Acupuncture FAQs

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

No, acupuncture is typically not painful. The needles are very thin, and most people feel either a slight pinch, or nothing at all, during insertion. Once the needles are in you can barely feel them at all. Overall the experience of acupuncture is very relaxing, and many people fall asleep during treatment.

What If I’m Really Sensitive?

If anything feels uncomfortable, I am always happy to switch to extra-thin needles, choose less sensitive points, or use non-needle therapies like acupressure and heat therapy. My philosophy is that acupuncture works best when it is relaxing and comfortable for the patient.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of health care available. Sterile procedures are strictly followed, and acupuncture points and techniques are designed to avoid any possibility of injury. The most common side effect of acupuncture is an occasional bruise at the site of insertion.

The NIH (National Institutes for Health) statement on acupuncture concluded that acupuncture is generally safer than Western medicine, saying:

One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same condition.

What About Cleanliness?

Acupuncturists follow the standard medical protocols for infection control, including thorough hand-washing; swabbing points with alcohol prior to treatment; use of sterilized, sealed, single-use needles; and disposal of used needles in bio hazard containers.

Where Are The Acupuncture Points?

There are over 360 acupuncture points on the body, and they are located pretty much everywhere. The most commonly used points are on the arms and legs; the torso and head are often treated as well.

What Happens In A Treatment?

At the beginning of each session we talk briefly about the problems to be treated, and I will feel your pulse and look at your tongue to develop a diagnosis and treatment plan for you.

Treatment takes place with you lying comfortably on a massage table. Needles are inserted at various points on the body based on your diagnosis; then you rest for a while with the needles in (this is the part where people fall asleep). After 20-30 minutes I take the needles out and voila! — you’re good to go.

I’ve Heard Acupuncture Is Good For My Condition, But I’m Totally Needle-Phobic. Can You Help Me?

Yes. Please come in and talk to me. There are many non-needle therapies available, including acupressure, heat therapy, and magnets or press balls (little ball bearings on a tiny band-aid) that go on the acupuncture point to gently stimulate it.

Herbal medicine is also a good alternative for people who wish to avoid needles.

And, many patients who describe themselves as needle-phobic are pleasantly surprised by how small and painless the acupuncture needles actually are. If you want to give it a try, we can go one needle at a time and stop whenever you feel uncomfortable. If acupuncture is really not for you, I won’t charge you for the session.

When Should I Use Acupuncture Vs. Western Medicine?

In general, Western medicine is very good at acute and emergency situations, and also very talented at diagnosis and screening. For a major, life-threatening problem, definitely see your doctor. Same if you have a new health problem and don’t know whether it’s serious.

Chinese medicine excels at treating chronic conditions and promoting wellness.

The best times to use acupuncture are:

  • For conditions that are not well understood or effectively treated by Western medicine, including chronic and recurring illnesses.
  • As an alternative to Western medicine if you prefer a more holistic, drug-free approach to health problems. (Check here for a list of conditions treated by acupuncture.)
  • For day-to-day health concerns like colds and flu, sinus infections, minor injuries, stress, and health maintenance.

Acupuncturists are trained to recognize serious health situations that require Western medical care. I will always refer you to your doctor when it’s appropriate, especially if I have any concerns about your safety.

Can I Do Acupuncture At The Same Time As My Regular Medical Treatment?

Absolutely. Often this is the best way to get good results. Acupuncture can be used to treat symptoms that aren’t responding to Western treatment; to work on the underlying imbalances to prevent recurrence; and to help treat the side effects of medications.

Acupuncture is wonderful in conjunction with physical therapy and chiropractic care; it can loosen tight muscles, decrease inflammation and pain, and speed healing. This makes the exercises easier to do, and increases the effectiveness of both therapies.

What Are The Qualifications Required To Be An Acupuncturist? 

Laws governing acupuncture licensing vary from state to state. In Maryland, acupuncturists are licensed by the Board of Acupuncturist. To be licensed, acupuncturists must complete 1800 hours of training, including 300 clinical hours, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) from a school accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) or a school which has been approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. This translates to 3-4 years of full-time, year-round schooling.

All the standard pre-medical courses are also required. Acupuncturists have the option to sit for the national licensing exams covering Western medical knowledge, Chinese medical diagnosis and treatment, acupuncture point location, safety, and ethics.

Licensed acupuncturists must also complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years.

 Is There Science That Supports The Effectiveness Of Acupuncture?

Yes. Numerous Western medical studies have been completed on acupuncture both in the U.S. and in Europe. Many of these studies are randomized controlled trials meeting the gold standard for modern scientific medical research.

Medical researchers at both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have reviewed the current scientific literature on acupuncture. Both organizations conclude that acupuncture definitely works for a number of conditions for which studies have been completed, and that further research is needed to look at additional conditions.

The official NIH statement on acupuncture concludes that:

The data in support of acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies.

It goes on to note:

One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same condition.