Acupuncture is a technique where fine needles are inserted under the skin to treat a variety of health conditions, and has been practised in China for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese philosophy states that our health depends on the body's motivating energy - known as Qi - moving in a smooth and balanced way through a series of meridians (channels) under the skin.
Qi consists of equal and opposite qualities - Yin and Yang - and the theory is that an imbalance of these qualities causes illness. Acupuncturists insert needles into the energy channels to restore the balance and stimulate the body into healing. The philosophy says that Qi imbalances are caused by many things, such as stress, anger, poor nutrition, hereditary factors and trauma.
Acupuncture is often used as a form of pain relief - the treatment can help to release the endorphins in the brain which relieve pain. It has even be used in operation as an alternative form of pain relief.
In your very first session you may have a physical examination and a medical history may be taken. You will then be asked to remove some of your clothing and the acupuncturist will begin placing needles under the skin.
Most people find acupuncture a completely painless experience, although some people report a slight tingling or awareness of the needle. For people who are afraid of needles it is possible to use acupressure, where the acupuncture points on the body are massaged or stimulated with a probe.
How effective is acupuncture in clinical trials?
A study published in the journal Gut in 2005 recruited 43 patients with IBS. Patients in the test group were treated with acupuncture, and patients in the control group were treated with sham acupuncture. Patients received 10 sessions of treatment, and were assessed using a quality of life questionnaire. Although both groups of patients reported improvements, there was no significant difference between the test group and the control group.
A study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2005 looked at the effects of acupuncture on 60 IBS patients. The test group was treated with acupuncture and the control group with sham acupuncture. It was found that patients in both groups improved, but there was no real difference between the two groups.
I just had my first session of acupuncture and it has worked far better than any drug or any other intervention that I have tried. Within minutes of having the needles placed I could feel fluttering and other sensations within my lower stomach...and the pain, which I had been encountering all day, literally disappeared within five minutes. I am going back for another session on Monday since I want to follow-up. I am a huge skeptic, so you can only imagine my surprise when I started to feel instant results. I highly recommend acupuncture...I have felt remarkably better from just one session for the past four days.
Review by Gordon
I have been suffering with IBS for about three years. Having tried all the usual recommendations from doctors I decided to try acupuncture. I had my first session a few days ago and I was told by the doctor that some patients find that acupuncture can act like a switch and turn off the IBS (not in every case), and for me the switch seemed to work.
I felt totally different after the session and I had no discomfort for about 18 hours. I am due to go for a second session of acupuncture soon. I am hoping that the positive effects will be reinforced. Certainly this has been the most promising treatment to date.
Review by Mauro
I have tried acupuncture for three weeks now (four sessions) and so far I have not experienced any improvement in my IBS. In fact, after a session I feel worse, and sometimes for a few days after that. I was
excited about this treatment but like so many other alternative treatments it has let me down. I will try to do another few treatments to see if there are any significant changes but I am not expecting any anymore. In my case my IBS seems to be connected to my anxiety disorder and not in any way related to diet.
Review by Jill
I am currently having acupuncture, which was recommended to me through a friend of mine. I find it incredibly relaxing, and although I have only had five sessions I am feeling better than I have in a long time. I do believe it really does work. She is also the only doctor to give me advice in nutrition as well.
Review by Claire
I disagree with anyone who thinks that acupuncture is a waste of time, it has worked wonders for my IBS. I was scared of needles, and still am, but I love acupuncture! I admit that I use it alongside Chinese medicine, so maybe on its own it is not as effective.
I suffered from constant pain in my abdomen severely for seven months, no drugs could touch it and most made it worse. After a couple of sessions with my Chinese doctor, I was pain-free. I couldn't believe it! I still have IBS symptoms, and he is still treating me. If he can do no more (although he says he can cure me!) at least, that pain (only fellow sufferers of alternating IBS will know) has vanished. It worked for me!
Review by Noshir
I suffered from colitis in 1995 and 1996 and finally underwent ileostomy surgery. There was inflammation in my rectum which caused bleeding and fatigue. Finally I went to a Chinese herbalist and acupuncturist, who has not only helped me but also other friends who have found improvements in their quality of life and less frequency of occurrence of problems with traditional Chinese medicine. Best of luck to everybody.