Every year, more than 10 million acupuncture treatments are administered to patients, making it one of the most popular forms of Eastern medicine. There are plenty of medical studies to back the practice, and it’s safe for the vast majority of patients.
That may explain why acupuncture has become popular in the west, but if you’re considering it for the first time, you’ve likely got questions. We’ve got the answers, so you’ll feel at ease when it’s time for your first acupuncture visit.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
Acupuncture involves a lot of needles – you already know that. Do the needles hurt, though?
No, at least they’re not supposed to. If you do experience any unpleasant sensations, including pain, during an acupuncture session, the acupuncturist will stop and find alternative acupuncture points to target.
However, most people report zero pain during acupuncture, partly because acupuncture needles are made with an extremely thin design. The needle is also lightly inserted into the skin. Instead of pain, most patients experience a positive sensation like warmth or light tingling.
What to Expect on the First Acupuncture Appointment
Your first visit to a practitioner will start much like a visit to any other doctor. You’ll fill out several forms, including legal and medical intake forms that are a standard information-keeping part of the process.
Once the paperwork is out of the way, the patient and doctor work together to complete a medical history, ensuring every health condition and all symptoms are accounted for. The doctor will perform an examination, and in Chinese medicine, it’s standard for practitioners to check your tongue and the pulse in both wrists.
Following examination and a detailed medical history, the acupuncturist will develop an acupuncture treatment plan and lie the patient on the table. Patients may keep their clothes on during treatment, but only if it’s loose enough to move around. Otherwise, the patient may need to put on a medical gown.
The acupuncturist will then insert their needles at defined acupuncture points, which are found all over the body and are associated with energy flow. Practitioners may manipulate the needles slightly, by either twirling the needles lightly or applying heat or electricity.
Following insertion, the needles are allowed to remain in place for up to 30 minutes. During this time, the acupuncturist will typically leave the room and allow the patient time to relax. Patients are provided with a sound-making device (usually a bell) so they can alert the acupuncturist if there are any issues or concerns.
When time is up, the acupuncturist will remove the needles and assess the patient’s condition. They may recommend additional treatments, like dietary changes or herbal supplements.
How Safe is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is widely recognized as a safe procedure that typically results in no side effects. There may be minor bruising or irritation at needle insertion sites, but this will resolve quickly and painlessly in nearly all cases. It is important to alert your practitioner if you have a bleeding disorder, if you are pregnant, or if you use a pacemaker. Some acupuncturists apply electricity during treatment, which can interfere with pacemaker function.
The risk of acupuncture is minimal, but only if you’re visiting a reputable, licensed practitioner. Licensed acupuncturists know how to use acupuncture techniques without causing harm and only use sterilized needles. Many of the worst instances of acupuncture complications have been due to poorly cleaned needles. A licensed practitioner takes care of their needles to minimize risk to their patients.
What Can Acupuncture Be Used to Treat?
Acupuncture has been the subject of a lot of medical research. This research has ramped up in the last 10-20 years, and it’s starting to become clear what conditions acupuncture can help with. Some of those conditions include:
- Chronic pain – Chronic pain, including chronic neck pain, back pain, and osteoarthritis, are some of the most common reasons for seeking acupuncture. Several studies and meta-analyses have confirmed that acupuncture is more effective at reducing chronic pain than a placebo, making it a low-risk option for pain management.
- Headaches – A 2012 review of acupuncture migraine studies found significant evidence that acupuncture is a promising first-line alternative to medication for treating migraines.
- Cardiovascular conditions – Multiple studies suggest that acupuncture reduces sympathetic nervous activity in patients. This is beneficial to people at risk of heart failure, as unregulated sympathetic nervous activity is associated with poor cardiovascular outcomes in high-risk patients.
- Anxiety – A few studies also suggest that acupuncture could be a good supportive therapy for anxiety. Positive effects have even been seen in patients not responding to medication. Interestingly, a 2016 study shows that acupuncture can even reduce anxiety in rats.
- Neurological conditions – Acupuncture, perhaps due to its anxiety-reducing effects, has also shown benefits in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. Specifically, practitioners have noted a decrease in agitation and improvement in mood.
Acupuncture is safe, inexpensive, and effective for a wide variety of health conditions. Given its wide-reaching effectiveness, many people can benefit from acupuncture treatment. If you think you could be one of those people, reach out to a reputable doctor that is experienced with acupuncture and begin receiving its many health benefits.