What to Expect on Your First Visit
The idea of seeing an acupuncturist for the first time
makes everyone somewhat
apprehensive, and some people downright distraught.
Knowing what to expect
can ease your mind.
The first step is choosing an acupuncturist. Some very
qualified practitioners, especially Asians,
may not have American credentials, particularly in states
that don't require them.
In that case, try to get a recommendation from someone who
has gone to the
acupuncturist for treatment or from another practitioner
who has worked with the
Every acupuncturist is unique; the differences in their
approaches can be
marked. The nature of your first visit will depend on what
type of acupuncture
your practitioner uses, whether he or she is combining
acupuncture with other
therapies, like manipulation or herbalism, and what
condition you present. But
here are the basic things you can expect:
The practitioner will usually begin by having you fill out
a medical history. Some
of the questions will be very familiar and others may
surprise you. The
questionnaire may ask about your emotional patterns, your
sleep, whether you
prefer hot or cold drinks or the consistency of your
The needles create a sensation that differs depending on
the insertion location,
the needling technique used and the type of needle used.
But acupuncture is
nothing like getting a shot with a hypodermic needle.
Sensations range from a
sense of pressure to a slight electric-like sting to a
dull ache. It never should feel
like a jabbing or stabbing pain. Sometimes there is no
sensation at all, and
normally no sensation lasts throughout the entire session.
Points may bleed
slightly, and in some cases the acupuncturists will
purposely make the point
Other treatment modalities may be used along with or
instead of needles. These
can include electric stimulators, glass cups that create a
suction placed over
points (called cupping), tiny tacks or beads placed on
points and left until the
next visit or warming a point by holding a lit stick of
the herb mugwort over it
(called moxibustion). Occasionally moxibustion will be
used directly on the body
surface, but it doesn't burn the skin. The acupuncturists
may also press points
manually (called acupressure).
After the needles are inserted, the patient rests for a
period of five minutes to 30
minutes, during which time the acupuncturist may be
treating other patients.
After a treatment, especially the first one, you may feel
slightly light-headed or
"spacy." This is not a dramatic feeling, but many people
like to give themselves a
chance to go home and rest after a treatment.
Rarely is one visit enough. The practitioner will almost
surely suggest you come
back for a series of treatments. The longer the problem
has existed, the more
extended the course of treatment will be. A full series
can take anywhere from
one week (for colds or flus) to four months for
long-standing problems. After
resolving their initial complaints, some people schedule
treatments to sustain and further promote good health.
Few insurance companies cover acupuncture, so expect to
pay as you go.
Likelihood of coverage varies from company to company,
state to state, and
acupuncturist to acupuncturist.
And a final word about needle cleanliness. Acupuncturists
use either disposable
needles or reusable ones. Practitioners are fanatic about
keeping their reusable
needles properly sterilized, and their techniques are
stringently tested in all
board exams. Sterilization is done in an autoclave, a
device commonly used to sterilize surgical instruments. If
you want double
assurance, ask the acupuncturist to show you the setup.