One of the greatest joys of being an acupuncturist is seeing a patient float out of the treatment room in a blissful haze. The person came into the appointment stressed or tired or suffering from body aches. Maybe they had allergies or digestive complaints. Something was not going well, but they showed up, spoke honestly and openly during intake, and trusted enough to lay down on the table and let the needles work their magic. As the person leaves, I feel a sense of amazement and joy at what a wonder this medicine truly is…in some ways, it does feel like magic!
Realistically speaking, though, traditional Chinese medicine (which is a lot more than just acupuncture) is a system of thought and practice that has lasted for thousands of years because it works in ways other than the supernatural. What matters, really, is that you understand what you can expect, how long it might take to get better, and how you can maximize your visits so that your results last. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is not a quick fix–usually–but it is a lasting one…as long as your expectations are reasonable and you have an idea of how to approach treatment so that you achieve your unique optimal level of health and wellness.
Are you in pain? Do you suffer from stress and anxiety and all that goes with it (insomnia, headaches, digestive problems)? Maybe you want to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight or enjoy good gut health. It could be that you want to improve the condition of your skin, either because you have issues or because you want to get rid of wrinkles. It could be that you want to improve your health and maintain a good standard of wellbeing. No matter the cause, you want to know how long it will take, what you need to do, and (the big question for neophytes), whether or not the needles hurt.
If any of the above resonates, then keep reading!
The easy question to answer relates to the needles. Do the needles hurt? The short answer is no, but the honest answer it: it depends. For the most part, the needles do not hurt. They are fine, slender, and perfectly suited for the purpose. In no way do they resemble anything that you have experienced at the MD’s office when you get a shot or have blood drawn. Nope. Not even close. Also, when your practitioner is a licensed acupuncturist, that means that they have had some 850 or so of hours of supervised clinical internship. Speaking for myself, I did more than I needed to do and have over a thousand hours of supervised clinical internship. We are extremely well-trained and our needling skill should result in painless treatment for you.
Exceptions? If you are incredibly anxious, then you may be highly sensitive to pain. Your practitioner will probably be extra gentle with you, though, so don’t be scared. We understand and work with you, not against you. Plus, once the needles are in, the ideal situation is that you calm down and feel better pretty quickly so if there is pain, it’s minor and it’s fleeting. Different practitioners follow different treatment philosophies. Some rely on distal treatment methods–what that means is that you might be getting needles in your fingers or other areas not obviously related to your issue. Some spots are reactive to needles, and fingers do tend to hurt. However, your practitioner will warn you and you will know what’s coming (and opt in or not) when you are having a distal treatment session.
As you can see, Chrissy Teigen has experienced distal treatment (though no, the following is NOT what a distal treatment is like):
The next question, then, relates to how much time it takes to see improvement. That’s a good question. Chinese medicine has a lot to offer you and your health journey, be it via acupuncture, herbs, or bodywork (I’ve written tons about tui na massage and other manual modalities; check the links at the end of this post for more, or go straight to my blog and explore if you are interested). It’s not a quick fix though. It’s not like going and getting a prescription, taking a pill, and having your symptoms masked (and maybe your problem not resolved, but at least you feel better). Nope. The foundation of Chinese medicine is that a balanced body is a healthy body and that the body will heal itself when in a state of right equilibrium, or balance.
If your condition is complicated, it could be that we resolve one issue and a sub-issue or comorbidity arises. It’s not cause to say that your treatment isn’t working in this situation. Instead, it’s a call to really listen to your body and to heal at a consistent and realistic pace. If your condition is chronic, that takes time as well. You may not get instant results, but if it’s possible for you, you will get lasting results if you put in the time and dedication.
Talk to your practitioner about your situation. It may be that you have limited finances or time. Maybe you have a lot else going on in your life and right now, you want to relieve the problem in its acute manifestation but just don’t have the bandwidth to deal with the underlying chronic problem.
Speaking for myself–and I think I can confidently say that I speak for my peers and colleagues–nobody is going to judge you for your choices and your situation. If I know what you’re up against, I can help you to make a strategy and that is pretty much what any acupuncturist will do. You may be able to come weekly. It can definitely be helpful to have a package plan or a program set in advance. If that’s not available to you, you may opt for community acupuncture, which is budget-friendly, or a combination thereof. What is important is that you are willing to put in some time and dedication, and that there’s good communication between you and your practitioner.
You will more than likely notice improvement during your very first appointment (if that weren’t the case, who would return?). However, and especially if your issue is long-standing, it takes more than one visit to achieve lasting change. The number of sessions you need in order to see lasting improvement would usually be three or four sessions. Generally, if it’s a chronic problem, or a complicated one, you may need at least six to eight sessions before you notice lasting change. From there, it really depends, which brings us to the “what do you need to do?” question.
The big question, once all is said and done, is: What do you need to do outside of your hour or so with the acupuncturist?
In my experience, people try acupuncture for the first time because they’ve had little to no luck with Western medicine. Some people want integrated medicine and others want only traditional Chinese. That’s another blog post, so for the purpose of this one, I will answer the above question on the assumption that your issue is not an easy fix one. And what that means is that yes, you need to do things for yourself outside of the treatment room. Your practitioner will support you in your efforts but you may find that you are best-served by clarifying up front how many treatments you expect to have and then by arranging for a package or a program.
An example would be a weight loss patient. There are multiple factors involved, from dietary education, habit change, exercise plans, and body image shifts. Just putting in some needles isn’t going to fix things. You need a plan and some support. (I wrote about treatments, here, and health coaching support, here). Or, for instance, in the case of chronic pain. I have a marvelous personal trainer here in town who specializes in working with older clients. When I work my in-office magic with my older people, I am inclined to refer them out to my treasured personal trainer so that they have the upper body strength to pick up those grandchildren. If a patient is suffering from trauma, I can soothe the body and help them find the trauma, but I want the person to have a trusted psychotherapist after a certain point. And so forth.
Long term and major lifestyle shifts aren’t always required. You can feel wonderful and stay well by simply having a regular acupuncture treatment without a lot of undue effort outside the office walls. But, either way, you really will get the most out of treatment if you plan for what happens when you’re not on the table. You have a lot more control over your situation than you may think you do, and acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medical modalities can change your life. Have you ever heard the saying “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”? It’s like that for healing and wellness, too. When you are ready to actively take part in your wellbeing, the tools you need to achieve your best version of optimal health tend to appear.
Good communication with your practitioner and a real sense of dedication to yourself and your wellbeing? Now that’s where the magic begins!
Two Hearts Wellness is a local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine. If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog and/or my Instagram, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for health coaching services. If you are interested in acupuncture, herbs, and/or Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.
Acupuncture is great for you but if you’re nervous about needles there are certainly other options. Have you ever thought to try traditional Chinese bodywork? In addition to acupuncture, I offer tui na (similar to massage) and other ancient Chinese therapies, including cupping, gua sha, moxa, and more. If you are looking for a holistic wellness consultant and coach, my services can entail short or longer term programs. You are your own best investment, and when you take charge of your wellbeing you invest in yourself now and for the benefit of your future.
Note: Material on this web site is not intended to replace your treatment or care provided by an MD. It is for educational/entertainment purposes only. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Always consult your primary care doctor for health concerns.
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