What Does it Feel Like to Get Acupuncture?

Every practitioner has their own unique style, but when you get acupuncture from me I use an especially gentle style of Japanese acupuncture (more on that below if you’re interested). This helps most people to quickly experience deep relaxation, and their stress and pain fades away. Some patients describe it like having a nice vacation in their day, a time when they can just completely relax and forget their worries or whatever else is going on in their lives.

If you’re coming for treatment because your energy is often low and you want more, after this initial period of relaxation you’ll typically find your energy gradually increasing over the next few hours.

And that’s true in general: typically you’ll feel relaxed during your treatment session, and your symptom will gradually improve over the next few hours. If the symptom is very strong – like severe pain – it will often dramatically improve during the session, or right afterwards (but see below for more on treatment frequency).

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Basically, acupuncture works by getting at the underlying cause of the problem and helping the body to heal itself. In Chinese medicine disease is seen as caused by imbalances; when we correct these imbalances, the body naturally heals and the symptom goes away.

For example, if you’re having insomnia because you’re stressed and in “fight-or-flight” survival mode, then your sympathetic nervous system may be too active and your parasympathetic system not active enough. By reducing sympathetic response and increasing the parasympathetic, the imbalance is corrected and you’ll feel more relaxed at night and able to sleep.

This approach is very different from simply taking a drug that covers up the symptoms without correcting their underlying cause. In acupuncture, we try to get at the root cause of the problem and fix it so that real healing can happen.

What Conditions do you Specialize in Treating?

Like most practitioners I often treat physical pain, especially things like back pain or shoulder pain. But I specialize in treating emotional pain like from anxiety or depression. My other specialties include: acupuncture pediatrics (treating children for many common childhood disorders); insomnia; and treating people suffering from fatigue or low energy.

You mentioned treating emotional pain – are you a therapist, too?

No, a therapist does very different work. If you want to get more psychological insight into your pain, work on your relationships, or transform your thinking or emotions using psychological means, you should see a therapist. In particular, if you’re having serious issues where you feel you might hurt yourself or someone else, definitely see a therapist – acupuncture can be a useful adjunct, but shouldn’t be the primary modality for those problems. In fact, I can recommend two experienced therapists: Jay Jaworski and Terry Jaworski: https://www.maitricounseling.com.

In Chinese medicine, emotional pain is treated the same way as physical pain. If someone has shoulder pain, I try to determine exactly where the pain is, what makes it worse, what makes it better, and make a diagnosis based on those and other signs and symptoms. Once I have a diagnosis, I choose points and herbs that will treat it. Similarly, if someone is experiencing emotional pain (I don’t even need to know what the emotion is, usually), I do exactly the same thing, and treat with herbs and acupuncture. This approach has been very successful for me. I give a do-it-yourself protocol you can try in my book.

Is Acupuncture Painful?

Acupuncture needles are nothing like the hypodermic needles used to give injections. They are much thinner, about the width of a human hair (or even smaller). When the needles are inserted by a skilled acupuncturist, there is usually no pain at all; occasionally the sensation may be like a brief mosquito bite. Most of the time patients find the treatments extremely relaxing, and often fall asleep.

Usually I use a style of treatment known as Toyohari, which doesn’t require insertion most of the time, so is painless. A video illustrating the technique on a child is here.

If you are still nervous about needles, I can use cold lasers for your treatment, which are always 100% painless. These lasers are low intensity so are very safe.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

Acupuncture is extremely safe when performed by an appropriately trained practitioner. All inserted needles are factory sterilized, and immediately disposed of after use. A traditionally trained, licensed acupuncturist (look for the letters LAc or EAMP after their name) is required to undergo rigorous testing and have at least 1000 hours of clinical training prior to receiving a license, and is thus well versed in safe needling techniques.

How Many Treatments Does it Take to See a Difference?

Often with acute conditions you can see a big change in as little as one or two treatments, but with issues that have been around for months or longer it usually takes more like 5 or 6 treatments before the patient notices a 50% improvement or so (especially with things like asthma).  Also with problems like really severe pain, you often need treatment two or three times a week for a couple of weeks to bring the pain under control: this is because, especially with chronic pain, you may feel better after one treatment but the pain gradually returns after a few days.   Once your pain is largely gone you can follow it with weekly treatments for a month or two to fully resolve the cause of the pain.  Once you’re free from pain for 10 days you’re usually considered cured.

Of course there are exceptions, like the patient I had with crippling back pain (unable even to stand straight) for 20 years who was cured after one treatment. Every acupuncturist has stories like that, but those are exceptions!  I do try to make my treatments affordable so that you can give this style of acupuncture a try, and see if it’ll work for you.

Will Seeing My Regular Doctor Interfere with Acupuncture Treatments?

You should continue to take all appropriate advice and treatments from your M.D.

Will Acupuncture Work for my Condition?

Check my alternative medicine blog: http://acunews.wordpress.com for information on some of the studies that have been done on acupuncture. For most conditions there aren’t a lot of studies (especially well-designed ones) about whether acupuncture works for it. The best advice, in my opinion, is to try it for at least 4 or 5 visits so you can decide for yourself whether it will work for you. I make my rates as affordable as I can so people can give it a try and see if it works for them.

Are there different kinds of acupuncture?

Yes, there are different kinds, or styles, of acupuncture. The biggest difference is between “traditional acupuncture”, which is based on the classic texts and traditional theory and practice of Chinese medicine, and what some call “scientific acupuncture”, which largely ignores these traditional practices in favor of techniques and principles based solely on allopathic medical knowledge (allopathic medicine is the “conventional” medicine used by M.D.s).

This “scientific” acupuncture is practiced by many in Japan and by some “medical acupuncturists” (M. D.s who do acupuncture) in the United States, while practitioners of traditional acupuncture can be found throughout the world. Although not as true in Japan, in many states in the United States M. D.s can become acupuncturists after as little as 200 hours of training in acupuncture, while the standards for traditionally trained acupuncturists often require them to have 10 times or more the amount of training.

There are also different styles of traditional acupuncture. The biggest split here is between Zang-Fu based acupuncture (what some call “TCM acupuncture”, a confusing and ambiguous phrase since it simply stands for “Traditional Chinese Medicine”) from China and certain styles of palpation-based acupuncture from Japan. “Zang-Fu” theory is a theory of organ energetics based on fundamental principles from traditional Chinese medicine, employing such concepts as Qi, yin, yang, etc.

Originally intended to be used for herbs, Zang-Fu theory was extended by the Chinese to cover acupuncture during the last half century or so. Zang-Fu based acupuncture emphasizes questioning the patient for diagnosis, and usually involves needle insertion with vigorous stimulation into about 10 points for treatment. Zang-Fu based acupuncture is the standard course of study taught in most acupuncture schools in the U. S. It is currently the most widely practiced style of acupuncture in the United States.

There are also several styles of palpation-based acupuncture, mostly from Japan, being practiced in the United States today. Two of the categories I’m familiar with are Manaka-style acupuncture and Meridian Therapy, both of which are Japanese palpation-based styles. These kinds of styles usually emphasize palpation (of the pulse, abdomen, and often meridians or specific acupuncture points) as a diagnostic method, and treatment usually involves light, gentle stimulation with shallowly-inserted needles. In order to learn a style of palpation-based acupuncture the student has to take extra courses or study a year or more longer than usual.

Will my experience as a patient differ, depending on the style used by the practitioner?

Of course, every acupuncturist has their own personality and style to some extent, but yes, we can make some general statements about how your experience will differ. A typical treatment from a Zang-Fu based acupuncturist will usually begin with an interview (which can easily be about half an hour or more the first time you see the practitioner, and about ten to fifteen minutes or so on subsequent visits). Then the practitioner will look at your tongue and may feel your pulse.

After that, she will ask you to lie down, either on your stomach or back, and insert needles into about 10 acupuncture points. The needles will be vigorously stimulated, usually with an up and down motion, to illicit a “de Qi” sensation, which typically feels like dull pain. The acupuncturist will then often leave the room and retain the needles for about 10-20 minutes, after which she’ll come back and remove them. She may give you dietary or other lifestyle advice if you are open to it. That’s usually the end of the treatment.

A typical treatment from a palpation-based practitioner, like someone using Meridian Therapy, also begins with an interview, although your acupuncturist may have you lie down on the table while he asks you questions. After (or sometimes while) questioning you, he will often palpate your abdomen and check your pulse.

His treatment will then consist of a very gentle needling of a few points, with him constantly coming back to check your pulse, skin, or abdomen to check the results of the techniques. There is no attempt made to illicit a “de Qi” sensation, and often the patient feels nothing and simply falls asleep. Your practitioner will usually at some point ask you to turn around, and will treat a few points on your back. Normally, your palpation-based acupuncturist will be working on you for the entire time of the treatment, and will usually only leave the room for a very short time to do things like get a cup of water, wash his hands, etc. In general, palpation-based acupuncture involves a shorter interview process but more palpation than Zang-Fu acupuncture, and is usually gentler than Zang-Fu based acupuncture.

What is Toyohari?

Toyohari is a style of Meridian Therapy (Keiraku Chiryo), which in itself is a style of Japanese palpation-based acupuncture. The word “Toyo” means East Asian, and “Hari” means “needle” or “needle therapy” (i.e., acupuncture). The founder of Toyohari was Fukushima Kodo, who happened to be blind. Indeed, in Japan acupuncture was (and to some extent still is) a preferred profession for visually impaired people; today, about half of those doing Toyohari in Japan are not sighted.

Toyohari training is beautifully illustrated by my friend and colleague Oran Kivity in this video

Toyohari is a deceptively gentle yet extremely effective style of acupuncture; as yet only a hundred or so people in the United States are Toyohari practitioners, but demand for and interest in the style is continually growing.

Do you do Dry Needling?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that what people call dry needling is just a couple of simple acupuncture techniques, applied to trigger points and motor points. Physical Therapists have tried to claim that dry needling is different from acupuncture, so that they can include it in their scope of practice without getting acupuncture training – but it isn’t. Dry needling is just one of the many acupuncture techniques available. Those who know only dry needling may not be able to determine what situations are better treated with another technique instead.

Do You Take Insurance?

I have made the decision to go out-of-network for all health insurance companies, so you need to pay me in full up-front. I can give you a superbill (basically a receipt listing what you were treated for and what you paid) which you can submit to your company, and they might give you some money back, but there’s no guarantees. It’s a good idea to call them first, and see if they’ll pay anything for treatment from out-of-network providers, and if so how much.

What about car insurance for accidents?

I used to, but after some unpleasant experiences (I was owed thousands I never received) I no longer do. Of course, I will provide you with invoices and chart notes for your sessions so you can get reimbursed, but I require payment up front.

Why is your work so inexpensive?

It’s true that some other practitioners with my level of experience charge much more, $150 or even $300 per session. I do not, because I want to be able to help more people. I keep prices reasonable so more people can come in, and be treated more often to get more effective help for their issues. In most cases, the more frequently you get acupuncture, the better it works.

Any other questions you’d like answered? Go ahead and post them in a comment below!

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