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What to expect from a treatment

Before having acupuncture treatment

Before your first acupuncture session there are several things you should bear in mind:

  • many commonly used acupuncture points are located on the lower arms and legs, so it is helpful to wear clothing that allows easy access to these areas
  • try not to go for treatment on an empty stomach or straight after a heavy meal
  • do let your practitioner know if you are completely new to acupuncture so they can take extra time to explain what happens and ensure you are comfortable with the process.

Your first consultation

During your first visit your BAcC acupuncturist needs to gain a thorough understanding of your main complaint and your general health and lifestyle. This involves asking questions about your current symptoms and your medical history, as well as such things as your sleeping pattern, your appetite and digestion, and your emotional wellbeing. Women are also asked about their menstrual cycle and any past pregnancies and childbirth.

You might feel that some questions appear unrelated to your condition but the information you give helps your practitioner to form a more complete picture of your health and lifestyle. Your acupuncturist will also take your pulse on both wrists and may examine your tongue and feel for areas of muscular tension or pain.

Your main health complaint

When talking about your main complaint, the practitioner might ask you to describe in your own words what the symptoms feel like and how severe they are. You may also be asked how long you have been having the symptoms, whether they are constant or intermittent and how frequent they are. You should mention any medication that you are taking and whether you have tried any other therapies.

In order to make a diagnosis according to traditional Chinese medicine theory and to find the right treatment approach, the practitioner will also want to know more specific details.

Treatment plan and treatment

Based on all the information you have given, the practitioner will make a diagnosis and put together your treatment plan, which may include lifestyle and dietary advice as well as acupuncture. Your practitioner will use very fine single-use pre-sterilised needles to stimulate specific acupuncture points on your body. Because energy meridians range across the whole body, the points used are not necessarily close to where you experience pain or discomfort. For example, if you suffer from headaches needles might be inserted in your foot or hand.

Techniques

As well as needling acupuncture points, a traditional acupuncturist may use other Chinese medicine techniques such as:

  • moxibustion: heat is applied to an acupuncture point or meridian using moxa (a therapeutic herb) and/or heat lamps to warm and relax muscles and qi

  • tuina: Chinese therapeutic massage relieves muscle tension, stimulates acupressure points, opens energy meridians and stimulate the flow of qi

  • cupping: glass cups with a vacuum seal are placed on the skin to stimulate blood flow and clear stagnant qi

  • guasha: vigorous rubbing of the skin increases blood flow and clears stagnant qi.

Lifestyle advice

Your acupuncturist is likely to suggest ways in which you can enhance the long-term effects of your treatment. This may involve making changes to your diet and daily routine. If necessary you will be referred to other healthcare practitioners for specialist care.

After-effects

Most people find acupuncture relaxing and often feel very calm after a treatment. You may feel a little tired or sleepy and should take this into account if you are planning to drive or use heavy machinery straight after your treatment.

You should refrain from vigorous exercise after treatment and, ideally, give yourself a little time to rest. It is also advisable not to drink alcohol for several hours after treatment.

Acupuncture has very few side effects and any that do occur are usually mild and self-correcting. Cupping and guasha can sometimes temporarily mark the skin. Such bruising is painless and generally clears within a day or two.

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