Your First Treatment: What to Expect from Start to Finish

By Bryan Duong

In 1972, acupuncture finally made it to the US- nearly 5000 years after its creation. It’s new to Americans and it’s not going away anytime soon. Many doctors are beginning to approve of acupuncture as a great choice for pain instead of opioids! Don’t worry if you don’t know much about the topic; not many people do. But more and more people are trying this fascinating medicine for one simple reason: It works! Check out this guide to what you should expect if you find yourself in an acupuncturists office soon!

Phase 1: The Greeting

When you first walk in to an acupuncture clinic, you’ll notice some similarities to a doctor’s office. You’ll start off with the usually paperwork- health history forms and consent forms. Acupuncturists are experts of Traditional Chinese Medicine and that means that they need to know your overall health in order to treat you properly. And of course, you need to sign a waiver giving them your permission to treat you or else you walked in to the office for nothing! After completing your forms, you’ll have a seat and wait to be greeted by your acupuncturist. NOT the nurse or assistant! And the best part of the initial experience? Little to no wait time. Rarely if ever will you have to wait at an acupuncturist’s office 30 minutes to 1 hour or sometimes more. What has become a norm in Western Medicine is getting tossed out by Eastern Medicine.

Phase 2: Cloud 9

Once inside your treatment room, your acupuncturist will spend time gathering information to compile a comprehensive intake. Again, just like a doctor would, it’s necessary for determining the best course of treatment. The intake could last for up to 30 minutes. It could be filled with laughs and jokes or it could be a serious conversation the entire time. But most importantly, the acupuncturist is there to listen to EVERYTHING you have to say. The treatment began the moment you started talking. Little did you know, the acupuncturist values your emotional and mental health just as much or even more than a psychiatrist does.

The acupuncturist will insert needles needed for the proper treatment. Some needles can hurt but it should feel no more painful than a tiny pinch. Acupuncture needles are extremely thin, many many times smaller than syringes used in doctor’s offices. Since they’re so small, you barely feel anything. And for those who are super worried about pain, the needles vary in size as well! You’re welcome to ask the acupuncturist to use the thinnest needles possible; that way, you decrease the chances of pain. Of course, some parts of the body will hurt more than others and it’s only natural given the different tissue types and distribution throughout the body. After the first needle goes in, you may say “Oh, well that’s not bad at all!” You can also have pain but if that’s the case, don’t be afraid to communicate that to the acupuncturist. He or she is there to make you feel as comfortable as possible.

How do you know the needles are working? It’s a connection between an acupuncturist and patient. The acupuncturist can feel the sweet spot at each acupuncture point. But the patient can also feel different sensations that are signs that the acupuncture is starting to cause change within the body. Look for slight tingling, warmth, chills, a feeling of a slight breeze, a heaviness or pressure, itching, and calm. These indicate that the needle is in the right place and will do its job.

Now comes 45-60 minutes of bliss. The acupuncturist will leave the room for you to rest and relax. Don’t be surprised if you fall asleep. When you’re laying down on a comfortable bed, lights dimmed, and soothing music is playing in the background, you’ll be lulled to sleep in no time.

Phase 3: Parting Ways

The acupuncturist will remove the needles. Some spots may bleed and that’s just a sign that some capillaries were broken. Not to worry, capillaries are microscopic blood vessels that run all over your body They can’t be seen by the naked eye and therefore can’t be avoided. A quick dab with a cotton ball will take care of the tiny drop of blood. No marks will be left on the skin after the needles are gone because the needles are so thin! You’ll take your time to gather yourself. After resting from an acupuncture treatment, you’ll wake feeling as if you’re on a cloud. Your head will feel like its floating and your thoughts will be blank. You’ve reached a state of true relaxation! Your acupuncturist will recommend that you do a few things as homework and you’ll proceed to the desk for a cup of water. Depending on your issue, you’ll be prompted to schedule your next visit. Although some issues can be fixed on one shot, many issues cannot be and will require regular treatments to fix. But don’t give up on the medicine just yet. Think about the time and energy you spend with your doctor to get something fixed. They require you to get blood work, scans, imaging, and come in for follow ups as well to monitor your progress and change the treatment course if necessary. Acupuncture is the same; it takes time to get things right. It takes time for your body to heal. It takes time for your internal energy to rebalance.

Acupuncture isn’t some type of miracle. It’s a science backed by thousands of years of clinical research. Each disease has been shown to resolve after a certain number of treatments. Acupuncturists understand the body in a way that Western medical professionals never will. They understand that when you have a health condition, it takes time to nurture your body back to a healthy state. This type of care is necessary to allow the body to heal through it’s own means rather than rely on medicine. I will leave you with this final message: Acupuncture works but you have to give it a chance to. It’s rare that someone will hit a homerun their first time at bat but that doesn’t mean they’ll give up on baseball! So when you find yourself sitting in an acupuncturist’s office, be willing to invest in your health as much as the acupuncturist is willing to invest in you. And if you do that, you’ll be opened to a whole new world of possibilities and a path towards better health.