You will be asked to describe your health problem, and I will ask you about your previous medical history and any prescribed medications you take. I also need to find out about other elements of your life, such as your diet, sleep and work. You will have an opportunity to ask me any questions you have about acupuncture too. All information given to your acupuncturist is treated with the same confidentiality as would be afforded by your GP.
Acupuncture uses the pulses and tongue diagnosis to help build up a picture of a person’s overall health and constitution, so one of the first things I will do is to look at your tongue and feel your pulses, before any needles are used. You may be asked to remove some clothing so that I can reach the acupuncture points I need to use. It is important to know that because of the ideas about the movement of energy upon which acupuncture is based, you may not just have needles inserted in the area where the pain or problem is. So, for example, if you are coming for help with headaches, you may be just as likely to have needles in your feet or hands, as your head. There are a few health conditions which require particular precautions when a person comes for acupuncture. These are things such as diabetes and the use of blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin. It is also important to let your acupuncturist know if you are pregnant, even if you are not seeking help with a pregnancy related issue. However, having diabetes, taking warfarin or being pregnant do not mean you cannot have acupuncture.
All the needles used are in single-use sterile packets and are disposable, so there is no risk of cross-infection whatsoever. When needle are inserted, there will be some sensation. I use particularly fine needles and a light needle technique, which means that any pain is kept to a minimum. The sensation experienced varies from person to person, and from one part of the body to another. You may simply feel a brief sharp sensation, or there may be a slight ache, tingle, or feeling of heat. These feelings will probably only last for a few moments, and although many of the needles used will be left in for some time, the sensation subsides. Many people find that once they overcome their initial (understandable) nervousness about having needles inserted into them, and get used to what happens in an acupuncture treatment, it is a very relaxing experience. When the needle are removed they are correctly disposed of in a sharps box.
Sometimes heat is used in addition to needles, and the needles may be heated, or heat applied to a specific area of the body, using a burning herb called Moxa. An acupuncture treatment is tailored not simply to symptoms, but to you as an individual. Although you may have very similar symptoms to someone else, your constitution, life-history, living situation, medications and other factors will mean that you will almost certainly receive slightly different treatments.
A few people may feel slightly light-headed or “floaty” after their first treatment, and some people will feel quite tired. These are all quite normal responses, and will pass. You will be advised to take it as easy as possible for a few hours after your first treatment, and not to drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal.
It is advisable to come for weekly treatments at first, until you begin to respond. Everyone is different, even if they have similar symptoms, but typically people may come for 4 or five weekly treatments, and then we start to spread the gap between them. At the beginning of treatment it is necessary to reinforce the effect that the acupuncture is having at weekly intervals, as often there will be some progress and then perhaps some loss of effect after a few days. If you are responsive to acupuncture, the treatment effect tends to gradually remain for longer, allowing longer intervals between treatments. In the longer term, the gap between treatments varies enormously, depending on your age, the severity and length of illness before you started treatment, your life-situation etc. Some people are able to stop treatment altogether, others may need top-up sessions at fortnightly or monthly intervals. Others may come a few times a year. Some lucky individuals respond well after just one treatment, but it may take 2 or 3 before you start to notice a change.
The benefits of acupuncture often extend beyond the improvement of the complaint you were seeking help with. Lots of people notice improvements in sleep, energy levels and general wellbeing. Some people find this extends to getting less colds and other bugs, and a more rapid recovery than they are used to when they do succumb to them.
Please be aware that if you have private medical insurance, it may well cover at least some of the costs of acupuncture treatment. If you need a receipt for this purpose, do ask. Acupuncture is regarded as a medical appointment, along with osteopathy, physiotherapy etc, so you should be able to get time off work to attend.