What to Expect at Your First Acupuncture Treatment


With acupuncture becoming more mainstream as a complement to Western medicine, the thought may have crossed your mind to want to experience a treatment for yourself. Having never experienced acupuncture before, receiving an acupuncture treatment for the first time may feel intimidating for a variety of reasons – not knowing what to expect, potentially having a fear of needles or not knowing what acupuncture is or what it can do for you. Just like every patient that comes in is different, so is every Chinese medical practitioner. Although there are many different styles and techniques when it comes to acupuncture, there are a few basic elements that will show up in each treatment that you have. The following are some things that you can expect at Oasis of Harmony Wellness with each treatment which I hope will bring peace of mind prior to your first treatment.

Prior to your first treatment there is an intake form that you will be asked to fill out which you will go over with your practitioner during your first appointment. Your practitioner will want to know what your chief complaint for coming to acupuncture is and ask some more details about your health history. Following this, you will likely be asked about any medications you are currently on or any doctors that you are seeing. Afterwards, your practitioner may ask questions that are seemingly irrelevant to your initial reasoning for coming to acupuncture. Trust your practitioner – answering these questions as honestly as you can is very important in developing an individualized treatment that is specific to you.
Each practitioner may have a slightly different interviewing process based on their training. Typical questions asked include ones about your sleeping patterns, eating habits and digestive functions, liquid intake, emotional quality and basic level of stress that you experience. If you are female, there will also be questions about menstruation. Your practitioner is used to asking these questions regularly and receiving all varieties of answers – there is nothing that they have not heard before!

Your practitioner may ask questions that you were not expecting. Some of these questions may get you thinking a little deeper about your lifestyle and give you some insight that you weren’t aware of prior. For example, you may be asked about your sleeping habits even though you were coming in for headaches. Once asked, you may become aware that your sleep hasn’t been good in quality and you haven’t felt rested upon waking in the mornings recently.
A common complaint about Western medicine is that their provider does not have the time to listen to their concerns, to ask the important questions or explain information to them that they understand fully. Most acupuncturists are trained to provide deep listening to their patients which will give you the sense that the practitioner is really in tune with you and has a good idea of what is going on with your body. This tends to give patients peace of mind and ease knowing that they are in the right hands of someone who is there to help them and provide answers that they may not be used to receiving.

Chinese Medicine pulse diagnosis is different from taking your pulse in Western medicine. Pulse reading is a diagnostic tool that has been practiced throughout Chinese Medicine for thousands of years and gives your practitioner information about your entire body. Your practitioner will begin by having you relax your arms and will feel your pulses with three fingers on both sides for about a minute or two. Every practitioner has a slightly different technique or pressure when feeling pulses. There are 12 main pulses that they are reading and they may asked you questions while they are listening. Your body is very wise and your pulses will provide vital information to your practitioner that will determine a diagnosis and treatment plan for you.
Observing the tongue is another important diagnostic tool that Chinese medical practitioners use to help determine a diagnosis and treatment plan. Just like the pulses, the tongue in Chinese Medicine is thought to be a reflection of the entire body and its systems. By looking at specific corresponding areas on the tongue, your practitioner is able to learn and see how those systems are functioning within your body. You will be asked to stick your tongue out like you are licking an ice cream cone so that they can see the color of the tongue body, the general shape of the tongue, any cracks or deviations and the quality and color of the coating on the tongue. You will also be asked to touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth so that your practitioner can see the underneath sublingual veins where they will observe the color and thickness. All of this may seem slightly odd but it is very significant to your treatment. Do not brush your tongue prior to treatment as the natural presentation is very important.

Based on all of the information that your practitioner has gathered through discussion, pulses and observation of the tongue they will develop a treatment and select acupoints that are tailored especially for you. Your practitioner will palpate or press on the acupuncture points prior to inserting the needles which are placed at specific acupoints along the body that access the qi or energy of that channel. Once needles are inserted, your practitioner may stimulate the needle by twisting and rotating or by lifting and thrusting. None of this should be painful at all and is used to stimulate the qi. Acupuncture needles are small and as thin as a cat’s whisker and are not hollow like hypodermic needles used in Western medicine. In fact about 40 acupuncture needles can fit inside of a hypodermic needles! At Oasis of Harmony Wellness, I walk my patients through their first needling process by having them take a deep breath in and inserting the needle on the exhale.

Your treatment may also include the use of moxibustion or moxa. Moxa is another traditional technique that is used alone or in conjunction with acupuncture. Moxa involves burning a medicinal herb known as Mugwort either directly on the body, on top of the acupuncture needle or indirectly from about an inch or so away from the body. Moxibustion is used in order to stimulate the smooth flow of qi and blood, to warm the area that is being treated and to promote healing. There are many forms of moxa and many different techniques that are used to administer moxa. Moxa can be used for pain relief, digestive disorders, menstrual disorders and much more. A fun fact about moxa is that it can be used in pregnancy to turn a breeched baby by burning it on the mother’s little toe!

Other traditional techniques that may be used in your treatment include cupping, gua sha or tui na. Cupping is when glass or silicone cups are placed directly onto your skin and produce a suction. This technique is used to increase blood flow and decrease inflammation and pain. Some patients describe cupping to feel like a massage and is very relaxing. Your practitioner may move the cups around or leave them in a specific location for anywhere from 3-5 minutes.
Gua Sha is another ancient technique that may be used which involves using a tool that is typically made out of smooth jade or animal horn to scrape the skin in order to improve circulation, blood flow and decrease inflammation. Your practitioner will apply oil to your skin and use the gua sha tool in long or short strokes in a downward motion over acupuncture channels in order to stimulate the qi. This is really great for muscle pain, neck, back and shoulder pain.
Tui Na is a form of Chinese therapeutic massage or bodywork that is sometimes used in treatment in conjunction with acupuncture and/or moxibustion. It is used to get the qi moving in the meridians and within the muscles. Your practitioner will stimulate acupressure points in order to treat acute and chronic musculoskeletal pain and conditions.

**Your practitioner should walk you through all of the steps of your treatment as they are doing it as well as answer any questions that you may have throughout. None of the techniques mentioned above should be painful. It is common to feel sensations of tingling, heaviness or a dull, achy feeling during the insertion of needles. This is completely normal – there are acupuncture points all over the body and some of these points may be more sensitive than others.**

Once the needles are placed, your practitioner will ask if you would like some soft music to listen to during your treatment or if you would prefer silence. They may light some incense or use an essential oil for aromatherapy as well. Some needles may be retained in the body anywhere from 5-15 minutes or some may be inserted in and out quickly. Rest assured this is all normal and treatment is occurring whether the needles are retained or not.
Just as each acupuncture treatment is individualized to you, everyone has a different reaction to or experience of treatment. Most people tend to report feeling very relaxed, heavy or sunken into the treatment table. You may have dream like thoughts, see shapes or colors or even fall asleep – which we encourage! You may also feel like crying, laughing or expressing yourself in other ways. All reactions are part of the treatment and are typically nothing to be concerned about. Most of the time your practitioner will leave you to process what is showing up for you. If at any time you feel an unreasonable amount of discomfort, mention it to your practitioner and they will work with you.

Your practitioner may come back into the room and take your pulses and then restimulate the needles prior to removing them. This creates more qi sensation and movement which is all part of the treatment and encourages the healing process. The final removal of the needles is typically painless and most patients report not feeling them at all. Your practitioner may take your pulses again prior to removing the needles and will definitely retake your pulses once the needles are all removed.

After treatment, your practitioner will discuss any observations that you had during your treatment and will answer any questions that you may still have. They will then discuss further treatment options with you and explain how often they recommend that you return for treatment. They may also offer some suggestions that you can do in between treatments to help with your symptoms. Your practitioner should also explain that they are available to you even after your treatment is over for any questions or concerns that you may have and how you can contact them. If your next treatment is far away, they may suggest community acupuncture which is a typically very affordable and easy way for you to receive treatment in between your regular appoints to keep your qi moving.

During treatment you may feel extremely relaxed which may last even once the treatment is over. Many patients report feeling so relaxed and calm that it may be difficult to go right back to work or be overly active. You should give yourself the permission and time to relax and carry this calmness with you immediately following the treatment. The acupuncture treatment or related techniques are still working even once the needles are removed and can last for several days afterwards as your body is realigning and balancing. These reactions are usually normally but if you are ever concerned about how you feel after treatment, please contact your practitioner.

I am hopeful that this blog has helped to bring ease to anyone who may be considering acupuncture treatment for the first time. If you are curious about what acupuncture can do for you and your symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact us at 443-286-0138 or email us at to schedule an appointment or ask any questions that you may still have!

72 thoughts on “What to Expect at Your First Acupuncture Treatment

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