Acupuncture is a safe and effective healing art backed by more than two thousand years of practice and research. It is used worldwide both as a primary and adjunctive treatment for a wide range of conditions. Generally, people find an acupuncture treatment to be a relaxing experience. This is especially so after they get over any initial hesitation regarding needling. The information below is intended to provide you with basic information regarding what you might experience with your first visit to a practitioner of oriental medicine.
Generally, your first visit is longer than your follow up visits or at the very least it entails quite a bit of questioning.The initial questioning is a very important part of the care your acupuncturist can provide to you. While many of the questions may seem entirely irrelevant to your condition, for example asking the quality of your bowel movements when you came in for back pain or your psychological state when you came in for menstrual problems, there are very good reasons behind the questions. The answers you provide to the questions, along with other basic diagnostic tools such as looking at your tongue and feeling your pulse allow the acupuncturist to tailor the treatment specifically to you.
This individualization of the treatments is one of the strong points of oriental medicine. It is why people may experience broad changes within themselves after receiving acupuncture for a specific complaint. It also means that the treatments can be modified over time if they are not proving effective.
After the initial questioning (or on your follow up visit) and the checking of your pulse and tongue, a diagnosis, treatment plan will be formed and the acupuncture treatment is begun. In most cases, the initial treatment is fairly conservative to ensure that you are comfortable and to allow your acupuncturist to see how you respond to acupuncture.
Based on your diagnosis and the style of acupuncture practiced by your acupuncturist, the initial treatment may use 3 – 10 or more acupuncture points. For example, an initial treatment for headache may use these three points: LI 4, GB 20 and TH 5.
Generally speaking, your practitioner will usually not discuss your diagnosis in oriental medical terms. It is usually confusing and often misleading for patients to hear the terminology we use within oriental medicine to describe their condition. For example, a diagnosis of Kidney Qi and Yin Deficiency would not mean very much to you as a patient and could make you think there is something wrong with your physical Kidneys when it is likely that there is not. Nonetheless, the terms we use are important for us as practitioners.
Your acupuncturist is, however, likely to describe the treatment and his/her intent with the points. After the treatment it is common for an acupuncturist to offer a prognosis along with a basic treatment plan. They are also likely to offer various beneficial lifestyle changes which may help to improve your overall condition. This may include dietary changes, exercise, meditation, etc.
A definitive prognosis is always difficult to formulate, especially following an initial consultation. After the first 2-3 treatments, however, your acupuncturist should have a good understanding of your condition and be able to offer you a reasonable idea of how many treatments you will need.
While many people will feel some change in their condition immediately or within the first 2-3 treatments, others with more serious or recalcitrant conditions will need many months of treatment before a significant change occurs. If you are not noticing any changes it does not mean that acupuncture is not helping you. Many times the changes are slow and somewhat subtle as the entire body begins to rebalance from the condition. During these initial stages an acupuncturist can usually gauge the relative effectiveness of the treatments through precise questioning and by monitoring subtle changes in your tongue a/or pulse.
In the most general terms possible, 1 month of treatment may be necessary for each year that a condition has been active. For example, if you have had dysmenorrheal for the past 5 years you may need approximately 5 months of treatment before you will see a resolution. If you are experiencing acute back pain, you may receive immediate relief of the acute pain but may need further treatments to account for the underlying factors which led to the acute flare up.
As part of your overall treatment plan, your practitioner may also prescribe lifestyle and dietary changes to help you rebalance your body and mind. Our eastern nutrition page contains information about diet from an oriental viewpoint. Exercises such as Tai Chi or various styles of Qi Gong are often recommended, although simple activities such as walking or bicycle riding are also beneficial.