When telling people about my profession as an acupuncturist, they have some interesting preconceived notion about my work and the needles involved. As a result, I get asked the same set of questions by different people. Since these questions seem to be on a lot of different peoples’ minds, I decided to write the answers as a quick Q & A, in case you have the same questions as well.
Does acupuncture hurt?
No, acupuncture doesn’t hurt. The needles used are thinner and much smaller than the hypodermic needles used when you get an injection from the GP. The thinner width of the needle means it doesn’t activate as many pain receptors on insertion as opposed to the hypodermic needles. To give you a good understanding, an acupuncture needle width varies from 0.16mm to 0.30mm, whereas a hypodermic needle can come in sizes from 0.45mm to 1.1mm. This means that the largest width of an acupuncture needle is still thinner than the smallest sized hypodermic needle.
I’ve thought about getting acupuncture, but the thought of having needles in my body really scares me
As ironic as it sounds, receiving acupuncture treatments are quite relaxing. However, if the thought of having needles in your body for 20 minutes doesn’t sound appealing, then you may want to try Japanese style acupuncture. This style of acupuncture is the most gentle form of needle technique compared to other styles, such as Chinese or Korean style acupuncture. Japanese style acupuncture involves inserting needles superficially into the skin layer without any manipulation or twisting of the needles and is the recommended technique used for those who are sensitive to needles.
How does sticking needles in actually help improve conditions?
The selection of acupuncture points is highly dependent on the accurate diagnosis of the patient. An accurate diagnosis involves a detailed and thorough investigation of the case history. This includes asking questions not just about the main concern, but also asking about the patient’s dietary habits, bowel movements and sleep routine. Asking these questions helps the practitioner to have a good insight into the patient’s body processes. The acupuncturist then chooses up to 20 acupuncture points for an effective treatment, and these points may include areas on the arms, legs and abdomen. In order for the practitioner to provide the most comfortable and stress-free treatment, patients are encouraged to vocalise their concerns.
When the needles are inserted, a series of events occur in the body including secretion of neurotransmitters, suppression of cortisol and adrenaline, immunological responses, and arterial capillary responses. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and endorphins are released to provide a pleasant calm state of mind. Immunological responses include release of histamine and white blood cells to the site of the needle to stimulate repair and recovery. This is particularly beneficial for soft tissue injuries and muscle tension.
What happens in a consultation?
The initial consultation is the most important process of the treatment process. Questions will be asked about the following:
- Dietary habits
- Sleeping habits
- Bowel movements
- Muscle conditions
- Exercise routines
- Menstrual history
- Muscle complaints and history of injuries
- Stress levels
In addition to the thorough questionnaire, I also perform physical assessments. This includes looking at the tongue and palpating the radial pulse, abdomen and back (if required). The combination of the questionnaire and physical assessments helps me in identifying other abnormalities that may be contributing to the primary concern. I then relay the findings to the patient, together with a treatment plan and advice and recommendations. About a day or two after the initial consultation, I send an email out to the patient recapping what we spoke about. You can view the template of this email here.
How many sessions does it take for the acupuncture treatment to be effective?
Every treatment process is different for every person. This is due to a number of factors including:
- What the condition is (e.g. lower back pain vs irritable bowel syndrome)
- How long the condition has been going on for (e.g. 4 weeks vs 4 years)
- The underlying cause of the condition (e.g. sports injury, stress)
- Aggravating factors (e.g. twisting/bending the back, consumption of dairy)
- Alleviating factors (e.g. massage/heat pack, avoiding dairy)
- The current lifestyle of the patient (e.g. poor diet, interrupted sleep patterns, long work hours)
Identifying all of these factors is crucial in providing effective treatments to reach short and long-term goals. The general rule of thumb for my patients is to receive weekly acupuncture treatments for the first four weeks, followed by a review. The frequency of treatments may vary depending on the severity and urgency of the condition. Once the short-term goal is reached, I recommend all of my patients to receive monthly acupuncture treatments to continue the progression of their health.
If you have any other questions on your mind that you would like to have answered, please feel free to post them below. Alternatively, if you would like to have an acupuncture treatment with Jeannie, click here.
By Jeannie Kim
Acupuncturist at Back On Your Feet