Q: Does it hurt?
Acupuncture is not typically painful. However, there may be sensations that you are not used to feeling. When I insert a needle, I may manipulate it until you sense what is referred to as ‘qi’. This may be in the form of a dull ache, burst of electricity or tingling, a hot or cold sensation, heaviness of other evidence that the treatment is working. Typically these sensations will disappear or become dulled after a few moments.
On other occasions, you may not feel anything. This may be due to the fact that the point being needled is deficient, a lack of sensitivity about one’s body, or simply because I haven’t stimulated the needle.
Obviously, as an invasive treatment, acupuncture needles can be inserted in places particularly close to a nerve or blood vessel causing more discomfort. In these cases, simply mention this and the needle can be easily adjusted to relieve the discomfort.
Q: What are the risks involved with acupuncture?
Acupuncture treatments are extremely safe. While there are some risks involved depending on the location of the needle licensed acupuncturists are trained to appropriately needle these areas, such as learning appropriate needle depth, needle angle, and are trained to assess patients who may be at increased risk for such complications (such as a patient who may have an enlarged organ, elderly patients, etc.). Indeed, in one prospective observational study that looked at 190,924 patients, the incidence of serious adverse events was approximately 0.024% (~42 patients out of 190,924).1
Some more typical issues that may arise from acupuncture include slight bleeding, bruising, or soreness at the site of insertion. Bleeding typically stops within a minute or two and soreness may last a day or two (typically feeling like a sore muscle). These issues typically arise as a result of patient repositioning during the treatment, which changes the orientation of the needle slightly resulting in micro-tears or tugging when the needle is removed.
On rare occasions a patient may faint. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as heightened anxiety, history of fainting, failure to eat before a treatment, or chronically low blood pressure. In cases of adverse events, practitioners have protocols to follow to address these issues.
1Endres HG, Molsberger A, Lungenhausen M, Trampisch HJ. An internal standard for verifying the accuracy of serious adverse event reporting: the example of an acupuncture study of 190,924 patients. Eur J Med Res 2004; 9: 545-51 pmid: 15689300.
Q: Is acupuncture good for anything other than pain?
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides a list of conditions for which acupuncture has demonstrated effectiveness or for which therapeutic effects have been shown. While more research is on-going and could be done, there are vast arrays of other conditions or symptoms for which patients seek acupuncture treatment. When appropriately combined with other forms of treatment (such as Western medicine or chiropractic) the effects of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can be even more profound.
Many patients have sought treatment for conditions such as infertility, migraines, headaches, fatigue, depression or other emotional disorders, secondary effects of chronic disease such as diabetes (i.e. neuropathy), PMS or other menstrual issues, symptoms accompanying menopause (menopause itself is not a disease!), colds/flu, allergies, skin conditions such as eczema or acne, Restless Legs (RLS), smoking cessation, Bell’s Palsy, TMJ, insomnia, stress, and many others. If you are interested in finding out whether acupuncture can be helpful for your specific issue, contact Paradigm Acupuncture today.
Q: Will Acupuncture interfere with my medication?
Acupuncture, unlike pills, does not “add” anything to the body. Therefore it does not create the toxic or adverse effects that can result from taking multiple medications, supplements, over-the-counter drugs, or even from eating certain foods in proximity to taking certain medicines. However, since acupuncture is meant to remove blockages and correct imbalances, you may find your medications work more efficiently. Some patients report that they are able to reduce or eliminate some of their medications as a result of their acupuncture treatments. Make sure to speak with your doctor before making any decisions to modify dosages of any medications.
Patients on blood thinners or who have any bleeding disorders should definitely tell their acupuncturist before the first treatment.
Q: What if I am afraid of needles?
A number of the patients I see are coming to acupuncture for the first time and are understandably anxious about the idea of being stuck with needles. However, after spending time showing the hair-thin, sterile needles to patients and demonstrating how they work, I find that most patients’ anxiety greatly diminishes or resolves completely.
For patients with more severe needle phobia, it’s important to know that acupuncture is a treatment modality under the larger heading of Chinese (or Asian) Medicine. Other modalities include herbs, qi gong (Breathing and movement exercise), Tai Chi, Chinese Medical nutrition, massage (usually referred to as tuina), meditation, and other lifestyle modifications based on Chinese medical theory.
Even within the framework of acupuncture, there are other treatment approaches such as cupping (the placement of glass or plastic “jars” on various parts of the body through suction), qua sha (scraping), acupressure, massage, or the burning of herbs near acupuncture points (referred to as moxibustion).
So patients who have a severe fear of needles can work with me to identify other therapeutic approaches that can have help with their particular health concern.
Q: Are acupuncture needles safe?
Yes. Modern acupuncture needles come sterilized and are single-use.
Q: How many sessions do I need for treatment?
Each patient is unique as is their specific health issue. As a result, the number of treatments will also vary. However, there are some rough guidelines I use as a jumping off point when having the discussion with patients about the number of treatments. These include:
Chronic versus acute: typically, more chronic types of conditions will take more treatments to see results (such as fibromyalgia).
Duration of Symptoms: Similar to the issue above, the longer a patient has dealt with symptoms, the lengthier the treatment duration (i.e. newly diagnosed fibromyalgia may respond more readily than fibromyalgia diagnosed several years ago).
Treatment Frequency: It is common in the United States for treatment to occur once per week. In other countries, however, treatments may occur several times per week, or even several times a day. For many conditions, more frequent treatments will see greater, faster improvement and therefore, a shorter total treatment time.
Adjunctive Therapies: Acupuncture by itself is a significant treatment modality. However, my experience is has shown that patients who incorporate other coordinated health practices benefit more significantly. Considering diet, lifestyle changes, other medical practices, etc. can lead to greater healing outcomes.
Previous Constitution: A patient’s normal level of health and vitality will affect the responsiveness to treatment. Things like age, other pre-existing medical conditions, behavior, or level of physical activity can all affect a person’s prognosis.
While these may seem like a lot of things to consider, I often set what I refer to as a “check-in” time with patients. This is a point at which the patient and I will assess progress, clarify goals, and determine whether continued treatments are needed. Ten treatments is a common “check-in” point.
Q: How many needles are used in a treatment?
Different practitioners have different approaches to the number of needles used in a treatment. The number of needles used and the locations of them may even change from treatment to treatment, especially if there are changes in the patient’s health issue. The important thing to remember is, more isn’t always better.