Firstly I need to introduce you to Dr. Max Forrester, past president and treasurer of the BMAS and proponent of self-acupuncture as way to allow patients to be treated more regularly and overcome accessibility issues. He presented a lecture and demonstration on this interesting topic at the BMAS Spring conference, 2013.
Dr. Forrester defines the approach as follows: “Self or home acupuncture (SHA) is acupuncture performed by a patient or patients acupuncture partner, following assessment and appropriate training by their attending regulated healthcare professional.”
There is a historical description, the first relating to SHA, by Ten Rhyne who witnessed a man “driving needles into his own abdomen in several locations and regaining his health as a result.” Sounds extreme but apparently effective.
As a relatively new practice, literature is limited. However there are published papers and guidelines about SHA.
Is its safe?
If done with adequate training and supervision, the answer is yes. Any published adverse events have occurred when SHA was performed unsupervised by a patient.
According to Dr. Forrester, good practice involves:
- selecting the right patient
- obtaining consent
- providing adequate information
- treating anatomically safe areas
- using needles that are unlikely to break
- providing written guidelines
In a medical context SHA has been used for
- cancer related fatigue
- dry eyes
In a physiotherapy setting SHA may be useful for the self-management of Trigger points perhaps? Chronic headache may also be a condition amenable to SHA given that some of the central regulatory points often used, which include LR3/ST36 and are fairly accessible, as are the upper trapezius if taught to needle safely.
I often use SHA, performed by myself on myself and supervised by my good wife. I find it very useful for managing the regular bouts of sinusitis to which I am prone over the winter months. I’d use points such as LI20, Bitong, Yintang, Taiyang and LI4 to good effect (Our toddler finds needles sticking out of Dad’s face very amusing). If my neck and shoulders are troubling be after a long hard day in the clinic, more superficial light needling to my upper trapezius with care can provide almost instant relief and a more comfortable night sleep.
I anticipate it being some time before the physiotherapy professional bodies support and endorse such an approach to patient self-management. So I won't be sending patients home with needles any time soon! Perhaps if the approach becomes more widely used by the medical community this may over time filter through to our profession and we would have something else to ask appropriate patients to do at home.
Reference: British Medical Acupuncture Society, The Point, Issue 35 - Winter 2013/14.