Article Text

Acupuncture in practice: mapping the providers, the patients and the settings in a national cross-sectional survey
  1. A K Hopton1,
  2. S Curnoe2,
  3. M Kanaan1,
  4. H MacPherson1
  1. 1Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK
  2. 2The Acupuncture Clinic, Great Bowden, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, UK
  1. Correspondence to A K Hopton; ann.hopton{at}


Background There is relatively limited knowledge about the practitioners who provide acupuncture treatment within the UK, what conditions patients consult for and the treatment provided.

Objectives To characterise the conditions treated and by whom, to examine characteristics of the treatment and to explore trends over time.

Method A cross-sectional survey of the UK acupuncture practitioners was conducted; 800 practitioners were selected by computer-generated randomisation sequences from the four major UK-based professional associations. Data collected on the practitioners included demographic details, association membership, statutorily regulated status, practice setting, style of acupuncture, diagnostic methods and needle response sought. Practitioners recorded details of their 10 most recent patients, including demographic details, primary reason for consulting and lifestyle advice provided.

Results 330 practitioners responded comprising doctors (29%) physiotherapists (29%), nurses (15%) and independent acupuncturists (27%): 62% were women with median age of 48 years. The majority (68%) practiced in independent settings and 42% practiced within the National Health Service. Patients most commonly consulted for low back, neck, shoulder and knee pain, as well as headaches and migraine. Treatment for infertility by independent acupuncturists was found to have increased fivefold in 10 years.

Conclusion Acupuncture provides a substantial contribution to the healthcare of the UK, with an estimated 4 million sessions provided annually. The primary complaints for which patients consult reflect the growing evidence base on acupuncture for these conditions. These data provide a basis for decision-making regarding policy and practice.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: and

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  • Sponsor The University of York, in its role as sponsor for the study had no input into the study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of the data; in the writing of the report and in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

  • To cite: Hopton AK, Curnoe S, Kanaan M, et al. Acupuncture in practice: mapping the providers, the patients and the settings in a national cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open 2012;2:e000456. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000456

  • Funding This work presents independent research supported by a National Institute of Health Research Career Scientist Award, grant number PAS/03/07/CSA/008 awarded to Hugh MacPherson.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval The study was approved by Research Governance Committee, Department of Health Sciences at the University of York.

  • Contributors All authors contributed extensively to this paper and commented on the manuscript at all stages. AKH cleaned, analysed and interpreted the data and wrote the main paper. SC designed the questionnaire, collected and managed the data and reviewed the draft paper. MK supervised the study design, advised on statistical analysis, interpreted the data and reviewed the draft paper. As part of an NIHR Career Scientist Award (PAS/03/07/CSA/008), HM conceived and supervised the study, interpreted the data and revised the main paper. All authors approved the final version.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement There are no additional unpublished data from this research.