Your back hurts! what can you expect from your First Acupuncture treatment?

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Okay, you finally called an acupuncturist because your back continues to hurt and the woman at the next desk keeps telling you how acupuncture worked for her.

What can you expect when you get into my office?

First of all, relax; I won’t jump out and start sticking you with needles!  And if you start with a virtual acupuncture visit, there are no needles at all!

The first step in acupuncture treatment is a detailed patient history.  Chinese medicine treatment starts with 10 questions which include:  sleep, sweating, eating, drinking, digestion, energy, hot and cold, family background, menstrual history, and elimination.  Then I look at your tongue.  In Chinese medicine, observation of the tongue is a key part of the diagnosis.  I check out the color, coating, size, cracks, wet or dry, quivering, and other factors.   I call it a “snapshot of your health”.  For example, a tongue with an orangey, swollen edge tells me you are stressed, or to put it in Chinese medicine terms, you have Liver Qi stagnation. A dip near the tip of your tongue indicates some respiratory challenges.   If there are tooth marks and the edge is very swollen, that is Qi stagnation.  Qi (Chee) is the term used for the movement of energy in your body.  A purple color suggests Blood Stasis, a red color suggests Heat, and a pale tongue means Blood Deficiency.  Next, I feel your pulse on both wrists to learn additional information, on how energy and blood are moving in your body.  Is it fast or slow, strong or weak, is there a blockage or too much damp?

Meanwhile, I am building a picture of your health history and assessing your present state of health.   Once I have completed this process I can ask about the chief complaint, in this case, the back-ache.  How did it start, how long has it lasted, what makes it feel better, what makes it feel worse, and how would you describe the pain:  achy, sharp, chronic, acute, does it react to hot or cold? Does it radiate or stay in one spot, is it worse in the morning, or after activity?   For a half-hour, we are just talking.  Finally, I ask that you lie down on the heated and padded table and I palpate your back to feel what is going on.  Only then will we be ready to insert needles.  I put needles where you feel pain and depending on your pattern, possibly your legs, arms, and shoulder.  I often attach an e-stim machine, an electronic stimulation machine made especially for acupuncture treatments.  Leads are attached to the needles with tiny clamps and a very low level of electric current is introduced.  This is not painful; in fact, many patients find it is soothing.  Estim is one of my favorite protocols for pain in general, especially back pain.  Sometimes I use a heat lamp with Moxa balm, especially for chronic pain. Moxibustion is the burning of the Chinese herb Ai Ye(Mugwort leaf).  I can’t burn in my treatment room so I combine the herb in a balm form with the use of a heat lamp to get the same effect.  You get to rest for 20-30-minute rest on the table, although I check on you periodically, especially if this is your first treatment.

When your treatment is over, the needles are removed and counted.  I ask how you are feeling and tell you what you may expect over the next few days.  The number of treatments usually depends on how long you had the issue.   Acute pain in a young patient may resolve in several visits.  Chronic sciatica may take numerous treatments to improve.

Your next few appointments are scheduled so that you can get the time you want, and I remind you to pay attention to how you are feeling.  Some patients may feel some tenderness after their first treatment, but most after treatment but experience significant pain reduction.

Naturally, you may call us anytime between visits if you have any questions or concerns.

See, it’s not so bad, and there is a good chance that you will feel better in a short period of time.  Make an appointment; you have nothing to lose but your back-ache.