trained practitioner is considered to be safe for most people. However, if you are planning to have acupuncture, you should consult your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Blood clotting conditions
- Blood thinning medications
- A metal allergy
- A cancer diagnosis
- Reduced immunity
Acupuncturists use single-use sterile disposable needles to reduce the likelihood of infection and to prevent the transmission of blood-borne diseases.