What to Expect on Your First Acupuncture Visit
Acupuncture is a thousands year old health practice derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Acupuncture is a technique in which practitioners stimulate specific points on the body—most often by inserting thin needles through the skin. The thin needles seek to remedy pain and also balance energy within the body. Acupuncture practitioners may also prescribe Traditional Chinese Medical herb supplements to accompany acupuncture treatment. Research suggests that acupuncture can help manage certain pain conditions, but evidence about its value for other health issues is uncertain (source). Acupuncture can be paired with more western allopathic treatments. I personally started seeking out acupuncture for PMS symptoms (headaches, cramps, etc.) and other hormonal issues.
Purported Benefits of Acupuncture
Acupuncture may be beneficial to those suffering from emotional disorders (anxiety, depression) to digestive complaints. It can be beneficial for pain syndromes due to an injury or associated with chronic degenerative diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. It can also be helpful in treating neurological problems like migraines or Parkinson’s disease, or as a rehabilitation strategy for individuals who suffered a stroke. Respiratory conditions, including sinusitis and asthma have been relieved with acupuncture, as have many gynecologic disorders and infertility. Acupuncture has also proved beneficial for reducing fatigue and addictions, and for promoting overall well-being (source).
What to Expect During Your First Visit (After Making An Appointment)
Note that the description below is based on my personal experience. Though the general process will be similar, every practitioner will likely be different and may even incorporate other healing or spiritual modalities into your visit.
Consultation with Acupuncture Practitioner
During this time, the practitioner will likely take notes while you describe your health history, specific symptoms, time length of symptoms, and your general emotional state. The practitioner may also examine your tongue, feel your pulse to help determine energy flow, or ask many questions related to bowel habits, diet, and menstrual cycle.
Insertion of Acupuncture Needles
The practitioner will usually have you still still and possibly lie down while inserting the thin needles for treatment in various locations on your body. Needle insertion shouldn’t be too painful but you may feel a slight pinch. I personally rarely feel the needles after they are inserted and often fall asleep while the needles are in.
Removal of Acupuncture Needles and Wrap-up of Visit
After the practitioner inserts the needles, they will likely leave you for a few minutes (usually somewhere between five to 20 minutes ) for the needles to “do their work.” Then the needles are removed. If you are prescribed any medicinal herbs, the practitioner may take some time to mix them or ask you to come back to pick them up once they have been prepared. Any instructions that need to be followed on taking the medicinal herbs will be explained as you wrap up your visit.
If you have a chronic issue that you are seeking to address, you may be prescribed with several weekly visits in a row. Regular monthly visits may be suggested as preventive measures to decrease stress, improve energy or boost immunity (source).
Other Reminders Before Your Acupuncture Visit
Make sure your physician has cleared you for any treatments including acupuncture before making your appointment.
If you decide to visit an acupuncturist, check their credentials. Most states require a license, certification, or registration to practice acupuncture; however, education and training standards and requirements for obtaining these vary from state to state. Although a license does not ensure quality of care, it does indicate that the practitioner meets certain standards regarding the knowledge and use of acupuncture. Most states require a diploma from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine for licensing (source).
Be aware that your health insurance may not cover acupuncture visits, so be sure to check while scheduling your appointment. If the visit is not covered by health insurance, you’ll have to be prepared to arrange payment for your visit.
For many of us, modalities like acupuncture may be very cost prohibitive (even with insurance), so if that’s the case for you, seek out low cost acupuncture options like getting services from students or community based practices that may offer sliding scale offerings based on income of other options to make it more affordable.
Remember that the practitioner will likely need to easily access your extremities and possibly your stomach or back, so dress accordingly.
If at any point you feel extreme pain or discomfort during your acupuncture session, let your practitioner know asap.