Frequently Asked Questions About Acupuncture
Is acupuncture painful?
Acupuncture needles are about the thickness of a hair, therefore the insertion is often totally painless, though there may sometimes be a brief pinching sensation like a mosquito bite. Most practitioners use acupuncture needles with an insertion tube to assist the painless entry of the needle through the skin.
Once the needle is inserted, sensations of tingling, heaviness, pressure, warmth or coolness may be felt, indicating the gathering and movement of energy in the meridians. None of these sensations are painful. In general, acupuncture is very calming, and patients often report that they enter a state of deep relaxation or sleep.
Are the acupuncture needles sterile?
Acupuncture needles are made of stainless steel and are pre-sterilized and individually packaged. These needles are used only once and are disposed of after each treatment.
How does acupuncture work?
In China, as well as in the U.S. and other Western countries, the question has first been, "Does acupuncture work?" Though it is a relatively new modality of healing in the West, acupuncture has withstood the test of time as the main medical system in much of Asia, based on thousands of years of study and practice. Even with the inclusion of Western medicine in China, acupuncture remains a major part of their national health care system. The Chinese refer to this combination of traditional and Western medicine as "walking on two legs" as it gives the patient a choice of therapies depending on which is most useful for treating their particular disorder.
In the West, the National Institute of Health (NIH) and other groups have sponsored a great deal of acupuncture research, with results that have lead the World Health Organization (WHO) to list over 50 conditions for which it is effective (see What Can Oriental Medicine Treat?) and for major medical journals to publish hundreds of studies showing positive results. In these modern times, rarely is the effectiveness of acupuncture disputed, rather the question is, for what conditions does it work best?
Explaining how acupuncture works in Western physiologic concepts has proven very difficult for a variety of reasons, central of which is the mechanistic view of Western medicine in contrast to the energetic view on which Oriental medicine is based. In Western medicine, mind and matter are separate and amazing scientific advances have been made largely based on understanding the function of the body by breaking it down into smaller and smaller structural and chemical components. In the Oriental medicine system, health and healing are based on the body in complex interrelationship to the mind, the influences of nature, seasonal fluctuations, the environment, and the dynamic circulation of electromagnetic energy, or qi (pronounced chee), in the body.
It is impossible to understand how acupuncture works without an understanding of the basic philosophy of Oriental medicine. In simplistic terms, health is viewed as balance and balance is based on the fluctuations and interchange of qi and blood, and yin and yang. Qi is the energy that animates the body with life and meridians are the interconnected pathways in which qi flows throughout the body. By stimulating precise points along these meridians, acupuncture is able to clear obstructions in this flow of qi thereby promoting the smooth circulation of energy in the system, allowing the mind and body to return to homeostatic balance and healing to occur.
How many treatments are recommended?
The number of treatments needed is quite variable depending on each individual's condition and symptoms. You may only need one or two treatments, but five to ten treatments are commonly recommended to resolve many chronic problems. Several factors are involved in this assessment such as the length of time you have experienced symptoms, how acute or chronic, severe or mild the problem is, and how proactive you are in supporting your health in other ways. A treatment plan will be discussed with your acupuncturist at your first visit.
Acupuncture is often recommended on a schedule of one treatment per week, though in some cases more frequency is appropriate. As your condition resolves, it is common to schedule a longer period of time between treatments. Making dietary changes and the additional use of Chinese herbs may increase the rate at which healing occurs in some conditions.
What does an acupuncture treatment entail?
At your first acupuncture appointment you will begin by talking with your practitioner about the details of your main problem, as well as an overview of any other health concerns you may have. Because the Oriental medicine system views the body as a whole, interrelated system, your practitioner will often ask a variety of questions about your general health and well being, as well as your mental emotional tendencies. Suggestions may be offered regarding diet, exercise and stress management. You should feel free to ask questions and voice any concerns that you have.
Generally, the acupuncture treatment will be given with you laying in a comfortable position. A typical treatment includes the insertion of four to ten acupuncture needles, retained for15-30 minutes while you relax, though the exact time and number of needles depends upon the needs and tolerance of each individual. Moxabustion, a technique where the acupuncture point and/or needle is gently warmed, may also be applied.
Is there anything I should do to prepare prior to the treatment?
It is best to avoid eating a large meal just before your acupuncture treatment, as well as having gone for a long period without food and coming to your appointment hungry. It is optimal to have eaten a small meal or snack 1-3 hours prior to your treatment. When possible, wear clothing that is loose and comfortable. Your treatment should be a time for relaxation and healing, so you will be asked to turn off your cell phone.
What should I expect after the treatment?
It is common for people to report feeling very relaxed after an acupuncture treatment, even a little "spacey" for a short while. Some experience a change in symptoms immediately after their treatment, but treatment effects are commonly felt later that day or the following day. For some chronic problems, it may take more than one treatment to see a significant change, while for others, a shift may happen more quickly.
Some people feel quite energized after acupuncture, while others experience a dip in energy as their body's internal healing processes are stimulated. You may go back to work after your treatment, but ideally one should go slowly for a few hours to give the body a chance to integrate the changes stimulated by the treatment. Try not to stress, and avoid scheduling an aerobic workout immediately after acupuncture.
How do I choose a qualified practitioner?
Acupuncturists in the U.S. must have a board certified license to practice Oriental medicine. This license indicates that the practitioner has completed a minimum of a 3-year educational program in acupuncture and Oriental medicine, and passed a medical board examination assessing satisfactory didactic and clinical skill. If you wish, it is absolutely appropriate to inquire about a practitioners training and years of clinical experience.