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When acupuncture doesn't work

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

I would love to say that 100% of people who get acupuncture treatment, with me, will be 100% better.

I'm not a modern-day medical miracle. I am not and cannot say I will cure everything and everyone.

Medicine is fallible. Biomedicine doesn't always work. Acupuncture doesn't always work.

So today I will talk about when acupuncture treatments don't help. And if you have any questions then get in touch. I would love to chat.

Love from Andrea


When we enter into a therapeutic relationship we each have to bring 50% to the table. The relationship is like Yin and Yang. We each require the other to play their part.

My 50% is that I will bring my knowledge and expertise in acupuncture. My advice, according to Chinese medicine principles will be given to you to follow between treatments. I will bring 100% to my half of the relationship.

In turn, your 50% is that no one will know what it is to live in your body. To live with, for example, your pain or acne or hay fever or depression. You are the expert in your signs and symptoms. Your body. Your mind. You may need to consider changing or altering your behaviour to help your body mend. Your 50% also requires 100% commitment.


So what happens when treatment doesn't help your signs and symptoms?

I wish I could say which treatments will work. When we speak on a discovery call we will discuss your condition and my experience. I know which conditions, acupuncture is purported to help with. But what I cannot account for is:

  1. How long you have had your condition. The longer you have lived with something the longer it may take to treat.

  2. The complexity and layer of your conditions. You may have multiple conditions

  3. If you cannot or will not make changes, based on my guidance, and which my experience tells me will help you.

  4. Consistency. Consistency means coming for treatments regularly i.e. not one week and then coming back 3 weeks later and then coming again 2 weeks later. Someone once described acupuncture to me like antibiotics. You need to complete the course to see if they have worked. Consistency also means you cannot expect acupuncture to do everything. It is part of three legs, alongside food and lifestyle. Consistency needs to be across all three areas.

  5. I have been learning acupuncture for the past three years (approximately 3,800 hours in total). Full-time. I have dedicated myself to its practice. However, my own clinical experience is CURRENTLY limited to the 400 hours of student clinic which I have just undertaken. I will not have seen every condition. But it doesn't matter, because, for example, one person's insomnia (that I have already seen in the clinic) will be different to another.

  6. And I may get it wrong. As hard as I try to be the best acupuncturist I can be, with continued professional development and learning, maybe there will be practitioner fault. I might not have asked you a pertinent question that would have led me to a different and correct diagnosis.

So I have to be thorough. I have to ask you a wide range of questions. I ask that you are really honest with me. I am not asking to be nosey, it is asking to be able to treat you in the best possible way I can.


How we can work together to review treatments

MYMOP: MYMOP is a tool that allows us to assess general health and improvements. As you will see from the example below it allows us to gauge how you currently feel with regards to signs and symptoms with 0 being as good as it can be and 6 being as bad as it can be.

We will discuss this in your initial consultation and then follow up in later appointments. It might be that your main complaint doesn't improve, but, for example, your sleep has noticeably got better.

The tool provides a really good visual of any improvements (or unfortunately in some cases no change or worsening).

Keep a diary: I always suggest to my patients to keep a diary of signs and symptoms and feelings. It doesn't have to be an essay but just quick notes so that you can remember any changes easily and quickly. I promise you, you will struggle to remember 6 days between treatments so even a quick note on your phone will suffice.

Commitment: I commit to you that I will give 100% to your treatment. When I leave you, I come home and research your condition and how I can improve future treatments. I ask that you commit to working on the suggestions I give you, to work on between treatments.

Honesty: I will always be honest with you about my competence. Whether I think acupuncture can help you. In return, I ask that you are honest with me when I ask questions about your signs and symptoms. Those answers are what I base my diagnosis on.

Review: In your initial appointment I will indicate how many sessions you will need. I always ask that it is a minimum of two sessions, but that is at your discretion. We will continually review treatments with openness in mind, heart and body.

Referral: I am an acupuncturist. My expertise is in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. If I think that your condition is outside of my area of expertise I will discuss with you a referral to an alternative practitioner, for example, an osteopath, a sports massage therapist or a talking therapist.


Why should I get acupuncture with you?

Pick me: It isn't that I am not competent and passionate and safe and highly regulated. It is just that I have only just started my acupuncture business. I need people to give me a chance; it is like leaving school and trying to find your first job.

I added some other reasons here about why you might want to pick me as your acupuncturist.

Lack of side effects: I wrote a very thorough blog about the side effects of acupuncture. Compared to biomedicine they can be very minimal. In a 2021 systematic review, they found that

Acupuncture can be considered among the safer treatments in medicine. SAE*s are rare, and the most common minor AE**s are very mild. AEs requiring medical management are uncommon but necessitate medical competence to assure patient safety. Clinical and methodological heterogeneity call for standardised AE assessments tools, clear criteria for differentiating acupuncture-related AEs from therapeutically desired reactions, and identification of patient-related risk factors for AEs.

*SAE is a serious adverse event

** AE is an adverse event

It really can work: I have seen it first hand with myself. I have seen it with the patients I have worked with within the student clinic. NICE guidelines now recommend acupuncture for chronic pain. The NHS recommends acupuncture for tension headaches.

If you would like to see what acupuncture is recommended for, I have included here the study in 2017 which found

“Our study found evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture for 117 conditions, with stronger evidence for acupuncture’s effectiveness for some conditions than others. Acupuncture is considered safe in the hands of a well-trained practitioner and has been found to be cost-effective for some conditions. The quality and quantity of research into acupuncture’s effectiveness is increasing.”

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