Understanding Acupuncture

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At its core, acupuncture is a health technique that involves the insertion of thin needles at specific points on the body. This practice is rooted in the concept of Qi (pronounced ‘chee’), or life energy, that flows within us. When Qi is balanced, we experience good health. However, when it’s disrupted, illness can occur. Acupuncture is believed to restore this balance, thus promoting overall wellness.

The History and Principles of Acupuncture

Acupuncture dates back at least 2,500 years, making it one of the oldest healing practices in the world. Originating in China, it was initially practiced using stone knives or long sharp bones. Over time, metals like bronze, gold, and silver were used. Today, we use sterile, thin, stainless-steel needles.

In terms of principles, acupuncture relies on the concept of Yin and Yang, two opposing yet complementary forces. Health is perceived as a balance between these forces. Furthermore, the body is thought to contain twelve main meridians, or pathways, through which Qi flows. Illness occurs when there’s a blockage or imbalance in these pathways. Acupuncture aims to correct this, promoting the natural flow of Qi.

Acupuncture from a Western Medicine Perspective


When acupuncture needles are inserted into acupoints, they can activate sensory receptors under the skin and in the muscles. This stimulates the nerves, sending signals to the brain and spinal cord. The brain then releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers, and enkephalins, which help reduce pain perception.

Additionally, acupuncture can affect the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, and immune response. By stimulating specific acupuncture points, acupuncture can help regulate these functions and promote overall balance in the body.

Research has also shown that acupuncture can increase blood flow in the treated area, which can aid in healing. Increased blood flow brings more oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, helping them repair and regenerate.

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Preparing for Your Acupuncture Treatment

What to Expect During Your Initial Consultation

Your first visit at Centre of Balance typically involves a comprehensive health history assessment. Your practitioner may ask about your present symptoms, lifestyle, diet, and emotional state etc. In order to save time in the first appointment (and save you money) you can fill in our free initial pre-exam questionnaire. This no-cost, no-obligation questionnaire will be reviewed by one of our practitioners to assess whether we can help with your condition or not.

In addition to taking your history during your initial examination, we also undertake diagnostic exams. We may take your pulse, examine your tongue, and palpate your abdomen. We may also check for tender areas along the blood vessels if necessary. The initial examination usually takes up to 60 minutes, with each subsequent acupuncture treatment session lasting between 30 – 60 minutes. However, the actual time the needles stay in your body is usually from 15 to 30 minutes.

The Acupuncture Process Explained

The Role of Needles in Acupuncture

Acupuncture needles play a crucial role in the treatment process. These are not your ordinary needles; they’re much thinner (almost hair-like) and flexible. The acupuncturist inserts these needles into specific points on your body (acupoints), which correspond to the pathways or meridians. The needle acts as a conduit, redirecting and balancing the flow of Qi where it’s needed.

What Happens When Needles Are Retained

‘Needle retention’ refers to the length of time the needles stay inserted during a session. During this time, patients often report feeling relaxed and even euphoric. This is attributed to the release of endorphins, our body’s natural painkillers, triggered by the needle insertion. Some people may also experience a sensation known as ‘De Qi’ or ‘the arrival of Qi’, which feels like a dull ache or tingling around the needle.

Sensations and Discomfort During Acupuncture

Is Acupuncture Painful?

One common misconception about acupuncture is that it’s painful. However, because acupuncture needles are so thin, most people feel little to no discomfort when they are inserted. Some even find the treatment very relaxing, with many falling asleep during sessions. That said, everyone’s pain threshold is different, and some might experience mild discomfort, especially during their first session.

Managing Sensitivity or Discomfort During Treatment

If you do feel any discomfort during your acupuncture treatment, it’s crucial to communicate this to your practitioner. They can adjust the needle placement or modify the treatment approach. Deep breathing can also help manage sensitivity. Remember, while slight discomfort can be normal, severe or persistent pain is not and the practitioner should be notified immediately.

After the Treatment

Immediate Post-Treatment Care

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Post-treatment care is an essential part of the healing process. After an acupuncture session, it’s recommended to drink plenty of water to help eliminate any toxins that have been released during the treatment. Avoid strenuous activity for a few hours after the session and try to rest. You may feel relaxed or slightly drowsy, so taking it easy will help your body continue its healing process.

Understanding the Possible Immediate Effects

Some people may feel a burst of energy after an acupuncture session, while others may feel relaxed or even a bit fatigued. Rarely patients may experience a temporary worsening of symptoms as the body starts to heal. Other short-term effects can include minor bruising or bleeding at the needle sites, dizziness, or lightheadedness. Most of these effects are temporary and resolve within a few hours to a couple of days. For more information on the possible side effects of acupuncture see our article Does Acupuncture Have Side Effects?

Measuring the Results of Acupuncture

How Long Will I Need to Keep Coming?

Your course of treatment will be determined at the initial examination, at which point we will be able to give you some idea of how many acupuncture treatments you may need. This will be reassessed at each reexamination, usually about once a month. You have the right to expect that your major complaint will be addressed and treated in a direct and timely manner and we will always do our best to help you with that.

What to Expect in Terms of Results

The results of acupuncture vary greatly from person to person and from condition to condition. At Centre of Balance, we strive for a noticeable improvement at the very first visit, although depending on the condition this may sometimes not be possible (for example, if you are coming for irregular periods). If you come to see us in pain or with limited range of motion, we aim to see you leave in less pain or with an increased range of motion. It’s important to remember that acupuncture is a cumulative process, meaning its effects build up over time. Consistency is key to achieving the best results.

Long-Term Effects and Benefits

Over the long term, regular acupuncture sessions can lead to significant improvements in pain and functionality for conditions like osteoarthritis, migraines, and chronic back pain. Moreover, it can also improve sleep quality, digestive function, and overall well-being. The benefits of acupuncture go beyond symptom relief, as it aims to restore the body’s balance and promote self-healing.

Frequently Asked Questions About Acupuncture

Dealing with Anxiety Before Treatment

Feeling anxious before your first acupuncture treatment is completely normal. To ease your anxiety, consider engaging in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or listening to calming music. Additionally, you can talk to your acupuncturist about your concerns beforehand so they can offer reassurance and address any questions you may have.

Addressing Common Concerns and Misconceptions

There are several common concerns and misconceptions surrounding acupuncture, such as fear of needles, worries about pain, and doubts about its effectiveness. It’s important to remember that acupuncture has been practiced for millennia and has gained recognition for its efficacy in treating various conditions. Open communication with your acupuncturist can help dispel any myths and provide you with a better understanding of what to expect.

Final Considerations Before Your Acupuncture Appointment

Before embarking on your acupuncture journey, it’s essential to approach it with an open mind and a willingness to embrace a holistic approach to healing. By understanding the principles, process, and potential outcomes of acupuncture, you can make the most of your treatment and have a positive experience. It’s also important to communicate openly with your acupuncturist, discussing any concerns or questions you may have. Remember that consistency is key in achieving the best results, so attending regular sessions and following any recommended lifestyle changes or self-care practices can greatly enhance the effectiveness of acupuncture. Lastly, approach your acupuncture appointment with a relaxed and open mindset, allowing yourself to fully embrace the healing process.