Is there anything I should know before I try acupuncture?
Acupuncture is suitable for almost everyone, including children and the elderly.
However, you should not receive acupuncture on an empty stomach, when intoxicated, or if unusually weak and debilitated.
Don’t scrape or brush the coating off your tongue, and avoid eating or drinking things that could change the color of your tongue (coffee, juice, gum) for a couple of hours before your session.
Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes. You should be aware that your acupuncturist may need to access points on your torso as well as on your arms and legs.
Bring a list of the current medications and supplements you are taking.
What can I expect on my first visit?
Your first consultation may be longer than subsequent sessions. Your practitioner needs to assess your general state of health, identify the underlying pattern(s) of disharmony related to your current issues, and evaluate your constitutional condition in order to give you the most effective treatment.
You will be asked about your current symptoms and what treatment you have received so far, your medical history and that of your close family, your diet, digestive system, sleeping patterns and emotional state.
To assist in the diagnosis, your practitioner will feel your pulses on both wrists, noting their quality, rhythm and strength. The shape, color and coating of your tongue also gives insight into your physical health. It is extremely thorough and quite often makes the patient notice symptoms that they never thought would be asked of them. From these findings a diagnosis is achieved. From the diagnosis, a suitable treatment plan is decided upon. This most likely will include a customized herbal formula, acupuncture treatment, and possibly other Chinese medical modalities, dietary or supplement recommendations.
On additional visits, the first five minutes will be a follow-up consultation where questions are asked about the progress of the patient and if any symptoms have changed. If the patient is receiving Acupuncture, every treatment lasts about an hour. The needles are inserted and generally retained in the body for 20-30 minutes.
There are around 500 acupuncture points on the body, from which your acupuncturist will use a selection of perhaps ten or twelve of these for each treatment. It is common that during a course of treatments, different points will be selected as your condition changes. Usually acupuncture is done with you lying comfortably on a treatment table, but sometimes it is more appropriate to have you sitting. In some cases, especially for pain problems, you will be asked to move the affected part of the body while treatment is applied to another area (that is related to the pain by meridian connections).
Does acupuncture hurt and is it safe?
Acupuncture consists of gentle insertion and stimulation of thin, flexible, disposable, sterile needles at strategic points near the surface of the body. When the needle enters your skin and muscles you feel virtually nothing. Once the needle has been inserted to the correct depth on each point, it must then be manipulated to produce the sensation known as "De Qi", "the obtaining of the Qi". This sensation happens when the point has been well activated. It may feel like a brief soreness, or numbness, or tingling, or a sensation of electrical shock and it lasts for only a fraction of a second on each point. After that you will normally feel nothing, except possibly an awareness of subtle tingling, either at or near the acupuncture points or over your whole body generally. Sometimes, when a patient is extremely nervous and has much reactiveness to pain or soreness in general, the manipulation of the needle to activate the point is omitted, at least for the first treatment or two. Ideally, the time comes when even reactive patients accept manipulation of the needles and even come to look forward to the sensation of "De Qi".
Most people’s fear comes from experience with the much larger and more painful hypodermic needles used for injections. While also sterile and disposable, acupuncture needles are considerably thinner and not designed for injections. When the mental hurdles are removed, most people find acupuncture to be therapeutic and quite relaxing.
I thought I had come for acupuncture and I am being offered herbs. Why is that?
This is normal. People outside of China often have the misunderstanding that acupuncture is the principal therapy of Chinese medicine. Often people feel it appropriate to regard the numerous treatment methods of Chinese medicine as objects of consumer choice. In fact, Chinese herbal medicine is and always has been the principal treatment method: it is given in approximately 90% of all cases presenting for treatment, whether or not acupuncture is also given. Your Doctor of Chinese medicine will let you know what treatment method/s are appropriate in your case. This will lead to the most efficient results.
What is the role of Chinese herbs vs. Acupuncture?
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine are both branches of Oriental Medicine. Each has different strengths, and the two work very well together. Acupuncture is well known for its ability to treat muskuloskeletal injuries, eliminate pain, speed healing and increase functionality of acute or chronically injured tissue and injuries. Acupuncture is also well known for stress relief and relaxation. It is less well known that Chinese herbal medicine can also help with these complaints, and that herbal medicine is especially well suited for the treatment of internal medical conditions, ranging from colds and coughs to gynecological complaints to digestive disorders. Recently the Western world has started to obtain a public awareness of this 3000+ year old tradition. However, even with the growing popularity of Chinese herbal medicine, it is important that Chinese herbs be prescribed by a trained and licensed Chinese medicine practitioner.
What is motor point acupuncture?
Motor point acupuncture plays a pivotal role in the success of sports medicine acupuncture treatments. The motor point is defined as the most electrically excitable area of the muscle and represents the greatest concentration of nerve endings. Acupuncture to the motor point seems to “reset” the dysfunctional muscle that is causing abnormal muscle function and spasm. The acupuncture needle is one of the best modalities to use as it effectively releases muscle shortening swiftly when inserted into the motor point .
How many treatments will I need?
The number of treatments depends upon the severity and duration of your complaint, and your own specific goals for health. For acute symptoms, one or two treatments may be enough, while chronic or degenerative conditions may take 5-10 or even more treatments to see significant progress. To help get the most out of your treatments, your acupuncturist may recommend dietary changes, relaxation techniques, self-massage or Chinese herbal medicine, all of which can help increase the efficacy of acupuncture and maintain your health between treatments. Even after the acute situation which brings them to acupuncture has resolved, many people choose to continue treatment to address other less severe imbalances and improve overall health.
Is TCM covered by insurance?
Acupuncture is currently covered by many extended health Insurance plans. Typically, most insurance plans will cover up to $500 worth of Acupuncture per year. Unfortunately, the herbs are not yet covered.
What if I am taking pharmaceuticals?
This is a very important question. While acupuncture usually has little chance of interfering and creating side-effects with drugs, Chinese herbs do have this potential. This potential can be used to our advantage, for example, to reduce unwanted side-effects from drugs (i.e. chemo-therapy). Secondly, with a M.D.’s approval, if one wants to stop taking a given medication, Chinese herbs can not only reduce the side-effects of going off of less potent meds, but in many cases can be used to prevent ‘rebound-flare-ups’ and withdrawal. An example of this would be steroid therapy. Potential herb-drug interactions must be respected, and it is best to leave a two-hour gap between taking herbs and pharmaceutical drugs. While many Chinese herbs are common foods (i.e. wheat berries), we treat them as medicine, and it is important to tell your practitioner about any drugs you are taking so that we can err on the side of caution.
Are there any risks to acupuncture during pregnancy, either to the mother or baby?
As with all complementary therapies in pregnancy, ensure that the therapist you consult is fully qualified. As no substance is ingested into the body, acupuncture is safe to use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. In order to prevent the risk of infection of any form, only sterile disposable needles are used during acupuncture treatments. Certain acupoints should not be used in pregnancy, except during labour, and there are specific point selections for obstetric treatments. Chinese herbs can also be used during pregnancy, although there are are some which are contra-indicated and therefore avoided at this time.
***Note: Acupuncture is contraindicated for pregnancy unless provided by a licensed acupuncturist with specialized training in pregnancy support.
Are there any special instructions to follow after the treatment?
Plan to take it easy after your treatment. Most patients report they feel energized and a sense of well being afterwards. Most patients also sleep great the same night as their treatment. Sometimes after receiving a treatment, you may feel a little lightheaded. If this is the case, please sit down in the waiting room. In a few minutes, you’ll feel relaxed and clear-headed.