What to Expect at Your First Acupuncture Treatment

       So...you've finally decided to do it.  You're ready!  You've committed to the decision.  You're going to finally take a stab at Acupuncture!!  Pun very much intended.  But now what?  You don't know what to expect when you get there.  Is it like a doctors visit, or more like a trip to the spa?  Are you going to have to get undressed?  Do the needles hurt?  What if the Acupuncturist explains things, and you don't understand it AT ALL??  Don't panic!!  I've got you covered.  I'm going to answer all of the questions above, and perhaps a few others. Here we go!!

  Get it?? Take a  STAB ??? Am I the only  one with a terrible sense of humor???

 Get it?? Take a STAB??? Am I the only  one with a terrible sense of humor???

 Is it like a doctors visit, or more like a trip to the spa?       

More often than not, an Acupuncture treatment is more clinical than spa-like.  That isn't to say that it cannot be spa-like, but it usually isn't.  Most people receiving Acupuncture are there for a specific purpose (pain relief, infertility, facial rejuvenation, etc.), and not so much for "general wellness".  However, Acupuncture can, and should, be used for general wellness, much in the same way that people get a monthly (or biweekly, or even weekly) massage to keep their body healthy.   

       I feel, as an add on to that paragraph, I should mention that; if you are going to see an Acupuncturist for a specific condition, it is a good idea to discuss the issue with the Acupuncturist ahead of time, especially since some Acupuncturists have specialties.  This way you can make sure that the Acupuncturist is fluent with, and comfortable treating, your main complaint...and, more importantly, that you are comfortable with them. 

Are you going to have to get undressed?       

       To some degree, yes.  Acupuncture points are all over the body, literally from head to toe, and clothing can get in the way.  Again, don't panic!  At no point will you be exposed in an inappropriate manner.  You will always be covered, be it with a sheet, blanket, towel, or gown/robe. 

Do the needles hurt?

       The needles should never hurt. Acupuncture needles are very thin, sterile, one-time use, and disposable.  Being very thin, and not hollow, they are less uncomfortable than injection needles. That does not mean you will not feel sensation.  You will, most likely, feel the needles being inserted and removed, and sometimes you will feel them being stimulated by the Acupuncturist.  I know everyone paused at the word "stimulated".  I'll elaborate.  Sometimes an Acupuncturist will spin, rotate, or twirl the needles to get a stronger reaction from the needle and the location.  The stimulation of the needle can cause the muscles to twinge, some people say they feel a "zing" or "electricity", and some report a "heaviness" or a "mild ache".    

 It doesn't really hurt, you say? Onward then with the pokey-pokey, stabby-stabby!!!

It doesn't really hurt, you say? Onward then with the pokey-pokey, stabby-stabby!!!

        What if the Acupuncturist explains things, and you don't understand it AT ALL??

       This is totally normal and expected.  Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine haven't had the easiest time being translated.  So, not only is there a language barrier to the practice, now there is a medical barrier as well.  If, at any point, you do not understand what your Acupuncturist is telling you, do not hesitate to stop them and ask for clarification.  Remember, this is YOUR treatment, and they are going to be working on YOUR body.  If you want a better explanation of the treatment you have every right to speak up.

Is there anything else you should know?

       Of course there is....but where to begin?  Firstly, it's always good to check and make sure your Acupuncturist is licensed.  Secondly, try to come to your appointment with an open mind.  Obviously, it's already quite open if you're willing to try Acupuncture, but it is a foreign medicine, and it can be difficult to translate how it works.  Every Acupuncturist has a different style and technique, so treatment style can vary from practitioner to practitioner.  

       Lastly, you may find that the questions and diagnostics are rather different from your average doctor visit.  You may get asked questions that do not appear to correlate with your main complaint, but an Acupuncturist is taught that all of the body is connected.  So, what may seem an unimportant question to you, may actually be THE key answer for the Acupuncturist.  Try to be as honest as possible when you answer, even if the questions seem odd and you feel a bit awkward.  Your Acupuncturist will also feel your pulse, on both wrists.  We're checking for the strength, quality, and rhythm (much like in a regular doctors office), but we can also tell how well the blood is flowing through the organs when we feel your pulses, which is why it takes a bit longer (did I just blow your mind with that one?).  The strangest though, will be when your Acupuncturist asks to see your tongue...yes, I'm serious.  The tongue is also a diagnostic tool.  While there are other things the tongue can tell us, the biggest thing is that it is a window into how well your digestive system is functioning (if the pulse didn't blow your mind, I'm sure this one did). 

       Hopefully, after reading this, you feel prepared and less anxious about your first upcoming visit to the Acupuncturist.  Don't feel intimidated by the needles, do your best to relax, and do not hesitate to ask questions.  Your treatment is just that...yours.

  • If you're interested in booking an Acupuncture appointment:
Melanie Murphy L.M.T., L.Ac., MS