Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of treatment for pain.

In the past 20 years, acupuncture has grown in stature from a rarely-used method viewed with deep suspicion to an accepted alternative treatment used by thousands of people in the UK every year.

A lot more information about acupuncture has now been translated and many practitioners have travelled to study in China or other parts of Asia.

Despite the growing popularity of the treatment, the medical establishment is keen to see more research carried out before its incorporation into the NHS.

However, last year the British Medical Association recommended that acupuncture be used more often.

BMA head of health policy Vivian Nathanson said: "We need to see more high-quality research into the effectiveness of acupuncture.

"Greater use of acupuncture would save the NHS millions of pounds each year."

Ian Appleyard is one of two acupuncturists who has set up a specialist natural pain control clinic in Hove which aims to provide a vital service for patients using a system close to that used in Chinese hospitals.

He also aims to respond to the call from the medical establishment for more research by collating all the figures and responses he gets from patients during their treatment.

He said: "The idea is to prove basic facts and figures about the treatment we give and its success rate.

"In the long term, we hope that acupuncture will be brought into the NHS.

Not only will patients have the choice of opting for alternative treatment but, if it is successful, they will no longer need pain-killing drugs which, in turn, will help save money.

"We are particularly keen to attract older people who can suffer a great deal from pains and aches and who could really benefit from the treatment.

"We are doing everything we can to keep the costs of sessions down to try and give more people the chance to try acupuncture out."

One of the new methods being brought in at the clinic is continuing practitioner development where an acupuncturist can treat more than one patient at a time on a regular basis.

Mr Appleyard said: "Since acupuncture began to develop in the UK, the most common form of treatment has been for people to have a session once every week or fortnight, fitting them in around their normal working week.

For many conditions, this is adequate. However, in China people are often treated every day in a hospital and this more intensive form of treatment enables faster and more effective results for certain conditions.

"This form of intensive treatment would normally be prohibitively expensive for many people but there are ways that lower cost treatment for painful conditions can be worked out."

In its original form, acupuncture was based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine.

According to these, the workings of the human body are controlled by a vital force or energy called Qi which circulates between the organs along channels called meridians.

There are 12 main meridians and these correspond to 12 major body functions or organs, such as liver, kidneys or the heart.

Qi energy must flow in the correct strength and quality through each of these meridians and organs for health to be maintained.

The acupuncture points are located along the meridians and provide one means of altering the flow of Qi.

A "trigger point" is an area of increased sensitivity within a muscle which is said to cause a characteristic pattern of referred pain in a related segment of the body.

For example, tender areas in the muscles of the neck and shoulder can relate to various patterns of headache.

To treat the pain, an acupuncture needle is inserted at the trigger point.

Typically, between four and 10 needles are used during a session and left in place for ten to 30 minutes.

The needles are extremely fine and do not hurt in the same way as an injection.

Mr Appleyard sees people of all ages suffering from a wide range of problems.

For details of treatment, call him at the Natural Pain Control Clinic, Clinical Centre of Chinese Medicine, 98 The Drive, Hove on 01273 776499.