Friday, April 4, 2008

Accupuncture: What to Expect in Your First Visit

  • Be prepared to spend up to an hour on your visit. Your acupuncturist will take a long medical history and discuss your complaints.

  • Careful pulse readings are often part of the exam. Isaac Cohen of Berkeley's American Acupuncture Center says he checks such things as the pulse's frequency, strength, depth, regularity, changes within the depths of the pulse, and differences between the right and the left wrist. (Acupuncture theory recognizes some 28 pulse qualities.)

  • A tongue diagnosis to check shape, movement, condition, color, and coating is sometimes used to assess a patient's condition.

  • Treatment will be prescribed based on the diagnosis reached via all these findings. For example, chronic bursitis in the shoulder could require 10 treatments, once a week for two and a half months, while an acute strain might call for only two treatments.

  • Sterile, disposable needles are a definite must. The acupuncturist usually dabs the skin with alcohol and then inserts the needles into points just below the skin surface in the epidural layer. They are left in place anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. In rare cases, the acupoint will bleed slightly after the needle is withdrawn.

  • Acupuncturists will often leave the room after positioning the needles, occasionally dimming the lights to create a more restful atmosphere. Deep yogic breathing can be helpful.

  • Heat treatment (moxibustion) is used by some traditional acupuncturists in addition to needle therapy. The therapist burns the herb moxa, Chinese mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), on acupoints, generally on a ginger slice to minimize discomfort. Another method known as cupping (when a glass jar is placed over acupoints) promotes circulation.

  • Acupuncture costs vary widely. Your first session may cost anywhere from $40 to $160. Follow-ups may run from $30 to $75.

    Does It Hurt?

    Many people feel a sting when an acupuncture needle is inserted but no real pain. Actress Liberty Godshall, who underwent acupuncture for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, says, "You feel it a little, but any pain goes away almost instantaneously. Sometimes if an energy spot is hit, it feels like an electrical jolt. For me, the longer the needles were in, the more blissful I felt."

    Acupuncture needles are very thin — about 15 needles can fit into one conventional hypodermic needle. Acupuncturist Dr. Holly Gahn says, "Getting acupuncture is nothing like getting a hypodermic shot."

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