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Emotional feelings after acupuncture?

Q:  I went to an acupuncturist for the first time,  I was being treated for weight loss, infertility and stress. At first, I was very relaxed. Then I started going through emotions of upset, then irritability, and then about 20-25 min into it I literally felt like I was going into a panic attack. Is this normal? He made it sound like it wasn't common, but both my nephew and his wife said the same thing happened to them. What would cause this weird sensation and rapid heartbeat panic attack stuff? Just part of the treatment?

A:  We are sorry to hear that your treatment was something of an experience.

Many people find that the first session is a deeply relaxing one, but a small minority find that it can stir up a lot of things. Sometimes this can be at a physical level, where there can be changes to heart rate and breathing, and what feels like the beginning of a panic attack. As often as this are emotional effects, where people find that they experience some moods which appear to come from nowhere, like irritability or anxiety.

From a Chinese medicine perspective all of this is perfectly possible. The practitioner's main aim is to restore balance in the system, and this can mean unblocking energetic blockages which in turn can mean the start of the clearing of pathogenic factors. This can range from straightforward physical stuff, like internal heat being cleared, to emotions  which have been 'stored' and repressed. We have to say, however, that this is not a frequent occurrence, certainly not frequent enough where we would feel that we had to alert someone to it happening before a first session.

There may, of course, be factors in the treatment itself which make a difference. Some people are just very sensitive to needles, and this sensitivity can run in families. In such cases, there is a risk that using too many needles or using to much manipulation of the needles after insertion can make the system go a little haywire. A practitioner will always take note of this reaction and tune down the treatment for the second session to see if that makes a difference. Usually it does because the excessive reaction is a perfect storm of anxiety at a first session, energy unblocking and sensitive system where all three combine to have an effect. Rarely there are cases where someone is always highly sensitive but we have managed to treat people successfully by using a very small number of needles per session. Such patients tend to be very effective responders if one can get the balance of treatment right.

The best thing to do, though, is to talk to the practitioner about your experience. He should be able to make sense of what has happened because he will not only know what he did but also have a good case history in front of him which will allow him to make sense of what has happened.

We hope your subsequent sessions are more relaxing and help you to address your health problems.

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