Does acupuncture hurt?
The first question I'm usually asked: is acupuncture painful? Acupuncture needles are about the width of a human hair and are solid, unlike a hypodermic needle used for injections. In fact they're so fine, you can fit around 40 acupuncture needles in one hypodermic needle!
Insertion should be painless, partly because of plenty of practice on my part, and partly because the pressure of the guide tube momentarily numbs the nerve endings as the needle's inserted. Some patients feel no sensation from the needles, others report a dull ache or tingling sensation (known in Chinese Medicine as "de qi") - it is certainly nothing like having an injection!
The majority of patients find treatment to be very relaxing and many fall asleep while the needles are in!
Is acupuncture safe? Does it have any side effects?
Acupuncture is extremely safe in the hands of a suitably qualified acupuncturist. Serious side effects are very rare - fewer than 1 in 10,000 treatments (BAcC, 2017), far less frequent than for many conventional medical treatments. Members of the BAcC, like myself, have done a degree in Acupuncture and more than 3500 hours of training even before graduation. I gained a First Class degree and I do further training every year, as stipulated by the BAcC.
The most common side effects are mild and self-correcting, occasionally a needle can leave a small bruise or a drop of blood will be released as it's removed. I'm trained to observe high standards of hygiene in all cases.
Patients can occasionally feel dizzy during treatment. This most commonly occurs with new patients who are feeling anxious, patients who are pregnant, or if they haven't eaten for a while. It's always a good idea to have a light snack before treatment and please tell me if you're feeling nervous. In a small number of cases, patients feel so relaxed after treatment that they feel drowsy, in which case you will be advised to exercise caution about driving or operating heavy machinery.
To get the best from treatment, it's recommended to avoid vigorous exercise or alcohol for at least a couple of hours afterwards.
Don't forget that the main side effect of acupuncture is finding that you feel more balanced emotionally and physically!
Will I have to undress?
A great advantage of acupuncture and associated techniques, is that there are more than 400 acupuncture points all over the body,
giving many options for treatment if there's any area of your body that you don't want to expose.
The most commonly used points lie below the knee and elbow; it's useful if you can wear
loose clothing, but not essential, since draping can be used. That being said, depending on the nature of your complaint, it may be necessary to expose an area of the body at least to examine it, even if not treating the area directly.
A gown and draping will be provided if you need to remove any clothing, and
every effort will be made to respect your privacy. Consent to treatment is an ongoing process - so if you ever don't want treatment in a particular area (even if you've had it there before), or if you want treatment to stop, you can say so. I'll always explain what treatment I'd like to do beforehand, and check that you're happy for me to go ahead.
What happens at the first appointment?
The first appointment is longer, around 1½ hours, to allow time to take
detailed information about your condition, do a physical examination if appropriate, and treat you.
I'll go through your
medical history, to ensure that I've fully understood your needs, and that my treatments are safe for you to have alongside other treatment you may be having. In my experience, patients benefit from a complementary use of Chinese Medicine and conventional medicine as appropriate. I believe that the healing process is a partnership between us, with my treatment putting you in a better position for
your body to do its natural job of healing.
I'll want to know how long you've had the condition, how it affects you, if it's changed, and if you've had any other treatment for it. In order to also
strengthen your underlying health, I'll ask about things like your sleep, digestion and mood. If I can help these aspects as well, then it stands to reason that your main complaint will improve faster and has a better chance of staying that way.
I may examine you if, for example, you have a musculoskeletal problem. In all cases,
I'll take your pulse on both wrists and look at your tongue. This will give me invaluable information not only about your main complaint, but also about your underlying health. Indeed, some of you may remember the days that a GP would take your pulse and look at your tongue, regardless of the reason for your visit! This is precisely because of the wealth of information that can be added to your personal diagnosis from these two sources.
Unless your medical history's very complex, you'll receive a
short treatment at your first visit. It's important for your safety that I gauge how you respond to treatment, and keeping the initial treatment simple gives me further diagnostic information that I can use to help me create a
personalised treatment plan for you and plot a way forward to help you
regain control of your health and find balance in your life.
Why do you give dietary and lifestyle advice?
The treatment process is a partnership between you and me. In addition to treatment, I may give you suggestions on diet and lifestyle factors that are probably contributing to your symptoms. Advice will be achievable, realistic, and given with a view to
empowering you to help yourself. Patients who do particularly well with treatment tend to gradually implement small changes in their life, in addition to coming for treatment. The advantage of this, is that they not only
experience more improvement, but can come less often and therefore save money in the process.
How often will I need to come for treatment?
The number of sessions needed to see improvement depends on the state of your underlying health, your age, the nature of your main complaint, and how long you've had it. Some conditions start to improve from the first treatment, some take considerably longer. The longer you've had a condition, the more treatments you can expect to need and the more frequently you'll need to come, although ultimately it is of course up to you how often you book in.
However, with each treatment, and your response to it, I can refine your diagnosis further and make future treatment more specific to you as an individual and therefore more effective.
Progress is reviewed regularly, and is a conversation between the two of us - I'm interested in your opinion as much as my own!
effects of treatment build up over time, as your body starts to respond, and as the diagnosis is refined. For that reason,
after your first appointment, it's recommended to come for at least
four further follow up treatments, ideally weekly. If you're concerned about the financial cost of having such frequent treatment, please ask me about
concessionary appointments. Once you're happy that things are improving, the interval between treatments can then be spread out to 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks etc.
The number of appointments will be kept to the minimum necessary, and your feedback is welcomed. If it's my professional opinion that we've reached the limits of what acupuncture can do for you, I'll be honest with you about that.
You may improve to the point that you decide you no longer need treatment. However many patients continue to come every 4-6 weeks, or at certain times of the year, to maintain progress and because
they feel the benefit in their general health, wellbeing and daily life.