Acupuncture is a Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that can be traced back to at least 2,500 years ago. Over the last few years, this method of treatment has received growing interest in Singapore.
More medical professionals (i.e. doctors and dentists) are now accredited acupuncturists. Some of them do it out of personal interest or for teaching and research while others implement the treatment in their practice. I've also seen an increased number of young patients at my clinic. Some of them have even done extensive research on their own prior to consulting me.
As an experienced TCM physician who has a special interest in performing acupuncture treatments, I’m writing this post to help you understand how it all works.
I hope this post will help to shed some light for those of you who are interested in going for acupuncture treatments.
It covers important points that my patients, friends, as well as family often ask me about such as:
- How does acupuncture work?
- The cost of TCM acupuncture treatment in Singapore
- How to find a trusted TCM clinic for acupuncture treatment in Singapore
What training and certification is needed to perform acupuncture treatments in Singapore?
According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board, anyone who wish to practise acupuncture in Singapore must either be:
- Locally registered as a doctor or dentist
- Registered as a TCM physician
Singapore registered doctors and dentists must complete acupuncture training courses recognized by the TCM Practitioners Board.
They must also pass the Singapore Acupuncturist Registration Examination (SARE) before they can be registered as acupuncturists.
Do you need to have prior TCM knowledge to go for an acupuncture course in Singapore?
If you are a Singapore registered doctor or dentist, you do not need to have prior TCM knowledge to go for an acupuncture course.
Other than that, only TCM physicians are allowed to practise acupuncture in Singapore.
Are all acupuncturists in Singapore governed by the Ministry of Health?
The Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board (TCMPB) is a statutory board that registers both acupuncturists and TCM physicians.
TCMPB is under the regulation of the Ministry of Health.
Where can I find certified acupuncturist for treatment in Singapore?
In Singapore, it's mandatory for all acupuncturists to pass the examination from the TCMPB in order to obtain the licence to practice acupuncture.
There are two different types of examination:
- Singapore Acupuncturists Registration Examination
- Singapore TCM-physicians Registration Examination
First up, what does acupuncture do?
TCM believes that diseases are a result of the imbalance of the “Yin”, “Yang”, “Qi”, and blood in your body. This can be attributed to various causative factors that could lead to either “excess” or “deficiency” syndrome (or both) in your body.
The treatments in TCM (i.e. herbal prescriptions, acupuncture, cupping, or tuina, etc) work to bring back the balance within your body.
Through the consultation, I am able to make a diagnosis through syndrome differentiation and conclude on the meridians and the organs affected.
This is where acupuncture comes into play. It's applied to specific body parts, which helps to restore the imbalance by either:
- Removing the “excess” OR
- Replenishing the “deficiency”
How does acupuncture work?
First of all, needles are inserted into the acupressure points along the meridians on your body. This is to stimulate the acupoints to bring out the therapeutic effects.
Then, the acupuncturists would need to decide on:
- Depth and direction of the needles
- Duration of the treatment
- Specific techniques to induce the needle sensations
When the “Qi” flows smoothly in your body, your body heals.
What are the benefits of acupuncture?
TCM sees the human body as an organic whole, which is divided into “Yin” and “Yang”.
When “Yin” and “Yang” are in harmony, “Qi” flows freely within the body and a person is healthy.
When there is an imbalance of “Yin” and “Yang”, the flow of “Qi” is obstructed, and this manifests itself in ailments and sickness.
Acupuncture serves to:
- Restore healthy balance of “Yin” and “Yang”
- Clear blockage within the meridians and strengthen vital “Qi”
This helps to reinforce the immune system to prevent you from falling ill.
Acupuncture can also help to cure diseases and alleviate pain by promoting flow of “Qi” and blood.
Acupuncture is recognised by WHO
World Health Organization has recognized that acupuncture has been proven, through controlled trials, to be an effective treatment for various conditions such as:
- Headache of various origins
- Pain management
- Allergic rhinitis
What does an acupuncture session in Singapore involve?
Assessment of condition
For me, I will always start with a consultation. This is where I assess your condition and health status. Acupuncture treatment will only be recommended if the condition calls for it. You'd also have to give me your consent before I can proceed with the treatment.
Typically, the treatment would start by you lying down on the treatment bed, exposing the areas where the acupuncture would be performed.
For example, it could be either your limbs or your stomach.
Sterilization of needles
Afterwhich, I'd then sterilize these areas. The sterilized and disposal needles used in acupuncture are extremely thin. Most people feel nothing more than a slight “ant bite” when the needles are inserted into the acupressure points.
All needles used in the clinics are sterile packed single use needles which are disposed as biohazardous wastes in accordance with National Environmental Agency regulations.
Insertion of needles
The number of needles used during the treatment depends on the condition and your health status. From my experience, most of my patients only felt a “tingling” sensation while the needles were in place.
Possible heat/electric current
Heat or electric current could also be incorporated in conjunction with the needles to enhance the therapeutic effect. The needles are left in the skin for 10-30 minutes while you rest. The needles will be removed right after.
How long does each session of acupuncture take?
The exact duration for an acupuncture treatment often differ. It's determined by the complexity or severity of your condition as well as your treatment requirements.
“How many treatment sessions will I need and when will I be able to see results?"
The number of acupuncture sessions needed depends on:
- The duration since the onset of the illness
- Severity and complexity of the condition
Each individual reacts differently to the effects of acupuncture so it is not likely for me to give you an exact figure on the number of acupuncture sessions required.
What I can tell you is that, I will observe the results of the first treatment. After that, I would be able to better advise you on the duration of the treatment course.
For example, an acute condition such as a sprain will require a shorter time treatment time, as compared to a chronic illness, e.g. recurring migraine condition.
What are the conditions are acupuncture treatments helpful for in Singapore?
Acupuncture can be used to treat a wide range of conditions.
Some conditions which acupuncture is commonly used to treat include:
- Mental health e.g. stress related discomforts such as depression, insomnia
- Musculo-skeletal and neurology e.g. headache, arthritis, pain management
- Reproductive system e.g. fertility, irregular menstruation, menstrual cramps
- Ear-nose-throat (ENT) e.g. sinus, tinnitus
- Dermatology e.g. eczema, acne, sagging skin, wrinkles
- Others e.g. weight management, flatulence, cold, hair loss
“My friend told me that acupuncture is super painful! Is it true?”
This is a very common question that I get asked. In my years of practising acupuncture, I have come to realise why acupuncture is often associated with pain.
People who have tried acupuncture often mistake the different needle sensations of soreness, numbness, bloatedness, tingling, heaviness and at times electric current as “painful”.
They conveniently term these needle sensations as “painful” as they are not able to better describe the experience. Therefore “acupuncture” gets the reputation of being “painful”! To a certain extend, this has deterred most of people from trying out acupuncture.
It's good for you to feel needle sensations
It's good news when the physician has generated needle sensations during the acupuncture treatment. If you're able to feel the needle sensations quickly, it means that I have applied the correct technique at the right acupressure points.
This will result in a faster recovery, as compared to someone who gets the needle sensations slowly. Thus it is always better to experience some needle sensations during the treatment.
Dont worry, it's not daunting!
However, in the case where you experience any discomfort during the acupuncture treatment, don't hesitate to inform the physician promptly. He/she will adjust the needle’s depth or the direction to ensure that the treatment will be managable for you.
So no, acupuncture is not “super painful”!
What are the possible side effects of acupuncture?
A minority of patient may experience the following when and/or after undergoing acupuncture:
- Slight bruising
- Soreness or pain
- Dizziness or fainting
- Slight bleeding after extraction of needle
On the whole, slight bleeding or brushing occurs after acupuncture in about 3% of treatment. Pain during treatments occurs in about 1% of treatments.
Typically, the bruising and soreness will disappear after a few days.
Why do patients experience slight bleeding?
If you have anxiety or engage in physical activities such as running prior acupuncture, you're increasing the blood circulation in your body. Therefore, you might experience slight bleeding when the needles are extracted.
However, this can be easily resolved. I will apply slight pressure to the affected areas and the bleeding will stop soon after.
Giddiness after acupuncture treatment is rare
In rare cases, you might also experience giddiness during their first treatment. This could be due to (but not limited to):
- Poor health
Other symptoms include general weakness, paleness, palpitation, sweating, dizziness and nausea.
When this happens, I would stop the treatment and all needles would be extracted immediately. I would also advise to lie down and drink some warm water or take some sugary drinks.
I often recommend my patients to have a light meal an hour before the treatment as it helps to prevent this.
Should there be any discomfort or concerns during an acupuncture treatment, you should inform the physician instantly. Adjustments to the treatment can be made accordingly to ensure your safety and therapeutic effects.
Who would you recommend to try acupuncture?
Truth to be told, there's no harm for everyone (apart from those mentioned in the next point) to try acupuncture treatment out.
Acupuncture can help to cure illness, but it's also helpful in boosting your body resistance when you're feeling under the weather.
When your “Qi” in your body is well-regulated, you will have a strong immune system to protect yourself against pathogenic factors. You will also be able to withstand stress better.
Women who want to conceive can go for acupuncture
Ladies who are preparing to conceive can consider trying acupuncture.
Acupuncture can help to regulate the internal environment of uterus to promote blood circulation. As a result, it can help to increase the chances of successful pregnancy.
Acupuncture can help smokers and drinkers
For those who wish to quit smoking or drinking, you can adopt acupuncture for help during the process. It helps to minimise the withdrawal symptoms or any uneasiness to the lowest.
Who is not a good candidate for acupuncture treatment?
- Acupuncture should not be carried out immediately to people who are:
- On an empty stomach
- Feeling fatigue
- Profusely perspiring and racing heartbeat
- Acupuncture should not be carried out to people who have:
- Phobia for needles
- Contagious diseases
- Abnormal blood pressure
- High fever
- Extreme weakness after operation, miscarriage, giving birth, during heavy menstruation
- Pregnant ladies
- Bleeding disorders such as hemophilia
- Skin with infections, ulcers
- Metal allergies
It's very crucial that you notify the physican of your current health status, and previous medical conditions. Physicians need these information to assess whether you are fit to undergo treatment so as to avoid any possible adverse consequences.
How much does acupuncture treatment cost in Singapore?
The cost of the acupuncture depends on the complexity and severity of the conditions.
Cost table from Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic for your reference:
Can you claim Medisave or get subsidies for acupuncture treatment in Singapore?
Acupuncture treatments from private institutions like Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinics cannot be claimed from Medisave nor obtain subsidies from government.
You might want to check with your own physician or clinic to see if there are any subsidies available.
How can you find the best acupuncturist in Singapore for your needs?
If you are interested in acupuncture and would like to try it out, I'd advise you start by seeking recommendations from those who have tried the treatment before for introduction.
Alternatively, you could ask the physician or the acupuncturist personally for advice.
Personally, I believe that there is no “best” acupuncturist. There's only the most suitable one for your needs. You should find an acupuncturist who can give you a sense of secure and trust.
I have always made it a point to give detailed explanations to my patients about their conditions and acupuncture procedure. I want them to be able to have a peace of mind, and trust me with the treatment.
Personally, I think this is exceptionally essential for physician-patient interaction and enhanced therapeutic effects.
There has been an upward trend of people seeking acupuncture treatment nowadays. The level of acceptance is definitely encouraging.
We've also seen many foreigners who came specially for acupuncture treatments. They told us that they have heard of this amazing traditional healing practice and were keen to experience it for themselves.
Furthermore, there have been an increasing number of doctors and dentists practicing it today. They realised that acupuncture is actually complementary to their clinical practice.
Acupuncture is a form of treatment that particularly relieves pain-related issues effectively.
I believe with more TCM knowledge shared with the public, more people will be able to benefit from it.
Associate Senior Physician Lin Xiao Yan is a registered TCM physician with Eu Yan Sang. All TCM physicians are meticulously selected by their internal Medical Board and licensed by the TCM Practitioners Board, a regulatory body under the charge of the Ministry of Health. She has more than 5 years of clinical experience and is an expert in acupuncture and cupping.