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Acupuncture FAQ

Understanding How It Works

Almost everyone has heard of Chinese acupuncture—but do you understand how it works? If you’ve ever wanted to know, we’re here to answer your questions.

There are many myths and misconceptions about acupuncture, especially surrounding what it actually is and how it can help you. Acupuncture is a simple, safe and effective healthcare technique that helps promote the body’s ability to heal itself. Below, you can read more of the most common questions people have about acupuncture.

What is Chinese acupuncture?

Chinese acupuncture is an ancient form of medicine that has recently started gaining popularity in North America. During treatment, very thin needles are inserted into specific points on the body. The stimulation of these acupuncture points affects both the central and peripheral nervous systems. It triggers the release of natural chemicals such as endorphins and enkephalins which have pain-relieving properties. It’s a simple, safe and effective healthcare technique that promotes the body’s ability to heal itself.

What can acupuncture treat?

In general, there are two categories of health concerns that acupuncture can treat: simple problems (acute) and more complex ones (chronic).

Simple problems would include allergies, colds, stress, and recent injuries.

More complex issues will often require more time and sometimes require the addition of herb therapy. Chinese herbs used at Oaktree are natural, holistic plant-based remedies that can aid in healing internal issues.

Do the acupuncture needles hurt?

This is the most common question asked about Chinese acupuncture, since many people associate needles with pain. Acupuncture needles are a similar thickness to a dog’s whisker, and are virtually painless when inserted.

The practitioner will insert the needle to the appropriate depth. You will then usually feel a very unique sensation that can vary from tingling, to heaviness, to warmth, or even nothing at all. Each person’s experience is different. Should you experience any discomfort, inform your practitioner, and they will adjust the needles accordingly. All needles are sterilized and disposable.

Does acupuncture just relieve pain, or will it treat the problem at the source?

Acupuncturists treat the root of the problem, and not just the symptoms. We aim to both relieve pain and support the body’s ability to heal itself. From an acupuncturist’s point of view, there’s no separation between pain relief and healing—pain is reduced because there is healing. The two are inextricably entwined.

The needles are just simple, sterile, unaltered filiform needles. They don’t use any pain-numbing agents, but rather reduce pain by promoting movement of blood and bodily fluids, relaxing tissues and the nervous system in general.

Why did you feel my pulse during my exam? What does that tell you?

Feeling the rate, strength, and quality of the pulse at the wrist and/or neck helps an acupuncturist figure out where your “engine” is working too hard and where it’s taking a vacation. In addition, the shape, colour, and coating of a tongue can help determine the way fluids are moving (or not moving) through our bodies.

What is community acupuncture?

Community acupuncture is a style that is traditionally performed in Asia. It is practiced in a group rather than a one-on-one setting. In the community acupuncture setting, the Distal Needling Acupuncture method is used. Also called Balance Method Acupuncture, it varies widely from the typical treatments one can receive in North America, and the results are far more effective and sustainable. This method is over 2,500 years old and is derived from the I Ching, one of the oldest books in the world.

The points used in Distal Needling Acupuncture are located on the scalp and ears, on the arms from the elbows to the fingers, and on the legs from the knees to the toes. As a result, patients can recline on their backs, and won’t need to remove any clothing.

During a treatment, you can relax in a comfy leather recliner, cozy up with a blanket and drift away to soothing tunes on a personal iPod for a half hour or so. Not only are these acupuncture treatments efficient, comfortable and extremely effective, but community-style clinics create access to acupuncture by removing the barrier of cost from healing. By making acupuncture as accessible as possible, people can receive the amount of care they truly need on an ideal timeline.

How long does treatment take?

Generally, Chinese acupuncture treatment lasts 20 to 30 minutes. This can differ based on your specific needs.

How often should I come in?

Your specific care plan will be tailored for you depending on your health concern and goals.

How long will it take to see results? Will I need Chinese acupuncture forever?

Likely not, but this also depends on the reason you’re receiving treatment in the first place. For short-term issues, a handful of acupuncture treatments could do the job. For chronic or longstanding issues, a “maintenance schedule” would be set up in order to ensure that your body’s systems are running smoothly and steadily after the initial period of relief and change.

Acupuncture is also a great preventative health measure. Remember, increased blood flow means your body is better able to heal itself, and will increase your immune system response, helping you better fight off and prevent disease.

If I receive two treatments in a single day, is it just as effective as if I came on two separate days?

Yes. You will notice as your treatments progress that the needles are not always inserted in the same places. This is because different points can help treat different areas in different ways. If you receive two treatments in one day, they will be two different treatments targeting separate areas.

Will you use the same acupuncture points during each session?

Deciding on point combinations depends on several different factors such as your verbal feedback regarding changes since your last visit, and subtle cues like variations in your pulse.

Ultimately, Chinese acupuncture point combinations are chosen to give each person the best chance to see the greatest amount of change in their pain or illness.

Why did you put that needle there?

Because that is where your system needs to be “tuned up” so you can feel and function better! We know this from our own experience and from the experience of the many acupuncturists who have practiced this ancient form of healthcare since its inception.

Chinese acupuncture is to your body what a tune-up is to your car or bike. A series of acupuncture treatments is like a block of maintenance. By keeping our bodies well-maintained, we can reduce the chances of breaking down.

Acupuncturists determine which parts of our systems need to be adjusted by following the signals our bodies offer. This is why we may feel the pulses at your wrists or neck or take a peek at your tongue before picking acupuncture points to target—to get a sense of where our attention is best directed at that time.

Taking this transit analogy further down the road—think of an area of pain or illness as a traffic jam along a main highway. There’s simply too much congestion in one place, causing rising temperatures, tempers and bad air. Choosing acupuncture points at strategic points outside of the problem area—for example, in the hands or feet when treating a headache—is an attempt to open up exits and secondary roads around it. This allows for the traffic—various signals, blood, and bodily fluids—a chance to get moving again.

How do you remember where I am in my treatment plan?

Before every treatment, we review your file and continually update it as you progress. We are able to track how you are treated and base your following treatments on this information.

I experienced pain or burning in my injury during treatment which then subsided completely. Is this normal?

Yes, it can be. While our bodies react to the effects of the treatment, the targeted area may feel tingly, warm, light, or even, in rare circumstances, painful for a short while. These sensations are the result of the movement of blood and bodily fluids, and are a sign that the treatment is working. The body is reacting; things are changing.

In a previous question, we used an analogy of traffic on a highway. Here, we’ll refer to it again: as the traffic congestion (i.e. inflammation/pain) starts to ease and budge, the traffic (i.e. blood/bodily fluids) begins to move. It’s slow at first (i.e. tingling or pain), but eventually gets moving smoothly down the highway as it should (i.e. return to normal functioning and/or pain relief).

I could still feel the needle hours after my treatment. Is that normal?

On occasion, this does happen. When a needle is inserted into an acupuncture point, the body’s response doesn’t always stop when the needle is removed. This can include a lingering sensation in the treatment areas. Around five percent of patients will report back after treatment, saying that one or more areas had continued to ache or “hum” for an hour or so after their treatment ended.

This is nothing to be worried about, but you may feel free to mention how you felt to your acupuncturist the next time you are in for a visit.

I felt a twitching sensation near my treatment area. Is that normal?

This sensation means the body is responding to the suggestions the acupuncture needles are making.

In our experience, patients commonly feel things like a twitching sensation, a sense of lightness, heat or coolness, heaviness, or aching at the target area. As long as these don’t keep you from relaxing or dozing off during your treatment, then it’s not something to be concerned about. These sensations are all clues that things are moving along properly. And that’s really what an acupuncture treatment is all about.

I got a bruise from the needle. Is that normal?

Slight bruising is not unusual, and is the most common negative side effect of being treated with acupuncture needles. To be clear, you shouldn’t expect bruises after every treatment, but may find one every once in a while from a needle that was placed near a larger vein. For example, the veins in your wrist area are tiny, but the veins in your upper arms are slightly bigger. Since there is more blood flowing through that area, it is therefore more likely that a small bruise may form there.

If you notice a small bruise beginning to form when an acupuncture needle is removed, use your finger tips to apply pressure for a few moments. Later on, you can use an icepack on the area to prevent further discolouration. It may be colourful, but a slight bruise is nothing to be concerned about. Feel free, however, to mention how you felt to your acupuncturist the next time you come in for treatment.

That really zinged. Did you hit something?

If something feels like a brief electric jolt, we know we’ve found the proper acupuncture point. This can be a fairly strong feeling, but it will subside right away, and is generally a good sign.

If, on the other hand, the sensation around the point feels hot, burning, or sharp, this is generally a sign that the needle is not sitting well—let us know and we’ll fix it up right away.

Keep in mind, no sensation should keep you from resting very comfortably through your treatment. Don’t ever sit in pain while being treated. If something is keeping you from closing your eyes and relaxing for a while, let us know.

Got Other Concerns? Call Now!

If you’d like to get answers, give our team a call now. We’re pleased to accept patients in Ottawa and Orleans!

Acupuncture FAQ | Oaktree Chiropractic & Acupuncture