In Western medicine, needles are used to inject medicine or to withdraw fluids from the body. The needles are hollow and the tip is beveled and sharpened so that it can cut the skin upon entry. In comparison to Acupuncture needles, Western needles are huge because the diameter needs to be large enough to transfer the thick fluids of the body. Acupuncture needles are very thin and solid. They are not designed to cut the skin, but to displace the skin and stimulate areas beneath the skin. Needles are sterile and most doctors now use disposable brands for safety. The needles are usually inserted by placing them in a "tube-like" holder to keep them from bending upon insertion, then the doctor will "tap" the top of the holder to insert the thin needle to the desired depth. The holder is then removed, leaving the actual needle in place. The needles are left in place for a prescribed period of time (up to 30 minutes) before removal. Depending on the treatment plan, from one to several dozen needles could be inserted in various points.
While Western patients are mostly concerned about the needles, the real treatment begins with the diagnosis. In some training clinics, the "teaching" doctor will review all data and make the diagnosis, marking the insertion points, then the students will do the needle insertion, simply following the doctor's instructions.
Much like the first visit to a Western doctor, the visit starts with medical history forms. It is important to answer all questions accurately to assist the medical staff in evaluating your condition.
Acupuncture is part of "Traditional Chinese Medicine", which is typically a more holistic approach than Western medicine, so questions which may seem unrelated to your reason for making the visit are often important to the diagnosis (questions about sleep habits, ability to tolerate heat and cold, current diet, etc.) After reviewing your records, the physician will visit and begin the diagnosis.
Most clinics will do the customary stethoscope routine, along with letting you describe your condition verbally. Then, depending on your condition, may do a rather extensive tongue examination and an unusual pulse examination. The Chinese pulse examination is a major diagnosis technique for traditional Chinese medicine. It is a method of establishing the condition of the "meridians" or pathways of "qi" (energy) within your body.
Then, using all of the information gathered from the diagnosis, the physician will determine the "cause" of the symptoms that you have described (the reason for your visit). Needles will then be inserted into very specific acupoints that will help bring the body back into "homeostasis" or balance, thus removing the source of the symptoms. Allow at least an hour for the first visit. The actual treatment will last around 30 to 40 minutes and it may take several visits to make progress, depending on the seriousness of the condition and the length of time it has been causing you discomfort. As with any treatment plan (Western or Eastern), make certain your questions are answered to your satisfaction, and the treatment plan seems reasonable based on your condition. If you have tried Western medicine for many years with no progress, it may take more than a single visit to an Acupuncturist to see results, yet you don't want to make an acupuncture treatment a weekly event for the rest of your life to heal a sore elbow. If you do not have previous experience with Chinese culture or medicine, be prepared for a cultural experience that can not only relieve your medical condition, but enrich your life. Make sure you ask questions if you don't understand something. I recommend visiting a clinic that has some Western visitors because they are used to explaining their diagnosis in Western terms and answering lots of odd questions about the treatment. When you call to get an appointment, it is a good time to ask if they have other "Western" patients.
Introduction | History | Acceptance | Theory | Meridians | Clinical Visit