Acupuncture and the NHS

Use of acupuncture in the NHS is limited.

Most acupuncture patients pay for private treatment. The cost of acupuncture varies widely between practitioners. Initial sessions usually cost between £35 and £60, and further sessions between £25 and £50.

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Back pain guide

Explore this guide for information about different types of back pain, ways of preventing it and advice on treatment

Acupuncture is a form of ancient Chinese medicine in which fine needles are inserted into the skin at certain points on the body.

It is a complementary or alternative medicine (CAM). This means that acupuncture is different in important ways from treatments that are part of conventional western medicine. Unlike conventional treatments, the use of acupuncture is not always based on scientific evidence.


Acupuncture is based on the belief that an energy, or 'life force', flows through the body in channels called meridians. This life force is known as Qi (pronounced 'chee').

Practitioners who adhere to traditional beliefs about acupuncture believe that when Qi cannot flow freely through the body, this can cause illness. They also believe that acupuncture can restore the flow of Qi, and so restore health.

Some scientists and acupuncturists believe that acupuncture may stimulate nerves and muscle tissue, and that this may be responsible for any beneficial effects.


Practitioners – called acupuncturists – use acupuncture to treat a wide range of health conditions. It is often used to treat pain conditions such as headache, lower back pain and dental pain, but is also commonly used against conditions ranging from infertility to anxiety and asthma. To learn more, see common uses of acupuncture.

The availability of acupuncture on the NHS is limited (see box, left). Most acupuncture patients pay for private treatment.

Does it work?

Currently, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends acupuncture as a treatment option only for lower back pain. NICE makes this recommendation on the basis of scientific evidence. Read the NICE 2009 guidelines on low back pain (PDF, 980kb).

There is some evidence that acupuncture works for a small number of other conditions, including migraine and post-operative nausea. However, there is little or no scientific evidence that acupuncture works for many of the conditions for which it is often used. More scientific research is needed to establish whether acupuncture is effective against these and other conditions.

There is no scientific evidence for the existence of Qi or meridians. More research is needed before acupuncture’s method of action is fully understood.

For more information, see evidence for acupuncture.

Using acupuncture

If you choose to have acupuncture, make sure that your acupuncturist is fully qualified and practises the treatment under safe and hygienic conditions.

Learn more in safety and regulation of acupuncture.

Page last reviewed: 22/05/2012

Next review due: 22/05/2014


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The 13 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

tennisplayer said on 14 February 2014

Increasing evidence shows acupuncture is theatrical placebo. Please read article by prof steve Novella and prof colquhoun. No such things as qi and meridians.

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parishan said on 23 December 2013

Thank you for sharing your amazing and interesting experiences. Please write more about modern acupuncture and its side effects. regards

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Nick Pahl said on 11 September 2013

The NICE guideline in 2012 titled Headaches: diagnosis and management of headaches in young people and adults, says healthcare professionals should consider offering patients a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture, administered over a period of from five to eight weeks, for the prophylactic treatment of chronic tension-type headaches.

New research evidence from randomised controlled trials also suggests acupuncture is beneficial for chronic pain, depression and osteoarthritis.

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bungle123 said on 14 August 2013

I suffer with fibromyalga, slipped discs and DDD. Ive tried all sorts and nothing was helping. I was refered to a acupuncturist and had my 1st out of 5 sessions. I have to say i cant believe the relief its given me! The pain hasnt gone but its so much easier to cope with. Next week im having the needles placed so it will help the pain i get in the base of my spine, fingers crossed it works as well for that. Im getting these sessions free but i will be willing to pay for more sessions when needed. Its definatly worth a try x

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drallim said on 18 March 2013

Nearly 6 months have elapsed since N.I.C.E. endorsed the use of Traditional Acupuncture as a tool to be used in the effective treatment of Migraine type headaches.
At this time of writing, there is no evidence to suggest that the NHS is allowing appropriately qualified acupuncturists to perform a much needed function that could benefit around 1 out of every 7 people in Great Britain who suffer from this sometimes totally debilitating condition.
However, it continues to be carried out effectively in the private sector.
Not everyone can afford the treatment and as a consequence have to continue along the same pathway of medically approved drug therapy with all the pitfalls of side effects.
But all this CAN change. From April 2013, All GP surgeries will become more autonomous. This will mean that GPs will be in control of funding Specialist Providers. They will be able to tailor treatment more effectively towards their patients' needs.
This will mean that patients should have the power and the right to request and/or demand treatment from an acupuncturist of their choice.
Because this is rather a new concept, some GPs may find the process of referral a little difficult - preferring perhaps to ignore those requests or demands in favour of their own treatment pathways.
In such instances, patients would be well advised to press their case for acupuncture and not give in to pressures to continue along in the same old way.
Drug therapy is not the only solution!
Traditional Acupuncture is a chance worth taking!!

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winsdor23 said on 14 August 2012

I started a cold/cough almost 13 weeks ago. I took different types of cough treatments to no avail. As we were travelling to USA/Canada in July I visited the GP, who advised a "virus" which could last 3 months! However on return the cough did not reduce, and I visited a second GP within my practice, who said I had asthma, gave me antibiotics and an inhaler and sent me for a chest x-ray, which came back clear. As the cough was continuing and now keeping me awake at night, I visited a third GP who said I might have a strain of whooping cough and that I didn't have asthma and it could last another month! I now have another prescription for antibiotics. I see a local acupunturist for osteoarthritis, which has greatly helped (incidentally started on a cruise ship and helped enormously), and we have discussed this treatment for the "cough"! Hopefully between the tablets and acupunture I might get some relief next month?

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Nick Pahl said on 16 March 2012

Readers may be intereted that the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) is the UK’s largest professional body for traditional acupuncture, with over 3,200 members, across the UK.

The BAcC maintains standards of education, ethics, practice and discipline to ensure the health and safety of the public at all times. It is also committed to promoting research and enhancing the role that traditional acupuncture can play in the health and well-being of the nation.

Acupuncture can support treatment and care in a variety of areas e.g. for people suffering with musculoskeletal pain (NICE Guideline CG88 supports the use of acupuncture for lower back pain - according to this guideline, acupuncture is significantly better than no intervention and also significantly better than standard/best medical care).

There is also evidence that traditional acupuncture is beneficial for a variety other conditions, including emotional disorders, and digestive disorders.

We have a large network of members who are prepared to provide services in many settings.

You can find a local acupuncturist by visiting our website and use the search facility.

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123kw said on 05 May 2011

I've used Acupuncture on many occaisions, particularily when the traditional routes have not proved entirely successful. When I was diagnosed with PCOS some years ago I was told that I would find it difficult to fall pregnant, yet with treatment I feel pregnant almost immediately, much to my GP's shock! I've also found it incredibly useful for joint pain (was referred by my physio), but it also helped with my monring sickness in pregnancy too. My mum has had success in the treatment of all sorts of conditions related to her ME and diabetes, and many friends and family members have had beneficial treatments alwell. It is important though to get a good practioner as it is not a regulated industry. Always look for the relevant qualifications and experience, and a personal recommendation.

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User528921 said on 14 February 2011

I undertook a three year full time training in Traditional Chinese Medicine and appropriate Wester Medical Science. When I trained over 20 years ago, the course was the only full-time one in Europe! In 1992, I went on a study tour organised by ICOM. Acupuncture is used extensively on the NHS in China and will always be available to everyone. Yes it does work. The Practitioner has to be trained appropriately; a short training is an insult. I trained as a midwife for one full year, so am I qualified? No I am not, as I did not complete the course. Please visit You can also visit my website We have our eyes wide shut in this country. We all deserve good health.

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HumanMindAndBody said on 04 January 2011

To AlbertTeddy:
Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that it is very difficult to understand a traditional paradigm of a completely different healing system. To understand it, it will take more than a few minutes reading this leaflet wrongly translated. In my humble opinion, I will appreciate if you could visit an acupuncture expert when you are in need and give it a try for a few sessions. When the treatment is working, if you accept it's working, there are different ways to explain how it works, and the scientific view is not the only and unique way. You do not need to understand it in a mediaval mind, it's just a different way of seeing the body. By the way, there are many types of acupuncture, but it takes years to be able to do traditional acupuncture properly. Do not expect miracles.

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AlbertTeddy said on 04 November 2010

To quote the acupuncture leaflet from our local nhs hospital-
" How does acupuncture work?
Energy continuously flows around the body in channels.
When one is ill this is due to the energy becoming blocked or unbalanced. Inserting fine needles into acupuncture points rebalances the energy and ACTIVATES THE HEALING PROCESS”
Pretty clear that.
This is an absurd mediaeval concept of health and disease that bear no relationship to present medical knowledge.
This has no place in a modern hospital.
The information here is obviously written by a believer.

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User475363 said on 28 July 2010

My wife has just started an acupuncture course under the NHS at a local hospital after using a paid for service for a time.

The difference is striking. Just sending a nurse on a weekend course doesn't mean they know how to perform acupuncture. There's no prep, they ask no questions and they just appear and 'stick needles in' while she lays on a trolley.
She come out feeling worse then when she went in, usually with no feeling in one leg (a problem she'd never had with the none NHS acupuncturists).

We can see why people don't come back for a second course.

She feels she has to complete the course as she has acute back pain and feels they won't offer her anything else if she turns this down. . .

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colinj said on 13 January 2010

an external link to the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists. would be very valuable, there are over 4000 Physiotherapists who practice acupuncture on the NHS

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Vicky Joseph

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