What can you Expect?
DOES IT HURT?
This varies from person to person. Acupuncture is done with extremely thin, flexible needles made of stainless steel. You may experience brief discomfort as the needle pierces the skin, sometimes followed by soreness or a drawing sensation. As the practitioner progresses with stimulation of the needle, there may be numbness, heat, dull aching or tingling. More often than not, the experience is relatively painless. Some people are apprehensive during the first treatment because of the unfamiliarity and their previous experiences with much thicker, hypodermic needles. In my experience, this apprehension can create a sense of threat in the patient which amplifies any perceived sense of pain. It appears that one’s response to acupuncture is quite subjective. Some people report feeling almost nothing while others find each insertion unpleasant!
It is important to understand that the Acupuncturist is trying to stimulate inherent physiological and healing responses in the patient. It is you that does the healing; the acupuncturist is simply negotiating with your body; in a sort of dialogue. And thus, In the Chinese way of thinking, in order for acupuncture to be truly effective one should be feeling something! When the needle is inserted, two important conditions must follow. Firstly, the practitioner seeks to catch or contact the chi, this is a sensation felt by the patient. It is usually felt as a slight ache, a radiating, tingling or numbness. A strong, referred sensation along the channel can also occur almost immediately. This can be of an almost electrical nature. Secondly, there is what the practitioner feels which is called the ‘arrival of the chi’. This is often likened to a’ fish on a hook’ as it feels like a small twitch, a tightening of tissue around the needle or a perceivable tugging on the needle. Changes in state of the patient such as facial suffusion of colour, a relaxed sigh, and so on, will often occur as a result of this.
Small, localized bruises from minor bleeding under the skin are infrequent, but do happen. These are no cause for alarm. Depending on your situation between eight or more needles may be used. Different points require the needles to be inserted to different depths.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE
It is normal for the initial consultation to take up to an hour and a half, and an hour for follow-up visits. The actual treatment lasts about 20-30 minutes, but can go up to as long as 45 minutes, depending upon the problem being treated. I encourage patients not to schedule so tightly that they are concerned about the time during their appointment.
Some conditions are improved with one visit; other treatments will involve multiple visits. On average, with weekly treatment a condition should show some improvement within 5-8 visits. If you do not see any improvement during that time, it may be appropriate to re-evaluate with the practitioner whether or not to continue with treatment.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT AFTER THE FIRST TREATMENT?
As mentioned above, the treatment mechanism of acupuncture is to trigger the body’s own regulating and healing responses. Consequently it draws on one’s own energy reserves. It is therefore important that you come to a session well fed and rested. Depending on the problem being treated and your prior condition, you may experience a wide range of sensations. Some patients will experience a burst of energy while others may feel relaxed or even tired. Many people experience a sense of calm and well being. Occasionally a patient may feel euphoric or light-headed, especially after the first treatment. There are no specific indications of what to do or not do after a session other than if you are tired, rest and if you are hungry, eat!
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
In the tradition that I have been taught, it is not considered necessary for the patient to undress. You will however, be more comfortable if you wear something soft and loose as some points are only easily reached by the adjustment of an item of clothing. We do often needle through clothing. This should not concern you as it was fairly common practice in China for many years. We use pre-sterilized, disposable needles and after 15 years I am yet to see a case of infection at an acupuncture point!