Acupuncture FAQ

Answered by Dr. Nadeau

What if I don't believe in acupuncture? 

 

My teacher jokingly would say to us, “The great thing about acupuncture is that you don’t have to believe in it for it to work”. Animals, such as horses and dogs, benefit from acupuncture treatments without understanding them, and even a doubtful patient can experience positive results. However, a state of complete trust or total doubt can provide two very different perceptions of the same phenomenon, and if we rush to discard any experiences that don’t fit our worldview, we may limit our awareness and overlook potential benefits. Our mindset towards a new healing modality is like a parachute – it works best when kept open! Regardless, I invite your doubtful boyfriend or mother-in-law to experience what acupuncture has to offer to them.

What are acupuncture needles and what do they feel like?

 

Acupuncture needles are a fine diameter needle with a flexible bimetal shaft.  Not much thicker than a strand of hair, an acupuncture needle is solid rather than hollow. They are inserted into the superficial layer of the skin and often this placement is hardly felt at all. The practitioner then slowly continues until the needle has reached its desired depth, and a mild “tingly” sensation or “dull ache” may be reported.  This sensation is termed “deQi” sensation, indicating that the needle has connected with the circulating Qi, or energy flow, inside the body.

What does an acupuncture appointment include?

The appointment begins with an in-depth intake, including a full history of symptoms and life experiences, even going as far back as childhood.  Sometimes a detail that has been overlooked in other medical settings may provide great insight into the symptoms a patient is experiencing. The practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine is also interested in the appearance of the tongue and the function of the circulatory system, often observed by taking the radial pulse. On the day of your appointment, it is important that you avoid eating foods that stain the tongue, such as berries, beets or even mangoes, as these items can result in a misleading discoloration of the tongue. After the intake examination is complete you will be asked to lie on a massage table or sit in a comfortable chair. Your position and length of treatment will likely vary between 20-40 minutes, for a total of a 50-60 minutes per visit. A shorter treatment is not less effective, and some powerful treatments are just a few minutes long, but may require a period of stillness following the treatment for the intended energetic shifts to take place.

What if I am highly sensitive to needles?

Needling is not the only approach to treatment and there are various techniques that can be used to stimulate acupuncture points without requiring needling. For instance, moxibustion stimulates acupuncture points using a gentle heat source that is held near the surface of the skin. Others may be familiar with the term acupressure, which simply means that a point is stimulated via the application of direct and prolonged pressure. Additionally, a tuning fork can be used stimulate points via sound vibrations, which provides a great way to treat a child, for instance. There are also seed-like “press needles” that can be applied directly to acupuncture points. 

Are there activities I should refrain from following a treatment?

After treatment, you will likely feel deeply relaxed or experience a floating sensation. While most people feel alert enough to drive home, on rare occasions it may be wiser to wait or arrange a ride home. The rest of the day should be spent doing light activities and avoiding rigorous activities like a strenuous hike, shoveling snow, or outdoor labor. It is also best to avoid dense, heavy meals and alcohol, and similarly, avoiding sexual activity the night following a treatment can help limit stress on the physical and energetic systems of the body. 

What should I wear for an acupuncture treatment?

It is best to bring along (or wear) a pair of shorts and a T-shirt or sports bra. We also provide two sheets and an optional blanket for privacy and warmth.  Depending on your personal comfort, it is also perfectly fine to remove all clothing during treatment.

What is the difference between Western and Eastern herbalism?

Western herbalism uses plant-based remedies to address a single symptom using either one herb or several herbs, selected for their healing characteristics, or for the components they contain. For instance, since flax seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids which (usually) have an anti-inflammatory effect, flax may be recommended as part of a treatment approach for inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis.  Moreover, since flax contains lignans which bind toxins in the gut, they may be recommended for cancer prevention. Another example would be to treat diarrhea by the consumption of herbs (or teas) rich in tannic acids which can decrease mucus membrane secretions. 

Eastern herbalism, on the other hand, typically relies on multiple herbs used in combination to address a person’s overall constitution, as opposed to treatment of a single symptom. Individual symptoms may be taken into account in order to indicate the nature of a person’s constitution. Herbs are chosen based on the nature of the plants according to alchemical principles, such as “hot”, “warm”, or “cold” properties, or sensory properties such as acrid, salty, sour, bitter, or sweet, or the plant’s directional movement. These attributes, foreign to most Western cultures, are a very present and familiar concept in Eastern and traditional societies. Due to the synergistic actions of the multiple herbs in a single formula, a greater effect is often seen. Not only does the formula treats symptoms but also fortifies and regulates the underlying constitution so as to shift a person to a more balanced state of health.