Unlike allopathic medicine, where headaches are treated with aspirin, cholesterol is lowered with a statin drug, and insomnia is treated with a sleep aid without taking into account the individual nature of the person suffering from the problem, an acupuncture treatment is customized to suit the needs of the patient. Different people suffer headaches for different reasons, and so their treatment should not be the same even if we call all headaches by the same name.
First, having filled in a detailed intake form, we will sit down and go through an intake session in which you set out why you are coming in for treatment. We ask you a lot of questions, some of which may seem irrelevant to the problem you are coming in with. This is because we seek to treat the person as a whole, and not just the symptom that you want to get rid of. Chinese medicine views any symptom as being part of a larger pattern of symptoms and the way your body responds to challenges that will help us to diagnose your condition. As many of these symptoms appear unrelated to those of us who grew up in the west, it may seem that your acupuncturist is wasting time asking questions that are unrelated to your main issue, but rest assured, they are all important! We will also ask some questions about bodily functions that you might not want to answer, but Chinese medicine takes everything about the body, including what comes out, as being a clue to the final diagnosis. In other words, yes, we talk poop!
A Chinese medicine intake typically always include looking at your tongue, and checking your pulse. The tongue is thought of as a mirror of the internal organs, and helps to confirm the diagnosis that we have tentatively arrived at from our discussion. We are looking for tongue body color – pale, normal pink, deep red or purple, the shape – puffy, thin, teethmarks or cracks, and the coating – thick, thin, white, yellow or greyish. All of these aspects of the tongue help point towards your underlying condition. The pulse is checked with three fingers, at three depths of pressure. Not only are we checking the speed of the pulse, as in Western medicine, but we are assessing the shape the artery makes against our fingers and whether the pulse under each of the three fingers has the strength that we expect. The most typical shapes that the pulse might have are wiry, where it feels as if a taut guitar string is hitting the fingers evenly, and rolling (also known as slippery), which feels like a pearl necklace going under the fingers.
Once we have completed the intake session and the acupuncturist has arrived at a treatment plan, you’ll lie on the treatment bed, either fully clothed if you are in loose, comfortable clothes such as shorts and a t-shirt, or you may change into a gown, or be draped with towels. If you have come in with back pain, you’ll probably be lying on your front so that we can put needles in your back. For most other treatments, you’ll lie on your back and we’ll treat the front of your body, although if you have low energy or other chronic problems you may have a back treatment where you’re lying on your front every now and then. We like to vary things a bit! Most of the acupuncture points we use are on the lower legs, lower arms, abdomen or back. Some scalp or face points may be used, depending on the issue you came in with.
The needles are very thin and small, and do not hurt. You might feel a slight pinch on some acupuncture points, but that is it. Some people feel a heavy or tingly sensation at some acupuncture points, or a sensation of energy moving up their arm or leg – this is great, because it means you can feel the energy, or Qi, doing something. Many people feel nothing at all but a sense of relaxation, which is also great!
Finally, you get to relax for half an hour or so, while the needles guide your body in healing itself and letting go of stress and pain. Many people report that they feel more deeply relaxed with acupuncture than with any other relaxation method they have tried. And while people don’t generally fall asleep during the first treatment, it’s very common to doze off as you’re lying on the table.
Don’t let a fear of needles or the unknown put you off experiencing the wonderful benefits of acupuncture!