So you're considering acupuncture--great! It is a fantastic addition to your wellness routine, and will leave you feeling more energized, focused, grounded, and happier in day to day life. The possibilities are truly endless!
Now that you've finally worked up the courage to have someone stick a bunch of needles in your body, you might be thinking--what the heck do I expect when I go there?? Will it be a lot of needles? Will it hurt? How long will it last? What should I wear? What can this really do for me? I have heard all of these questions (and many, many more) at the beginning of new client relationships, and so I wanted to provide a guide of all the need to know info that could be helpful prior to starting acupuncture.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
What kind of needles are going to be stuck in my body?
This is a great question! In our Western Medicine based culture, when we think needles, we think huge IV's being jammed uncomfortably into our arms. But brace yourself, because acupuncture needles are SO MUCH BETTER. They are about the width of a hair, and are typically inserted fairly shallowly into the skin to touch the energetic meridians flowing through the body. There are a few different brands of needles used, and all of them are stainless steel and one time use (sterile and individually packaged or in packs of ten for practitioner convenience).
Does it hurt?
To be honest, the answer is--sometimes. For the most part my patients report not even feeling the needles going in and are surprised by the gentle touch and needle manipulation. That being said, when needles do hurt upon insertion, it is usually because of one of two reasons--either the point is in a more sensitive (or less fleshy) area of the body (ie, the toe or the wrist), or it is on a channel where there is stagnation that needs to move (which generally means that there will be some good movement happening!) The only other time I have seen regular tenderness upon needle insertion is when the patient has a very open auric field--when their energy is more expansive, they will tend to feel more of the needles. For the most part, however, patients are pleasantly surprised by how little they feel the needles, and the results they see make a little pinch here and there totally worth it.
What should I wear to an appointment?
Depending upon what points your acupuncturist chooses on any given day, you might need to have any part of your body available. I often have patients change down to undergarments if I am doing points all over, AND it's always good to wear comfortable, loose fitting clothes! This makes it easier for your practitioner, and it's always better to be wearing something cozy when you're blissed out after a session!
What can acupuncture help with?
Pretty much everything! While some conditions are easier and quicker to fix than others, the theory behind acupuncture supports most ailments. In Chinese Medicine we work with energetic meridians (like pathways that run all throughout the body) to promote flow of qi (energy) and balance of substance in the body. Most ailments stem from an imbalance somewhere in the body--whether it be stagnation, deficiency, excess, etc., and acupuncture needles work with the body's qi to readjust these imbalances.
How will an average treatment work?
THE BEGINNING: The beginning of the treatment (the first fifteen to twenty minutes or so) consists of conversation between patient and practitioner--catching up on what has gone on since the last treatment, how the patient felt after the last treatment, and what their wishes are for the focus of treatment that day (if anything in particular). The practitioner will ask a series of "body system" questions--ie, sleep, appetite, digestion, menses, pain levels, etc (to get a general sense of what is going on in the body).
THE MIDDLE: After the discussion portion, the patient will change their clothes (if necessary), and lie down on the massage table. The practitioner will listen to their pulses, look at their tongue, and check in with any other diagnostic tools they deem necessary. Then, they will place needles in the appropriate places based on their diagnosis (this could be anywhere on the body), and let the patient sit for a short period with the needles in. In certain treatments there are multiple sets of needles used, or a quick "in and out" needling technique where the needles are not left in for a long period of time. During the treatment period, the practitioner might also burn moxa (aka mugwort; an herb that is incredibly warming and nourishing to the body) on different acupuncture points, or perform other techniques such as cupping, gua sha, or electrical stimulation of the needles.
THE END: After the treatment is over, the practitioner will take the needles out, listen to the pulses again, and give the patient time to slowly get up and get dressed. Processing of payment and scheduling a next appointment is how the appointment ends!
How many needles will be used?
This all depends on the practitioner's plan. A treatment can consist of as many as ten or twenty needles to as few as two or three. Generally I like to use as few needles as possible to create the most change--this sends the body a clearer message and makes for the best treatment possible! That being said, certain techniques such as Facial Rejuvenation Acupuncture require more needles than the average treatment in order for the protocol to be effective--and the results are TOTALLY worth it.
What is my acupuncturist listening for when they listen to my pulse?
Unlike Western medicine (where one pulse is being listened to for rate), your acupuncturist is listening to a series of pulses! In Five Element Acupuncture, we listen to six pulses on each side, each one corresponding to a different organ system. Other traditions listen on different levels for substance (blood, qi, etc.). We listen for quantity, quality, how the pulses interact with each other, and what potential blocks might exist that we can shift with our needles. We listen to the pulses before and after a treatment so that we can gauge what has happened in the body.
If you have any other questions, I am always happy to answer them! Feel free to email me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you do choose the acupuncture route as a compliment to your wellness journey I know it will be of deep benefit. Best of luck! :)