Everything You Need To Know About Acupuncture

I spent about two years suffering from migraines when people started telling me that I should try acupuncture. I contemplated it for months… do I really want someone I barely know putting needles in my skin? The thought gave me goosebumps, but I kept hearing all sorts of amazing stories about how acupuncture has changed people’s lives.

After finding an acupuncturist in my area that was covered by my health insurance, I decided I might as well give it a try. The two weeks following my appointment I spent hours researching and trying to find answers to all of my questions prior to meeting my acupuncturist. That way, anything I couldn’t find an answer for I could just ask her at my appointment without asking a million questions at once.

On the day of my appointment, I had my boyfriend drive me in case I had any strange and scary side effects after treatment. I wore a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops so that almost all of the areas of my body where the acupuncturist would be placing needles could be easily accessed. I walked into the waiting room and was asked to fill out your typical paperwork and a paper that asked me to sign in agreement that I understood the potential side effects of acupuncture, which honestly was a little unnerving. Another paper asked me to list the reasons why I was trying acupuncture, and what medications I’m taking, these are both obviously important for the acupuncturist to know.

After completing the paperwork, I was guided to a room with a small massage-style table and a pillow. I laid down and the acupuncturist asked me questions about myself to distract me while she placed about two dozen needles over the tops of my feet, shins, thighs, arms, hands, forehead, and down the middle of my skull. If I’m being honest, a few of the needles actually did hurt, but the rest felt as though someone was just plucking a hair from the area where the needle went in.

After each needle was in place, she closed the door and left me to rest. I laid there for about 35 minutes. I had originally folded my hands over my stomach which ended up blocking blood flow, and my hands had started to go numb which made me a little uncomfortable and worried. Obviously, I didn’t really know what to expect since it was my first time, and because of that, it seemed like a loooong 35 minutes where I couldn’t really quiet my mind and focus.

When the acupuncturist came back, she removed the needles and told me to stand up slowly. I was a little bit dizzy and disoriented, but not enough to prevent me from walking to my car or functioning like usual. By the time I paid my co-pay and scheduled my next appointment, the feeling in my hands came back, the dizziness disappeared completely, and when I got back into the car with my boyfriend I couldn’t stop talking about how amazing I was feeling! Obviously this feeling didn’t come right away, but when it did, I felt like a new person, almost like I had just taken a nap for a week or visited the spa. I felt like all of my energy and positivity had been restored.

I spent the next month with a few tired headaches and stress headaches, but not a single migraine. I was amazed, and although my energized feeling had only lasted a few days after treatment, I had noticed that my mood had improved drastically, and there were other health concerns of mine that were also starting to dissipate.

For my second treatment, I had my boyfriend drive me again just in case I was dizzy again or my hands went numb afterwards. Again, I wore shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops. This time, I laid down on the table with my hands relaxed at my sides, my shoulders completely relaxed, my legs apart, and I took my flip flops off. My acupuncturist put the needles in, and left me to rest for 35 minutes again. This time, I felt like I really knew what to expect so I closed my eyes and I focused on deep, relaxing breaths. I imagined all of the bad energy and toxins inside of my body being released through the end of each needle. I was so relaxed and focused on healing, that I actually almost fell asleep a few times. I had the same zen feeling afterwards and continued to have minor headaches in the weeks following rather than any migraine headaches.

After my experience, I would highly recommend acupuncture to anyone, unless of course if you’re deathly afraid of needles. Even if you’re somewhat scared, the needles really are so small that once they’re in, you hardly even know they’re there unless you look at them.

So…

WHAT EXACTLY IS ACUPUNCTURE?

According to Web MD, “Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine that has been practiced for centuries. It’s based on the theory that energy, called chi (or qi), flows through and around your body along pathways called meridians. Acupuncturists believe that illness occurs when something blocks or unbalances your chi. Acupuncture is a way to unblock or influence chi and help it flow back into balance. Acupuncture is done by putting very thin needles into your skin at certain points on your body. This is done to influence the energy flow. Sometimes heat, pressure, or mild electrical current is used along with needles.”

Qi/Chi/Ki is known as “the circulating life force whose existence and properties are the basis of much Chinese philosophy and medicine.”

WHAT SHOULD I WEAR TO MY APPOINTMENT?

Basically, the less clothing you wear the better. So in the warmer months, shorts and a tank top, t-shirt, sports bra, or bathing suit top is your best bet. In the colder months, you may want to wear nonrestrictive clothing like yoga pants, sweatpants, and a tank top underneath a sweatshirt or fleece. Make sure that a large part of your body can be accessed either by rolling up your sleeves/pant legs, etc. or removing a piece of clothing like a sweater or fleece.

Try doing some research on the particular areas needles are placed during treatment for your specific medical condition (or just recreationally) so that you can get a general sense of where the needles will be going.

It is also okay to wear makeup, but try not to do anything special to your hair… it’s best to leave it down.

IS THERE ANYTHING THAT I CAN DO TO PREP FOR TREATMENT?

There are a handful of things you should and shouldn’t do before your appointment.

  1. Avoid strenuous or stressful activity from the moment you wake up on the day of your appointment.
  2. Be sure you’ve eaten about two hours before your appointment because going in on an empty stomach can increase your chances of getting lightheaded and dizzy.
  3. Don’t rush. Leaving the house at the last minute and getting stuck in traffic is only going to stress you out, which will make it harder for you to relax during treatment.
  4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol prior to your appointment. Both are stimulants which could affect the way you feel during and after treatment.

 

HOW LONG DOES A TYPICAL ACUPUNCTURE TREATMENT LAST?

It really depends on the acupuncturist and the medical condition you’re looking for treatment of. You could spend anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes in the rest period with the needles in place. You really shouldn’t be worrying about the time (in fact, you shouldn’t be worrying about anything when you’re focusing on healing), but if you’d really like to know then don’t be afraid to ask how long your acupuncturist plans to let you rest.

 

WHAT CAN I EXPECT TO HAPPEN DURING OR AFTER TREATMENT?

Until your body gets used to the practice, you might experience fatigue, soreness, lightheadedness and sometimes fainting (which is a rare side effect), bruises as a result of hematoma, or muscle twitches during and sometimes after treatment but all of these side effects are completely normal.

Any serious side effects such as pneumothorax (the puncturing of the lung), and viral or bacterial infections relate directly to either poor hygienic practices or poor training of your acupuncturist. You’ll definitely want to look at reviews of any acupuncturists you’re thinking about seeing before you schedule an appointment with them.

CAN I RETURN TO MY DAILY ACTIVITIES AFTER TREATMENT?

It’s best that you take the day of your appointment to focus entirely on resting. Make your appointment early enough that you can still avoid rushing yourself, but once it’s over you have the rest of the day left to focus on healing and relaxation. You’ll definitely want to rest afterwards, maybe curl up with a book on the couch or listen to your favorite music.

If you want to exercise afterwards, try to keep it light. Avoid heavy lifting, quick movements, and anything that increases your heart rate dramatically. Continue to avoid alcohol and coffee for the rest of the day… you know why!

 

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I COMPLETE TREATMENT?

It depends on the severity of your condition, and what your acupuncturist thinks is appropriate for you. They might suggest that you to visit anywhere up to five times a week, or as little as once a month, but either way it’s whatever will work best for you.

Image via New York Times

Paige Songer

Editorial Contributor, Cazenovia College Major: Interior Design Her heart belongs to: Chocolate, Mojitos, Neutral Colored Clothes (mostly black), The New York Islanders (esp. John Tavares), Dave Matthews Band, the Gulf of Mexico. Her guilty pleasures: Bath & Body Works, Adam Sandler/Rob Schneider Movies, 90's Alternative Rock bands, Emojis.

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