In a very basic sense, acupuncture is the insertion of hair thin, sterile, one time use needles into strategic locations or points on the body to bring the body back into balance or homeostasis. The needles are then stimulated manually, electrically, or by applying heat or herbs in order to further its effects. The overall purpose of acupuncture is to promote the body’s natural healing through the insertion of needles into the body. As a result, the nervous system releases a series of chemical reactions that influence the body’s own internal regulating system.
Acupuncture can be used for a wide array of medical issues and diagnoses. It is typically most effective to treat the condition at early onset, but due to Chinese medicine’s adaptability, it can be successfully used at any stage of a condition. Visit the Traditional Acupuncture page to see a list of commonly treated “Modern Western Diseases” and symptoms. If you do not find your particular issue, please call our clinic to discuss and discover what relief traditional Chinese medicine may provide for you.
One of the most commonly asked questions and the primary reason acupuncture is under-utilized is the fear that the needles may hurt or be unpleasant when inserted into the body. Although each individual’s response and perception is unique, the sensation is truly not painful and is sometimes compared to a light pinch. The needles are left in place for twenty to forty minutes. Most people find the experience extremely relaxing and uplifting, and some people even fall asleep for the duration of the treatment.
I often explain to my clients that while acupuncture does not hurt, it also is not sensation-less. It is sensational. Acupuncture needle sensation is quite unlike anything else and can not be compared to injections, blood draws, tattoos, or other medical procedures. It is important to remember that acupuncture needles are single-use, hair thin, flexible, solid, and sharpened in a way that allows them to precisely move through the skin quickly. In addition, licensed acupuncturists in the state of Arizona are required to complete at least 1,850 hours of training with a minimum of 800 clinical hours learning how to needle precise spots on the body in order to elicit a therapeutic response. While the needle sensation can vary greatly between patients, the most common descriptions include an electric feeling, a dull heaviness, or even a euphoric feeling. I invite my clients to experience these feelings and thoroughly enjoy their sacred healing time.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question. The length, number, and frequency of treatments will vary from person to person depending on the conditions being treated as well as the patient’s age, health, and response to acupuncture. Acupuncture is a natural medicine that is assisting your body to make changes. This can be a gradual process at times. A better indication of the number of treatments needed can be provided after an initial acupuncture consultation.
Although acupuncture often conjures images of spa-like retreats, it is important to remember that it is a medical procedure and there are several things one can do prior to your acupuncture session in order to maximize its efficacy:
- Schedule wisely. Avoid scheduling your acupuncture session before or after something extremely strenuous. We understand that “life happens” but avoiding major stressors before and after a session can greatly increase its efficacy. Also avoid “sandwiching” or squeezing your appointment immediately between two other events. Doing so has a tendency to make one either late or stressed during the treatment.
- Eat. A good rule of thumb is to eat about two hours prior to your acupuncture session, although this should be adjusted depending on how quickly you metabolize your food. Ideally, you don’t want to show up to your appointment too full or after a heavy meal, and it is never wise to show up with an empty stomach as it can leave you feeling lightheaded and depleted.
- Coffee and alcohol are not your friends. Coffee is a known stimulant and has been shown to release norepinephrine and epinephrine into the body, creating a fight or flight state. Acupuncture works to shift you away from this sympathetic state towards a more parasympathetic one, therefore coffee inhibits the process. It also can interfere with accurate pulse and tongue diagnosis as it often speeds up the pulse and stains the tongue. Try to avoid coffee indulgences for at least two hours prior to your appointment. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant that can numb us, which can render acupuncture treatments less effective.
- Remember the details. Before your first acupuncture session spend some time thinking about or making a list of any significant medical events in your life, including family disease history, broken bones, long term illnesses, surgeries, etc. Also include any medications you are currently taking or took long term in the past. Much of the information we typically deem irrelevant can be keys to accurate diagnosis from a traditional Chinese medicine point of view. Don’t worry, we won’t mind if you over-share!
- Wear loose clothing. Doing so allows the acupuncturist to easily access the points that you need needled. Many of the points used are below the elbow and below the knee–if your pants and sleeves can comfortably roll up you should be fine. So keep those skinny jeans and lycra pants at home the day of your treatment!
- Don’t rush. Even when we have scheduled our appointments wisely we often leave things to the last minute. Arriving to your appointment rushed and “amped-up” is counter productive and has a very similar effect on the system that coffee does! Being rushed increases our pulse rates, makes our minds spin, and can make us tense. Many of us already deal with this throughout our regular day and it can be the very reason we are seeking acupuncture treatments in the first place. A great idea is to put your appointment in your calendar as 15 minutes before it actually is. Worst case scenario, you arrive early enough to allow yourself time to relax in the quiet waiting room and enjoy some tea.
- Turn off your cellphone. Please turn off your cell phone prior to your appointment (not just on vibrate, but all the way off). This is a sacred healing time. Don’t let your phone steal that from you.
I’ve had my treatment, now what? Many people ask what they should and shouldn’t do after acupuncture. Generally, just be good to yourself. Here are a few additional tips that can improve your post treatment experience:
- Rest. Go easy on yourself. Resting will allow the physical and emotional restoration, set in motion by acupuncture, to continue.
- Go light on the exercise. Often patients may feel a burst of energy immediately following a treatment and feel the need to capitalize on it by exercising heavily. While light gentle movement can be a great adjuct to an acupuncture treatment, excessive exercise is not.
- Use heat. Everyday I am asked, should I use heat or ice, and 99% of the time the answer is heat. From a traditional Chinese perspective most pain conditions are caused from stagnations. Thus qi and blood are not moving smoothly through the channels, causing blockages that lead to pain. Acupuncture restores flow, helping to eliminate these blockages. Ice is counterproductive; it causes things to remain stagnant and congealed leading to a slower healing process.
- Avoid alcohol and coffee. It is extremely important to stay properly hydrated after acupuncture because the treatment can release toxins into your system. By staying hydrated these toxins can be flushed out. Since both alcohol and coffee consumption causes dehydrating effects on the body, it is best to avoid them.
- Turn off the TV. Acupuncture helps bring you to a place of balance where your sympathetic nervous system is no longer in overdrive. Your mind is in a calm and clear state enjoying a break from the overstimulating world in which we constantly live. Once you click the TV on it all comes rushing back in–incessant advertising, news flashes, violent shows, noise, and more noise. Keep the TV off and enjoy your newly found state of bliss.
- Eat good food. Acupuncture helps flush the body of toxins. Don’t immediately add them back in by eating poor quality food. Avoid all processed foods and sugar. Remember to think about food as sustenance and eating as an opportunity to continue healing your body after acupuncture.