Acupuncture is the name given to a traditional style of Chinese medicine that involves making tiny needle punctures in the skin (not nearly as scary as it sounds) to relieve pressure. It works on the basic principle that the body is covered in ‘acupoints’, which are locations in the body that, when manipulated in the right way, can alleviate a range of medical complaints. Acupuncture has an extensive history, and is first documented in the Book of Chinese Medicine dating back to the first century BC.
In modern days, acupuncture is widely used and growing rapidly in popularity. You can find acupuncture services everywhere, from day spas to large shopping centres, and many people are willing to speak passionately about its benefits. Acupuncture has been claimed to dramatically improve symptoms of health conditions ranging from headaches to nausea to infertility, and with such a scope of information available, many people feel confused about what to expect. We’ve put together the below guide to let you know what to expect and explain how it can work for you.
A full consultation and examination
Any acupuncture clinic worth its salt should first take the time to listen to every patient and understand the route of their objectives and health concerns. The acupuncture consultant should ask for full details of your health history and ask get to the bottom of your main health complaint. A consultant should also check that you have a good understanding of what the process requires and may ask you to sign a consent form to this effect.
During consultation, it may seem like you are being asked a lot of health questions that are irrelevant to your specific health concern, but as acupuncture works by concentrating on various connected landmarks around the body, bear with it. The ‘meridian system’ is the name given to a traditional Chinese belief about the pathway of linked pressure points within the body, through which human life energy or ‘qi’ flows.
The consultant may also do a number of routine tests such as blood pressure, checking your pulse and studying the shape and colour of your tongue. The tongue is an extremely powerful indicator of general health in Chinese medicine, and can give clinical hints on what is happening internally. For example, a pale tongue can indicate a blood deficiency, while a thick coating suggests problems with digestion.
The consultant should also work with you to specify how many sessions you need and provide you with a basic treatment plan. Most acupuncture courses last between 6 and 10 sessions and are 30 minutes each, however acupuncture has different effectiveness for different people, with some feeling the benefits after a single session and others receiving relief more gradually. If you are new to acupuncture, it is advisable to book a single session initially rather than block booking to evaluate how effective it is for you.
30 Minutes of Downtime
Once you have completed the initial consultation stage, it is time for treatment. Despite making you look like a porcupine the needles are incredibly thin, (about the width of a human hair) and should give you no adverse effects. Many people are surprised when trying acupuncture for the first time, as they are often unaware of the needles being inserted. Pain beyond a slight tingle is not a normal side effect, so if you feel pain on insertion, make sure you speak up!
The slight challenge, therefore, comes during the waiting part. After your acupuncturist has inserted the needles, your only job is to lie still and let the needles work their magic. Unlike receiving a massage treatment, which is very comparably very active, acupuncture is more passive and involves a little patience.
That said, many people find sessions relaxing and soporific and use acupuncture as a chance to unwind while doing their body some good. If you do find yourself feeling tense while lying static, deep breathing exercises and making minor adjustments to your body position can help you feel more comfortable.
An Agreeable Aftermath
Post treatment, Acupuncturists have noted a range of different reactions in patients. Some people feel very energised, both mentally and physically and ready to take on the world, while others feel calm and sleepy. Lilja Katanka, an Acupuncturist based in Crystal Palace states ‘patients usually feel extremely relaxed after treatment, sometimes a bit dazed’. If you do find yourself feeling light headed, it may be a good idea to sit quietly for five minutes’ post treatment, and perhaps bring a snack with you to boost your energy levels.
It is also common for people post-acupuncture to experience beneficial lifestyle effects in areas where they were not expecting improvements. Many people use acupuncture not to cure any specific ailment, but as an alternative relaxation technique to promote general wellness. Kamilah Hale, an acupuncture enthusiast from Bromley, says ‘I’ve gone from sleeping until 11am…to waking up at 7 without an alarm and my hay fever’s been cleared’.
There are also very few reported side effects to acupuncture and complaints are rare. The most commonly reported side-effect to the treatment is tiredness, which many practitioners of Chinese medicine believe is a positive sign that the treatment is working and the body is in repair mode. The lack of chemicals in acupuncture treatment mean that it is often a low risk alternative to pharmaceutical pain relief.