8 Things to Expect From Your First Acupuncture Experience
If it’s your first time seeing an acupuncture practitioner, you might have a million questions. What do I wear? How long will it take? What will it cost? And probably, most importantly, will I feel the needles?
Here are eight things to know ahead of time before your first acupuncture session so you feel at ease and excited to heal your body in a new way.
1. There will be a lengthy interview before hand, with questions you usually don’t get asked.
Just like the standard questionnaire most Western doctors conduct — allergies, medications, alcohol consumption, family medical history — acupuncture practitioners will ask the same, and then some.
They’ll want to learn more about your chief complaint — the reason you booked the appointment — followed by additional questions you might not expect that feel irrelevant. These can range from sleeping patterns to your sex life, with digestive issues, urinary function, menstruation cycles, and stress all in the mix. While it may feel unrelated, acupuncturists ask these questions because many conditions can manifest from basic digestive functions or another seemingly unrelated system in the body. Do your best to answer them as accurately as possible to help your doctor best diagnose and treat you.
2. Your session might be covered by insurance.
Bring your insurance card with you to your appointment! Better yet, call your insurance company ahead of time and see if and what they cover. Nowadays, more and more insurance plans are starting to cover acupuncture; currently, you’re more likely to receive coverage if you are referred from your primary care physician or have certain ailments such as chronic back, neck, or knee pain. As of 2019, Medicare will also pay for acupuncture that is part of low back pain research. With hopes, coverage will continue to expand in the near future.
If you don’t have insurance or it’s simply not covered, acupuncture is still relatively affordable. The cost of an initial visit ranges from $75 to $95 for a session and consultation, with routine costs closer to the $50 to $70 range. Keep in mind that most practitioners will want to see you more than once; depending on the condition being treated, you might be advised to come for two to six sessions.
3. Acupuncture might treat more than your current ailment.
If something feels off in your body but begins to fade before your appointment, it’s best to still go anyways. Acupuncture focuses on the whole body with all of its complex interconnections, and you might be surprised to find that even if you’re feeling “okay,” acupuncture can make you feel great. Often, people will come in for neck, shoulder, or back pain, and then experience release in other areas of the body. So don’t be surprised if come looking for relief in one area, and then return for more to address other physiological and physiological needs!
4. Don’t go in on an empty stomach.
Make sure to drink lots of water and have something in your stomach a few hours before your appointment. Having enough energy in the body will help avoid any lightheadedness, dizziness, or risk of fainting during or after the session. A pretty standard guideline is to eat about two hours before your appointment. Try not to show up super full, and avoid heavy, fried, or spicy food, too.
5. You won’t need to strip down like a massage.
Unlike a massage, you’ll be able to keep on your clothes for the acupuncture session. That said, it’s best if you wear loose fitting clothes that can easily be rolled up or maneuvered. In certain cases, acupuncturists will give you a hospital-like gown to wear in order to access your entire back.
6. Remember to say “aah!”
Acupuncturists will want to address the state of your internal organs, so will likely take your pulse, feel your abdomen, and inspect the tongue before the needling begins. This is because these three different areas correspond to different organ systems in the body. Interestingly, many practitioners say that by just inspecting the tongue, they can evaluate how well your digestive system works, along with the state of your metabolism, spleen, and sleep health.
7. The needles are pretty painless.
Even if you’re typically afraid of needles, you need not be alarmed when it comes to acupuncture! As far as size goes, the needles acupuncturists use are about the width of a few pieces of hair. In more technical terms, needles are measured in gauges — the higher the gauge, the smaller the diameter. Hypodermic needles (what’s commonly used with a syringe to inject substances into the body) are typically between 25-27 gauges. On the flip side, most acupuncture needles range between 30-40 gauges, making them significantly more thin. Most people are typically surprised by how little they feel the needle, both when it’s inserted into the body and after its in place. You might feel a tiny prick when it enters the skin, especially if inserted in certain areas like the shins and feet. However once the needles are set, patients usually report little to no sensation.
8. For your next appointment, it may be more than needles.
Though needling might be an acupuncture practitioner’s main tool, many are licensed in other therapies that fall under the umbrella of Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM). These may include, gua sha, massage, cupping, Chinese herbs, heating/energy work, or acupressure. Depending on what your diagnosis is, your doctor might offer a menu of helpful treatments to get you back into a healthy alignment with your body and mind.
If you have a million more questions, not to worry. Acupuncture is completely safe (the FDA regulates the needles and requires that practitioners use each needle only once), but it’s understandably a bit mysterious too. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need at your first appointment — a practitioner’s main priority is making sure you feel comfortable and at ease the entire time.