Currently, acupuncturists in the UK are not regulated by the government. This means that anyone can call him or herself an acupuncturist regardless of what training they have done. However, there are regulatory bodies that acupuncturists can join, which set standards for the practice of acupuncture.
To find an acupuncturist who practises traditional acupuncture, check the members list on the British Acupuncture Council website. If you’d like to contact a healthcare professional who practises western medical acupuncture, check with the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) website. All BMAS acupuncturists are qualified and registered health professionals who have also had additional training in acupuncture.
See our further information for more details.
If you’re having acupuncture by an acupuncturist who isn’t medically trained, it’s important to get advice from your doctor about your diagnosis. You should also do this to ensure that acupuncture is an appropriate treatment.
If you decide to have acupuncture, you will first have a detailed consultation. Your acupuncturist will ask you questions about your medical history, diet and lifestyle. It’s important to tell your acupuncturist if you are or could be pregnant, have a pacemaker, epilepsy or a condition that may affect your blood.
He or she may pay particular attention to your tongue and pulse. Your acupuncturist may also feel for areas of muscular pain or tension in the tissues under your skin. From this consultation your acupuncturist may be able to advise you on a course of acupuncture treatment. You might receive treatment once a week over five to eight weeks. Ask your acupuncturist for more information about how long your treatment may last.
Your acupuncturist might select different acupuncture points during your course of treatment. He or she will usually insert up to 12 needles into your skin. Your acupuncturist may insert each needle and immediately remove it, or leave the needles in place for up to 20 minutes. The sensation when the needle goes into your skin is often described as a tingling or dull ache.
Some traditional acupuncturists may use other techniques instead of or in addition to needles to stimulate the various acupuncture points on your body. The techniques are described below.
- Moxibustion. This method involves applying heat to an acupuncture point using a herb, which is believed to warm and relax your muscles and qi.
- Tuina. This is a type of Chinese massage which may help to relieve any muscle tension you have. It’s thought to help stimulate various acupuncture points and qi in your body.
- Cupping. Heated cups are placed on your skin to create a vacuum. This is believed to stimulate your blood flow.
- Guasha. This is a method in which your acupuncturist will vigorously rub your skin. This is thought to increase your blood flow and clear your qi.
A medical acupuncturist will be able to discuss your medical conditions with you and whether acupuncture is suitable for you. Western medical acupuncture sometimes involves manual or low voltage electrical stimulation to the needles to assist the process.
The scientific evidence for how effective acupuncture is varies. In some instances it’s not clear how well it works and more research is needed.
One of the difficulties with measuring effectiveness in research is knowing whether the benefit is purely from acupuncture or because of what’s called a placebo effect. Studies often compare acupuncture with a placebo (dummy treatment) called ‘sham’ acupuncture. It looks like acupuncture where the needles pierce your skin but they don’t target acupuncture points. Some research suggests that acupuncture works better than sham acupuncture for treating certain symptoms. But other research shows that there’s no difference between them and suggests that any benefit after acupuncture is down to a placebo effect.
We do know that acupuncture may be beneficial if you have low back pain. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends it for lower back pain that lasts longer than six weeks but less than a year. You may have a maximum of ten sessions over a 12 week period.
Research also suggests that acupuncture might also be a helpful treatment for osteoarthritis, neck pain, tension-type headaches and migraines.
Research has also looked into if acupuncture can help with things like stopping smoking or help couples having fertility treatments. But whether it can help you stop smoking isn’t clear because the evidence isn’t very consistent. The research does indicate that trying something, whether it’s acupuncture or something else, may be better than doing nothing at all. There’s no evidence to suggest that acupuncture can help couples having fertility treatments.
Research is being carried out all the time. For many of the ways acupuncture might be used, such as cancer-related pain, more research needs to be done to find out how effective it is.
As with every treatment, there are some risks associated with acupuncture. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your acupuncturist to explain how these risks apply to you.
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having acupuncture.
Side-effects of acupuncture may include:
- discomfort when the needle is inserted
- drowsiness, which can last for a few hours (so bear this in mind if you plan to drive home)
- fainting or feeling faint
- bruising or bleeding at the site of the needle
- a temporary worsening of your symptoms
Complications are when problems occur during or after your treatment. Very rarely, there’s a risk of getting an infection in the area where a needle has been placed in your skin. Sterile needles should always be used to reduce the risk of infections.
Can I donate blood after having acupuncture?
Yes, but only if your treatment has been performed by the NHS or by a qualified health professional who is registered with a statutory body. This is because there is a risk of infections if acupuncture hasn't been carried out under approved conditions.
If you’ve had acupuncture and it’s been performed by the NHS, you may donate blood. You may also donate blood if your acupuncturist is a qualified health professional who is registered with a statutory body (such as the General Medical Council).
If your acupuncturist is registered with a non-statutory body, such as the BAcC, you can’t donate blood for four months after your last acupuncture treatment. This is because these organisations aren’t supervised by the Council for Regulatory Excellence in Healthcare. If you had acupuncture between four and 12 months ago, you will need to have an additional blood test. This is done to check that you don't carry any risk of infection.
How much does acupuncture cost?
There is no fixed price for acupuncture and the cost will vary depending on where you live.
Your first consultation will usually cost between £50 and £70 and follow-up appointments will be about £40 to £50 per session.
Some GP practices and hospitals offer integrated healthcare with complementary therapies including acupuncture. Ask your GP if it’s available in your local area.
What qualifications does an acupuncture practitioner need?
It's important that you find a trained practitioner who is registered with a professional body. At the moment anyone in the UK can call themselves an acupuncturist, even if they don't have professional qualifications or experience.
The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) is the main body for professional traditional acupuncturists in the UK. Members of the BAcC are required to complete BSc or BA degree level training in traditional acupuncture and Chinese medicine. A BAcC member will carry the letters MBAcC after his or her name. They should also have some training in anatomy, physiology and pathology.
The British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) is the professional body for health professionals, who use acupuncture. All members are UK registered health professionals who hold a Certificate of Accreditation. BMAS accredited acupuncturists will have a Certificate of Basic Competence and a Diploma of Medical Acupuncture. Medical acupuncturists must complete at least six hours of update training every year.
Chartered physiotherapists may also train as practitioners and become members of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP). A physiotherapist must have completed an 80-hour foundation course or a university degree in acupuncture before he or she can register with the AACP.
- Brook P, Connell J, Pickering T. Oxford handbook of pain management. Oxford: Oxford University press; 2011:242–6
- Ernst E, Pittler MH, Wider B, et al. Oxford handbook of complimentary medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2008:42–5
- Energy medicine. The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, published February 2010
- Acupuncture for pain. National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. www.nccam.nih.gov, published 24 February 2014
- Complementary, alternative, or integrative health: what’s in a name? National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. www.nccam.nih.gov, published October 2008
- Acupuncture: an introduction. National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. www.nccam.nih.gov, published December 2007
- FAQs. Give blood – NHS Blood and Transplant. www.blood.co.uk, accessed 30 October 2013
- Colquhoun D, Novella SP. Acupuncture is theatrical placebo. Anesthesia & Analgesia 2013; 116(6):1360–3. doi:10.1213/ANE.0b013e31828f2d5e
- White A. Western medical acupuncture: a definition. Acupunct Med 2009; 27(1):33–5. doi:10.1136/aim.2008.000372
- Zhang H BZ, Lin Z. Are acupoints specific for diseases? A systematic review of the randomized controlled trials with sham acupuncture controls. Chin Med 2010; 5(1). doi:10.1186/1749-8546-5-1
- History of acupuncture, What to expect from a treatment, What is traditional acupuncture, Why use a BAcC member, What we do, Is acupuncture safe, How much does acupuncture cost and how many treatments. British Acupuncture Council. www.acupuncture.org.uk, accessed 28 October 2013
- Frequently asked questions. British Acupuncture Council. www.acupuncture.org.uk, published 14 December 2011
- About BMAS, Questions, General info about acupuncture, Certificate of basic competence, Diploma in medical acupuncture. The British Medical Acupunture Society. www.medical-acupuncture.co.uk, accessed 28 October 2013
- Info about blood donation. The British Medical Acupunture Society. www.medical-acupuncture.co.uk, published 22 February 2010
- Requirements. Physiotherapists AAoC. www.aacp.org.uk, accessed 30 October 2012
- Low back pain: early management of persistent non-specific low back pain. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), May 2009. www.nice.org.uk
- Manheimer E, Cheng K, Linde K, et al. Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 1. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001977.pub2
- Trinh K, Graham N, Gross A, et al. Acupuncture for neck disorders. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 3. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004870.pub3
- Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, et al. Acupuncture for tension-type headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 1. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub2
- Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, et al. Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 1. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub2
- White A, Rampes H, Liu J, et al. Acupuncture and related interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 1. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000009.pub4
- Cheong Y, Dix S, Hung Yu Ng E, et al. Acupuncture and assisted reproductive technology. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006920.pub3
- Paley C, Johnson M, Tashani O, et al. Acupuncture for cancer pain in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 1. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007753.pub2
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Kuljeet Battoo, Bupa Health Information Team, June 2014
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
Information StandardWe are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of health content and clinical engagement
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor – UK Customer
- Nicholas Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way