Acupuncture FAQ

A lack of understanding often keeps us from trying new things that may be beneficial for us. No matter how long we’ve been suffering from any given problem, we’re simply afraid of the unknown. So we choose to do nothing. 

In an effort to demystify the Chinese traditional healing arts, following are some of the more common questions I get about acupuncture. I suspect this post will be an ongoing project, so you may want to check back every now and again to see what’s new.

Is acupuncture safe?

In the hands of a fully-trained and -licensed acupuncturist, acupuncture is extremely safe. Pre-sterilized, single-use needles are standard issue for the vast majority of practitioners, so the possibility of infection from a contaminated needle is negligible. And since we’re trained to know where all of the major arteries and nerves are located, we can make sure to avoid them. The greatest danger is the puncturing of an internal organ. The likelihood of this is minimized through proper needling technique.

But there are some fairly common side-effects, none of which are even remotely life-threatening. These include bleeding from the needling site when the needle is removed, bruising, and mild post-treatment soreness. Individuals who are taking blood thinners, or who have any sort of bleeding disorder, have a higher likelihood of such types of minor injury.

Does acupuncture hurt?

Some practitoners feel that a strong needling sensation, i.e. pain, is required for treatment to be effective. So they manipulate the needles aggressively. Other’s are so careful to avoid even the slightest hint of pain as to barely insert the needles at all. I take a middle ground, and strive to make needle insertion as painless as possible while still inserting to reasonable depths. For some it feels like a pinch. For others it’s a pulling sensation, or a bit of an ache. Whatever the case, it quickly dissipates to the point of not even feeling the needles at all. If a particular point continues to hurt after insertion, it means I’m slightly off-target and need to reset the needle.

How often should I get treatment?

I generally see patients at least once per week for anywhere from several weeks to several months. Patients with severe symptoms may require twice weekly treatments for at least a few weeks to get things under control. Once any crisis is averted, they usually switch to one treatment per week. Treatment more often generally results in quicker resolution of your problem.

How long will it take for me to feel better?

In some cases, patients see improvement in their symptoms after the first few treatments and make steady progress to complete resolution. But this is more of the exception than the rule. What’s more common is feeling much better after just a treatment or two, only to have symptoms return – occasionally in a more extreme manner – around week three or four. It’s almost as if the body is resisting getting better. But this is simply part of the healing process. Assuming they continue treatment, they then begin to experience more steady and lasting improvement in their symptoms. Needless to say, the healing process can be unpredictable.

How long will it take to get lasting results?

As a rule of thumb, expect about one month of treatment for every year that you’ve been dealing with any given issue. For example, if you’ve been suffering from digestive issues for 10 years, the reality is that it’s probably going to take at least 10 months of treatment to correct. The amount of time required will depend upon the severity, complexity, and duration of your problem/s, as well as your responsiveness to treatment. Acupuncture is gentle and holistic, but it’s also cumulative, so treatment is going to take time, patience, and commitment.

How long is an acupuncture session?

The initial appointment lays the groundwork for healing, and requires an 80-minute commitment. It will take about 40 minutes to discuss and diagnose your case, and an additional 30-40 minutes for an acupuncture session. During this session we will discuss your current issue/s, your health history, as well as your family’s health history. After that we’ll do a few diagnostic tests, and your acupuncture treatment.

Regular consultation and treatment appointments require a 50-minute commitment, and build on the treatment plan developed from the initial meeting. Though every treatment will be focused on your primary complaint, treatments are modified based on your feedback and current condition.

What is an acupuncture session like?

Acupuncture treatments take place on a massage table. Treatments can be performed on the front of the body or back, depending on the specifics of your case. Most patients prefer front treatments since it’s more comfortable to lay on our back than to lay face-down. 

Once you’re settled, I will insert anywhere from 10 to 25 hair-thin, single-use, surgical stainless steel needles into various acupuncture points on your body. There are over 400 regular points, covering the entirety of the body, and the points used will depend upon your particular problem.

It’s quite common for patients to become very relaxed following needle insertion. Most then doze, or fall asleep completely.

The needles are removed after 25 minutes. Removal is painless. After all the needles are out you’ll be free to go on your way.

How do I prepare for treatment?

To put it simply, you don’t. There’s nothing you need to do, or not do, before getting an acupuncture treatment. I would probably advise against treatment if your high on drugs or alcohol. And it will make treatment easier if you wear loosely-fitting clothes. You can even come when you’re sick. Any practitioner worth his or her salt can help with that problem too.

Can you tell me more about your training?

As of mid-2015, there are over 60 accredited acupuncture and Chinese medicine training institutions in the United States. Over 15 are in California alone.

In California, where I got my training, the study of Chinese medicine begins at the Master’s degree level. Programs are set-up as four-year curricula, with most requiring at least 2000 hours of classroom study, and around 1000 hours of supervised clinical training – a total of 3000 hours. As is the case with all of the schools in California, the Emperor’s College program is modeled on the elite schools in mainland China. As a result, its curriculum is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

California regulations requires students to learn all aspects of Chinese medicine. These include the fundamental principles and theory underpinning the practice of Chinese medicine, Chinese medicine diagnosis, acupuncture studies, Chinese herbal medicine studies, Asian bodywork techniques, Chinese nutrition and exercise, and self-cultivation practices. Approximately one-third of the classes must be dedicated to the study of Western medicine topics such as anatomy and physiology, patho-physiology, clinical medicine studies, nutrition, and pharmacology among others. In order to graduate, students must also complete at least 950 hours of direct clinical training, which includes treatment of a specific number of patients.

What is classical acupuncture?

Classical Acupuncture and Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) are contemporary terms used to describe the practice of these ancient healing arts based on theories laid out in the classical literature of Chinese medicine, theories which developed over the course of many centuries. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) on the other hand, is a simplified form of Chinese medicine developed in the mid-20th century under the influence of Communist rule in China. This “modernized” form, though rooted in the classical texts, has been stripped-down and differs significantly from the original. It was given the name TCM to distinguish it from Western medicine.

Acupuncture is just one of several healing modalities under the umbrella of the Chinese healing arts. Fundamental to its practice are the acupuncture meridians – theoretical channels, or pathways, that run the length of the body, and along which are located the individual acupuncture points. While a TCM practitioner will typically make use of 12 to 14 acupuncture meridians, those following the tenets of CCM utilize upwards of 70. This enables a CCM practitioner to not only tailor treatments much more precisely, but to treat levels of being well beyond the reach of even the most skilled TCM practitioner.