Acupuncture can be traced back more than 2,500 years and is now practised across the globe.
Anna Wells first became interested in eastern medicine in her teens and later witnessed it being used in parallel with western healthcare while living in India where she worked as an animal rescue volunteer.
"In India they used ancient, traditional medicine alongside western, conventional medicine, which we don't do in this country. An integrated approach where people can have the best of both worlds gives people more options," she explains.
"I was looking after the street dog population, helping to organisation sterilisation and vaccination programmes and working with NGOs. I also looked after the cows that are free roaming there. Interestingly, the vets were also using traditional medicine alongside western medicine."
After returning to the UK, Anna, who has recently opened in a new clinic in Shrewsbury, became interested in acupuncture after experiencing it herself while suffering from stress and anxiety.
"Most people get into acupuncture because they've felt the benefits of it themselves," says Anna.
"I felt more able to look after myself better, eat better and have a better work/relaxation/home life balance. It's time to take out for yourself," she explains.
Anna trained for three and a half years at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine in Reading and qualified with a BSc (Hons) and Licentiate in Acupuncture.
Practitioners focus on treating the individual rather than a collection of symptoms using techniques that have been refined over thousands of years.
Traditional 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" - and it's believed that when Qi does not flow freely through the body, this can cause illness. They also believe acupuncture can restore the flow of Qi, and therefore restore health.
In April 2021, NICE revised its guidelines for the treatment of chronic pain and acupuncture as one of four modalities to reduce pain and increase quality of life following supportive evidence from 27 studies.
The NHS recommends that anyone considering acupuncture looks for a qualified practitioner who is a member of a national acupuncture organisation.
Anna is a member of the British Acupuncture Council, which is the leading self-regulatory body for the practice of traditional acupuncture in the UK.
She says every appointment at her acupuncture clinic, which is based at Darwin Court Osteopathic Practice on Oxon Business Park, starts with a thorough consultation.
In Chinese medicine, the body, shape, coating and markings of the tongue are checked because it's believed that the appearance of a person's tongue is a reflection of their health.
"The first consultation can last up two hours," says Anna. "Acupuncturists are trained to take the pulse, look at the tongue and take the history from that person.
"I then create a treatment strategy. I usually suggest people come weekly for the first three or four weeks. This enables me to see what is working for them and tweak it if I need to. In the longer term, people come once a month or at the changing of the seasons."
Treatment often involves a combination of retained needles, cupping, moxibustion and guasha, depending on the patient.
Cupping therapy is an ancient form of medicine in which special cups are placed on the skin for a few minutes to create suction.
Moxibustion consists of burning dried mugwort to warm specific parts of the body, including acupuncture points, and guasha is a type of massage therapy.
Anna, who may also offer lifestyle and dietary advice alongside the course of treatment, says many people are surprised at how relaxing and pain free acupuncture can be.
"We help balance the person. It can be a calming experience. People report sleeping better, being able to cope with stress better and a reduction symptoms," she says.
The needles used in acupuncture are very fine and are single-use, pre-sterilised needles that are disposed of immediately after use. They range from 0.12mm to 0.30mm gauge with 0.25mm being the gauge Anna uses most frequently. A medical syringe, which is 2.9mm in gauge, is approximately ten times larger than the average acupuncture needle.
"If I'm treating a person that is nervous of needles then I can utilise the other techniques. People are less nervous about the needles after a couple of times, they're more open to it," she tells Weekend.
For Anna, being an acupuncturist is very rewarding. "We treat all kinds of people with all kinds of symptoms. I love being able to help people. It helps them to feel in control of themselves getting better. I think it's quite empowering. I really love it - I'm very excited about an integrated approach to healthcare. We use the best from the east and the best from the west."
*Anna is offering a discount on first consultations until May 31. Appointments can be made via email at email@example.com or via annawells-acupuncture.co.uk