Firsts are freaky, but they don’t have to be. In Her Campus’ series My First Time, we’re answering the burning questions you might be uncomfortable asking about IRL. In this article, we tackle everything you need to know about getting acupuncture for the first time.
I had a spinal tap in 2015 and ever since then, I’ve had chronic back pain. I went to orthopedic doctors and neurologists, but no one could find anything physically wrong with my back. I was treated with pain medications ranging from Tylenol to Oxycodone, and still could not find peace. So, I decided it was time to put Eastern medicinal methods to the test when Western methods have failed to help. That’s how I came to schedule an appointment to have acupuncture done despite being extremely afraid of needles.
However, getting acupuncture done was much easier than I ever thought it would be. Even though I made my mom come with me to the clinic for moral support and hold my hand, all she really did was take pictures of me with the needles in my skin.
I’ve been searching for something to help with my chronic pain, and I think I’ve finally found it! Acupuncture has helped me so much, and with Gen Z’s interest in holistic medicine and therapy, it’s bound to get bigger than ever with the current generation. So, I talked to my acupuncturist, Melanie Andreen, L.Ac., a board-certified acupuncturist in the state of South Carolina, to get the scoop on what everyone needs to know about getting acupuncture for the first time.
Wait, WTF is acupuncture, and how do I start?
According to the Acupuncture Clinic, where Andreen is one of two experts, acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine that is thousands of years old. Essentially, it’s when thin needles are inserted into certain points in the body (acupuncture points) to stimulate the central nervous system.
“We don’t know how the originators knew what they knew, but now with machines, we can see some of the ways [acupuncture] works,” Andreen tells Her Campus. “[Acupuncture] uses needles to stimulate nerves in the central and peripheral nervous system to ignite the body’s own defense systems to heal the body.”
But finding an acupuncturist takes a good amount of effort. Like any procedure — tattoos, surgeries, you name it — taking the time to research is essential. “Look for a board-certified acupuncturist,” Andreen recommends. “They would have had to go to an accredited acupuncture school and have passed three rigorous sets of exams.”
Some red flags Andreen mentions are if you feel like the acupuncturist is not listening to your needs or if a consultation is not free, as reputable and courteous clinics usually make them. “Not all states require a board certification like states Alabama and Maryland. You want them to be certified,” Andreen says. “Schools teach varying styles of acupuncture, but boards require additional learning. [It is] possible to puncture organs if someone is not qualified.”
Does it hurt/can it be harmful?
As someone who was terrified of needles before meeting Andreen, my first assumption about acupuncture was that it was painful and could somehow hurt me. However, that really isn’t the case for most acupuncture procedures. Oftentimes, the worst part about the whole thing is the possible, mild side effects. “A common side effect is slight bruising at the insertion sight and can result in an electrical charge stimulus,” Andreen says. “But, the needles are so small, you very rarely feel them entering.”
While sometimes you can feel the needle enter your skin, you don’t feel the actual sharpness of the prick. Instead, you feel a pulse and it’s similar (I think) to lightly hitting your knee at the doctor’s office.
What information do I need to provide before acupuncture?
I’m just as shy as the next person when discussing my health issues, but it is super important to give your acupuncturist an honest and detailed history of your health.
Andreen says, “Acupuncture is a body in balance. One of the best ways to see how the body is working is through the digestive system. We come in with our genetic map from our parents and the way we help or hurt our future is based on our lifestyle.”
While the whole body is important, your acupuncturist will mostly ask about digestion in order to understand how your body is functioning in its current lifestyle.
“Acupuncture never is for one issue,” Andreen says. “Even if you hurt your knee, the body is still out of balance and working to heal your knee at a deficit.”
Where will needles go usually?
According to Andreen, some issues have similar approaches, but every patient and every condition is unique. “Your body is its own ecosystem and needs to be treated uniquely.” Andreen elaborates, “[If] you want to plant a garden, you can’t just make the soil great. You need water and sunlight for it all to work together.” In acupuncture, you don’t just treat something that is bothering you, you treat the body to make sure everything is working in harmony.
Andreen simply tells Her Campus, “[The needles are in the skin for] a minimum of fifteen minutes, but the sweet spot is thirty minutes.” As for what to do during those fifteen to thirty minutes? “Relax. Let your body work,” Andreen says.
And, if you want to tap out, you totally can! Remember: You are in control. “We know what we want our needles to do, but it is such an individual medicine,” Andreen says. “No two reactions are exactly the same.”
What do I need to do after acupuncture?
Personally, acupuncture makes me feel like I’m floating on water and afterward, all I want to do is nap and eat — which is pretty much exactly what you should do. “Drink lots of water to flush any toxins out of the body that the circulation has prompted and rest,” Andreen says. “Acupuncture continues to work 24-48 hours after. I recommend that if patients work out, work out before the appointment.”
How many times do I need to do acupuncture to feel a difference in my body?
This is a super tricky question because every body, and how it works, is so different. “To start, try three times within a seven to ten-day period,” Andreen recommends. “Acupuncture is a cumulative medicine: You have to build up the momentum until a change occurs, then you can wait longer between appointments.”
Andreen told me in my consultation not to give up prior to eight treatments. But, if there was no change after eight, acupuncture probably wouldn’t work for me. Luckily, it did.
Acupuncture has been wonderful to my body so far and I’m so excited to continue and see how amazing it feels to be free of chronic pain. While the practice can seem intimidating, acupuncture can definitely be a great way to take care of your body — and after the first time, you’ll wonder why you were even nervous to begin with.