What can I expect at my first visit?
At your first visit the acupuncturist will take a detailed health history, perform a physical exam when necessary for pain related issues, and give you an acupuncture treatment. For internal medicine complaints, pulse and tongue diagnosis will be done. The initial visit history usually takes 15 to 45 minutes. It then takes about 5 minutes to insert the acupuncture needles, and they are left in for about 30 minutes. Patients often fall asleep once the needles are inserted and leave feeling relaxed. Other modalities like cupping, manual therapy, or moxibustion may be recommended, depending on the condition being treated, and at no additional charge. After the treatment, any recommended herbal, dietary, lifestyle, or exercise advice can be discussed, and we’ll formulate a treatment plan to fully address your health needs.The first visit takes up to an hour and a half, and follow-up visits take an hour.
Will I have to keep still for very long?
Most people feel very relaxed and comfortable during acupuncture. Once the needles are placed, they are usually left in for about 30 minutes, though some people need shorter treatments and others prefer longer treatments. While the needles are in movement should be minimized, though it is usually comfortable to make small adjustments and movements. If you move during acupuncture and something is uncomfortable, just press the buzzer and your acupuncturist will come in to check on you immediately.
Does acupuncture hurt?
In a typical treatment one usually does not feel most of the needles going in, though some of the needles may give more sensation. If sensation is felt, it’s usually a mild pinch at the skin surface or a short, deeper sensation, both which dissipate quickly after insertion. If anything stays uncomfortable, please let your acupuncturist know, and they will adjust or remove the needle. Acupuncture needles are extremely thin and give very little sensation, as compared to hypodermic needles used for drawing blood or giving injections.
How does acupuncture work?
Thanks to research being conducted at medical schools in the U.S. and abroad we’ve learned quite a bit about the mechanisms of action that make acupuncture effective. We now know that:
- Acupuncture reduces stress by regulating the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that activates the flight-or-fight response. When acupuncture needles are inserted oxytocin is released, signaling the activation of the para-sympathetic nervous system which opposes the stress response. Less stress means more blood flows to the digestive, reproductive, and endocrine systems, and multiple healing effects are tied to robust circulation.
- When acupuncture needles are inserted chemicals are released into the bloodstream both at the local site of needle insertion, as well as systemically. These chemicals include various endorphins and enkephalins that have pain and inflammation-reducing effects. Some of these chemicals have also been observed having hormone-regulating and homeostasis-inducing effects.
- The insertion of acupuncture needles into the motor point of a muscle can cause a small contraction of that muscle encouraging it to release. Once the muscle relaxes, muscle spasms causing pain and lack of mobility can be resolved.
Acupuncture has been shown to increase blood flow and vasodilation throughout the body, presumably through its muscle relaxing and stress reducing effects.
We’ve compiled some of the most relevant research, showing what acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are most effective at treating.
What should I wear?
You can wear whatever you’d like to your appointment. If we need to get to an area that your clothes are covering we have a variety of draping options, including blankets, towels, and gowns.
How will I feel after getting acupuncture?
Most people feel relaxed and calm after acupuncture. If you fall asleep during the treatment there may be a little grogginess, but that usually passes after a few minutes. We recommend listening to your body, though. Some feel energized after acupuncture, others feel like taking it easy.
How many acupuncture treatments will I need?
The number of visits you need depends on several factors, including how long you’ve had the issue and how severe it is. Issues that are more recent, like sudden pain from an injury or seasonal allergies, may require 3 to 6 treatments before symptoms are addressed. Chronic conditions such as PMS, asthma, back pain, or other problems that you have had for many years may take anywhere from 6 to 12 treatments until you notice significant lasting changes. Often though, immediate relief is felt after only 1 treatment. Hormone- and fertility-related issues usually take a few months of weekly treatments. At your first visit, your acupuncturist will take a detailed health history and will determine an appropriate treatment plan based on your signs and symptoms and the findings of that visit.
Do I have to take herbs?
No, you don’t. For hormone and internal medicine complaints herbal therapy can be an important part of your recommended treatment plan. Usually herbal therapy is not recommended for pain and musculoskeletal complaints, though. If we recommend herbal therapy we’ll be sure to answer any questions you might have about why they are recommended, what they are meant to do and how we source herbs to make sure they are safe and effective. If you are not interested in herbal therapy, just let us know and we’ll explore other options.
If you prescribe an herbal formula, how do I know it’s safe?
We’ve done a lot of work to make sure the herbs and supplements we prescribe are pure, safe and effective. We only use vendors that document Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and have verifiable, independent 3rd-party testing. We’re happy to share the specifics for each of the vendors we use.
Are acupuncture and herbs expensive?
Please reiew our Fees & Services list for details on the cost of acupuncture, and keep in mind that your medical insurance may cover your visits. Review our Insurance coverage details to see if your specific plan covers acupuncture.
Herbal therapy costs approximately $25 a week, or $100 monthly. For many conditions, herbal therapy may be as or more effective than acupuncture, making it more cost effective than acupuncture for some. A full month of daily herbal therapy costs not much more than one acupuncture treatment.
Are my visits covered by insurance?
All insurance companies now offer plans that cover acupuncture. Review our Insurance coverage details to see if your specific plan covers acupuncture. We are happy to check your benefits and to do all insurance billing for you.
Are there risks or side effects associated with acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a tightly-regulated and extremely safe medical modality, though any medical intervention comes with the possibility of complications. In very few cases there may be a small bruise or some pain at the insertion site that lasts for a few hours up to a few days. Very rarely a patient may feel light-headed during or after a treatment. These occur in rare instances and we practice very careful protocols in our clinic geared towards maximizing safety and avoiding any possible discomfort.
If you’d like to see the list of all possible acupuncture complications, please download our new patient intake forms. The included ‘Informed Consent’ document has all of the details, and we are happy to answer any questions you might have concerning them.
What kind of training and licensing are required of acupuncturists?
In California, the practice of acupuncture requires a Master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine (MTCM) and a state license. The Master’s degree is a full-time, three- to four-year program offered by accredited schools, and entry requirements for that program include a Bachelor’s degree with standard pre-medical coursework. The California state license exam is considered the most challenging in the country, and its failure rate hovers around 50%.
What’s the difference between an acupuncturist and an MD?
Both acupuncturists and medical doctors (MDs) are licensed as primary care providers (PCPs) in the state of California. This means that both can bill insurance, order lab work, order imaging like x-rays and MRIs, and refer to other medical specialists. Unlike MDs, acupuncturists are not licensed to prescribe pharmaceuticals or give intravenous injections.