If you have not been for acupuncture treatment before you will probably want to know what happens in an acupuncture session. You may want to know how it feels to have acupuncture treatment. This page will answer some of the common questions that patients have before going to see an acupuncturist.

Common acupuncture questions

Although acupuncture has been around for thousands of years it is comparatively new in the West.  The success of acupuncture as an enduring medical system owes much to the abiding, natural principles on which it is founded.  These provide it with the flexibility to respond and make sense of even ‘new’ diseases.

These principles allow for the whole person to be taken into account, which means that all of your symptoms, even those presumed ‘irrelevant’ are examined.  Sleep patterns, emotional states, dietary factors, etc. are all queried.

Complex medical theories abound.  These include neurological mechanisms, such as blocking ascending pain pathways via the spinal cord, and the effect of acupuncture on neurotransmitters, endorphins, and other hormonal effects.  Acupuncture is also proven to have an anti-inflammatory effect, to improve blood circulation…and so on.

But these findings fall short of explaining the impressive results confirmed by research trials in treating, for example, mal-positioned foetus or sequelae of stroke by acupuncture.

Traditionally, acupuncturists use the concept of qi energy.  Qi is so subtle it can neither be seen nor measured (yet) but the effect of it is obvious.

Qi energy moves through the network of energy pathways known as meridians. It is via these meridians that qi moves through different layers of the body, irrigating the skin, muscles and organs with life energy. If this energy becomes stuck, too weak, too hot, or too cold, it can give rise to pain, or cause over-stimulation (yang) or under-stimulation (yin) of an organ such as the heart, or a system such as the hormonal system, (e.g. reproductive hormones or thyroid hormones), or the digestive system.

The acupuncturist’s aim is to correct the cause as well as the effects of this imbalance.  The aim is to get healthy qi moving in a natural ebb and flow.

The holistic approach of acupuncture treatment leaves us feeling unusually well, in addition to treating specific symptoms.  Just as one cannot see the wind but only the effects of the wind, one can experience the effects of qi in the body.  Relax and enjoy it.  It’s an experience.

I have treated people aged 3 months of age to 95 years of age.   Most gained huge benefits from acupuncture treatment, whatever their age.

Acupuncture is a medical system that has been used for over 2,000 years up to the present day. It is currently used in the most advanced medical establishments world wide, such as Cedar Sinai Hospital, treating a wide range of conditions, from neurological problems such as stroke, paralysis, fertility and pregnancy problems, to painful conditions such as arthritis, headache and back pain. Really, there are too many conditions that have been treated by acupuncture to be listed but for a limited list of conditions treatable by acupuncture check out the World Health Organization (WHO) site. And you are always welcome to call or email me to ask about your specific condition.

This question arises most commonly in relation to

  1. People taking warfarin
  2. Acupuncture during pregnancy
  3. For those who have undergone lymphectomy usually in relation to cancer treatment

Acupuncture is an extremely safe medicine and there have been research studies to back this claim when performed by a fully trained professional acupuncturist who is a member of and governed by the British Acupuncture Council (the research study was on British Acupuncture Council Members.) The British Acupuncture Council sets very high standards of training, codes of safe practice and codes of ethics.

Acupuncture uses extremely fine needles, much smaller than hypodermic needles used by your doctor. It is rare for any bleeding at acupuncture points although it can occasionally happen. When it does it usually requires no more than a cotton bud pressed to the point for the bleeding to stop. There have been no incidences with British acupuncture council members causing any serious bleeding when treating patients on warfarin or aspirin.

For those with lymph nodes removed.
This is an area that cancer nurses are very concerned about. The truth is that there have been no reported cases of acupuncture causing infection in patients who have had their lymph nodes removed. However, as a precaution, the majority of acupuncturists, including myself, avoid using limbs where the lymph nodes that drain for these have been removed. It is perfectly possible to treat pain on a limb without having to use that particular side of the body.

I have been treating fertility and pregnancy, including women who have suffered recurrent miscarriages, and have had fantastic success in dealing with this. Several specialists in Britain who treat miscarriage now recommend that women try acupuncture as a safe and sometimes effective treatment. Many midwifes also learn acupuncture for pregnant women, but I stress it is most important to go to someone who is fully trained as an acupuncturist (minimum required training 3 years, even for those who have western medical training.)

There are four main things to look for in an acupuncturist.

  1. Experience.  With acupuncture, experience counts for a lot!  Each year of experience exponentially increases the acupuncturist’s acuity for diagnosis and her ability to provide powerful treatments that work.
  2. In-depth acupuncture-specific training.  Training, which should take 3 – 4 years, certainly needs to cover Western physiology and pathology and this usually takes up 1/3 of an acupuncture course.  The acupuncture specific training needs to be in-depth regardless of other medical training.  Acupuncture training needs to cover the function and location of 361 main acupuncture points, 71 pathways of energy, and a complex systems approach to understanding health and illness, as well as unique methods of diagnosis. It is impossible to cover all of this in less than 3 years.
  3. Members of BAcC.  Acupuncturists should belong to a professional body and I recommend that they should be members of the British Acupuncture Council, designated by the letters MBAcC after their name.  BAcC members have undertaken rigorous training – usually 3-4 full years full time at degree level. If they are not members of the BAcC then you need to check this. For instance, if your acupuncturist claims that they have trained over a certain number of years ask them directly whether this was part time or full time – for some claim many years training when they have done little more than to attend a few week-end trainings and read a few books over several years.  Please note that members of the British Medical Acupuncture Society are doctors or other health professionals who  are required to have only 6 days of acupuncture training, i.e. 36 hours total, to become members.  These people will have BMAS after their name.  The British Acpuncture Council also ensure high ethical standards.
  4. Approachable.  Your acupuncturist should be approachable and at the minimum should speak your language.  This is sometimes overlooked, maybe partly because patients see acupuncture as somehow ‘magical.’  But acupuncture is not magical.  Careful case taking is vital so that the acupuncture practitioner can come up with the correct acupuncture diagnosis in order that a tailor made treatment plan can be followed.  Just presenting an acupuncturist with a Western diagnosis is never enough as this has to be reframed within a traditional Oriental framework.

This is a question that is top of people’s minds when they have a condition that is most often treated as a discrete symptom unconnected to the rest of the body by Western medics. The truth is that acupuncture is a holistic system and it is important that practitioners hone their skills by continually seeing as much variety as possible. However, some practitioners do have special interests. You can contact the British Acupuncture Council on 020 8735 0400. who may be able to direct you.

This all depends on your condition – which includes your particular illness as well as your ‘energetic’ condition. Ordinarily a course of acupuncture is six to ten treatments. However, there is wide variation in the required number of visits.

At the beginning you may need to come for treatment once a week then quickly change to a fortnightly or in some cases once every three, four or even six weeks. It often depends on how acute the trouble is, what kind of natural cycle affects the condition, or whether the problem is deep-seated and therefore both mind and body need a longer time between treatments to adjust.

The obvious answer would be that all of your symptoms disappear.  However, if a course of treatment is commonly 6 – 12 treatments, how will you know you are on track?  While some treatments bring quite a dramatic and quick effect, others may build up more slowly towards attaining your goal.

You should be able to look and see small signs of improvement from the first or second acupuncture treatment.  You may notice yourself becoming more relaxed in general, more clear headed, and more energetic.  This shows that blood and qi is starting to clear and move more freely.

You may then start to notice specific improvements in the direction of your treatment goal.  For instance you may get increased range of movement in previously restricted joints or muscles.  The pain you experience may go down a few points on the scale or you may be pain free for longer periods of time.  You may also have noticeable improvements in mood.

You may be able to measure improvements through, for instance, menstrual charts, or scaling of your pain.  Or even by being able to reduce medication. (If you are taking prescribed medication then this should only be done with your doctor’s permission. Many prescription medications have serious side effects and cannot be stopped quickly.)

Most often two to six super-fine needles will be used. Using few needles often means a more focused and therefore effective acupuncture treatment. Only the highest quality sterile disposable needles are used. These gold, silver or stainless steel needles are the finest available to ensure a gentle and relaxing experience. Nothing is injected into the points. Each sterile needle is taken from an unopened pack and disposed of immediately after treatment.

You are likely to experience a deep relaxation while the needles are in. Some other sensations, such as heaviness in the limb being needled or a temporary numbness is common. Some people fall asleep for ten to twenty minutes while the needles are in and wake up refreshed and relaxed. Acupuncture sessions can be quiet and reflective, or they may be relaxing and provide space for you to talk or to laugh or cry. Many people remark that acupuncture is the most relaxing treatment they have ever had!

Moxibustion, or moxa, is commonly used in traditional acupuncture treatment. This is a Chinese herb which smoulders either on the acupuncture point or on the needle. It is really part of acupuncture rather than, strictly speaking, Chinese herbal medicine.

Roisin is no longer taking patients in order to spend more time teaching classical acupuncture to a wider audience. For more information on Roisin's work, please click here