Therapy Thursday - What to Expect when You're Expecting Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a bit confusing, I know at first glance we kinda get scared by the idea of needles in our body. But our Acupuncturist Vel Natarajan does an incredible job of answering some frequently asked questions about acupuncture. 


Often, people who are new to acupuncture have very similar questions.  I share these questions below with my answers below to introduce aspects of the treatment process to you:

I felt that answering a few of the most common questions I receive would be helpful way to introduce people to the treatment process.

1) How big is an acupuncture needle? -- An acupuncture needle is thin.  Very thin.  I use needles in the .16 -.25mm diameter range.  A hypodermic needle used in a typical blood-draw can hold a half-dozen acupuncture needles inside its hollow.


(Image credit: Pacific College of Oriental Medicine)

2) What does it feel like (does it hurt)? – Insertion of the needle may feel a pinch or minor sting, however many patients do not feel the needles.  Factors influencing needle sensitivity may include the location of the body being needled, your state of mind (are you stressed or nervous?), even just being physically cold can make the body more sensitive to the needle insertion.

After the needles are inserted, you may begin to feel heaviness, achiness or pressure at the needling locations – this is normal and is called the “de Qi” sensation.  It can be thought of as the needles “doing their work”.  People sometimes say it feels like a pipe building up pressure and then gradually releasing over time.

One word of caution is to not move around once the needles are in.  After all, they are still needles!  Be sure to let your acupuncturist know if you need to change your position before he/she leaves the room.  They can help make minor adjustments to your positioning, leading to a more comfortable rest with the needles in. 

3) How long will it take my condition to improve? -- Since acupuncture is a therapy that utilizes the body’s self-healing abilities, it really depends on you.  I have treated back pain, and sprained ankles in high-school athletes in 1-2 treatments, and they were back to full form.  Healthy children have a strong healing response.  As we age, our body’s healing response slows.  Treating an older patient with multiple health-issues for arthritis can take many treatments over a period of months.  If you are being treated for shin splints and your acupuncturist tells you to rest, going for a run to “test” the improvements may slow recovery.  (On the other hand if you are the healthy teenage athlete I mentioned earlier, you may be just fine!).  Thus, the length of treatment can depend on the condition being treated, how long you’ve had the condition, your age, and your health.  Keeping in close communication with your acupuncturist on your progress, is important and helpful.

4) How should I prepare for my appointment?

-- Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing.  Pants should be able to be rolled-up above the knees, and shirts should be rolled up to the shoulder.

-- Eat something light at least an hour before, so you are not too hungry.   Ensuring you don’t have low-blood sugar will help prevent feeling faint or dizzy when the needles are put in.

-- Once the needles are inserted, expect to have them in and rest on the table for approximately 20-40 minutes.

-- There may be additional techniques such as cupping, guasha, or infrared therapy used

-- Treatments are typically done 2x-3x/week for best results, and taper off as the condition nears resolution

5) Does it really work?  -- The short answer is: yes!  Though this is probably a topic for a separate article, the World Health Organization has a list of conditions which studies have shown to be successfully treatable by acupuncture.  Acupuncture continues to grow in popularity because of its safety and its efficacy.

If this article has generated more questions, please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to speak with you.

Vel Natarajan, LAc.