What is Medical Acupuncture?

Medical Acupuncture is a fusion of traditional Chinese acupuncture and our current knowledge of pain physiology and neuromuscular physiology (how muscles and nerves work). It involves the insertion of tiny, sterile needles into the surface of the skin.

Traditional acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to alleviate many conditions, but at Headstart Clinics, we use Medical Acupuncture as a treatment for musculoskeletal problems, including strains, sprains, mobility issues and chronic pain from an old injury.

Note: If you have medical acupuncture you will be unable to donate blood until 4mths after your last treatment. Please speak with your therapist if this is an issue and they can provide alternative treatment.

Medical Acupuncture at HeadStart Sports Injury & Performance Clinic, Cambridge UK

Acupuncture: The basics

There are several different types acupuncture – we use ‘dry needling’ or Medical Acupuncture. This involves the strategic insertion of tiny sterile needles, up to a few millimetres into the surface of the skin. It is a highly effective treatment and it is used in about 70% of our sessions. The number of needles used during a session varies depending on your symptoms, but can from 3-4 upwards. Again, depending on your circumstances needles are left in anywhere from 30seconds to 5mins; the more chronic the condition typically the longer the needles are left to work.

Medical acupuncture is rarely used as a stand-alone treatment, often used in conjunction with joint manipulations, massage and other soft tissue techniques.


Who is Medical Acupuncture for and what are the benefits??

Medical Acupuncture is suitable if you are:

  • Looking to address pain and discomfort with less reliance on medication
  • Experiencing acute pain or spasm following an injury
  • Looking for strategies to manage chronic pain safely and effectively

What are the benefits of Medical Acupuncture?

The main benefits are pain relief, muscle relaxation and increased blood flow. There are additional benefits such as reducing muscle activity, and endorphin release.  Patients in our clinic regularly report experiencing:

  • Lasting pain relief
  • Improved quality and range of movement
  • Elevated mood (most likely as they’re in less pain!!)
  • Better sleep – particularly the few days following treatment.

How does treatment work?

There are a number of known and well researched mechanisms explaining how Acupuncture or Dry Needling works:

Trigger points

These are hypersensitive areas of muscle which are tender, cause local muscle tension and can cause referred pain. Needling helps reduce the twitch response, increase blood flow and reduce muscle tension in/around trigger points.

Pain Relief

Medical Acupuncture provides an analgesic effect, giving pain relief. This works both on a peripheral and central nervous system level including activating the release of endogenous opioids causing endorphin release.

Increases blood flow

The micro-trauma of the needle insertion results a in a number of responses causing localised increase in blood flow. One example is the local release of nitrous oxide and other vasodilators causing an immediate increase in blood flow. This can be seen externally by a gentle reddening of the skin around the insertion site.

Reducing muscle tone

Inserting needles into muscle tissue has been show to reduce the reflex activity and twitch responses, as well as enhancing muscle relaxation. We regularly use needling to help manage patients with acute spasms, or before spinal manipulation to reduce any muscle guarding.


Acupuncture should not be painful. The needles are very small and fine. You may feel a sharp pinch as the needle is inserted. Once the needle is in we look for a twitch response; this can be a dull or aching feeling, or a muscle twitch – all of which is entirely normal and is a desired effect of treatment.

That depends on the severity of your pain. We recommend once a week to begin with, after which sessions can be tailored to suit you.

This depends on your symptoms, but typically 5-10mins. It is normally shorter for acute pain and longer for chronic pain.

You may be asked to remove clothing so that we can reach the appropriate points, so aim to wear loose-fitting clothing. Try to avoid a big meal about an hour before your appointment, too.

In most cases it is not required for you to inform your GP. However if your case is complex or you suffer from medical conditions then your therapist will discuss with you your suitability for treatment and ask you to speak with your GP if necessary.

Generally, people feel relaxed after their sessions and the majority of patients find the experience beneficial and calming. You are more than welcome to sit and wait after your session if you are feeling sleepy. As with all types of treatment you may feel better, worse or the same for up to 48hrs after your appointment. This is an entirely normal and expected result of treatment. Your therapist will discuss with you the expected effects and and after-care advice.

It is extremely unlikely that you will experience any bleeding at all due to acupuncture. It is normal for a small amount of spotting or some mild bruising to occur. This happens with less than 5% of our patients and is comparable to the amount of blood from a fingertip pin prick test and there is no associated pain.

Yes. As with most treatments it is not advised in the first trimester of pregnancy but is entirely safe and effective for use during the remainder of pregnancy.

Contact HeadStart directly and talk to any of our qualified and professional therapists. You can also learn more about Medical Acupuncture through The British Medical Acupuncture Society and The British Acupuncture Council.