What to Expect when Visiting your Acupuncturist for the First Time

Your best acupuncture  treatment is based on a good diagnosis. An acupuncture diagnosis is based on the basic techniques outlined in the fourth century B.C. by Pien Chueh: listening, observing, smelling, questioning and pulse diagnosing.

On your first visit to the acupuncturist, your pulse and blood pressure will be taken. Chinese pulse diagnosis is a more complicated science than just counting heart beats detected at your wrist. A Chinese doctor may check your pulse at six different, well-defined locations on your wrists: three superficial and three deep. These pulses reflect the condition of your twelve meridians and may be compared to each other to detect an excess or deficiency.

Your acupuncturist will also visually inspect your tongue thoroughly for size, shape, color and the existence of teeth marks around the edges. A healthy tongue is pink. A pale tongue reflects a deficiency. Red or purple tongues are classified as abnormal. A tongue that is glossy and pale indicates that you are suffering from a long-standing problem. Western medicine now recognizes that some conditions such as Candida infection, anemia, or acute Streptococcal infection can be detected by the appearance of the tongue. Besides your tongue, your acupuncturist may observe your face, paying close attention to the appearance of your complexion, lips, and eyes.

You may be asked about your lifestyle and habits. Questions about your eating habits and possible sources of stress in your life are quite likely. Do you stand or sit at work? Do you eat a lot of spicy foods? Do your symptoms increase or decrease after eating? You may also get asked about your sleeping patterns. How much sleep do you get at night? What is the temperature of the room where you sleep?

Your acupuncturist will also listen to your breathing and inspect your body for tender spots. In the end, you will receive a treatment tailor-made specifically for you–more customized than a typical “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” response.

After visually inspecting you and asking questions, your acupuncturist may feel different parts of your body and may even massage different parts of your body–especially your feet. Then the needles are inserted and you will be told to relax. It seems a little strange to be told to relax when getting poked with needles, but it is just that easy. You will now have a resting period from ten to thirty minutes while the acupuncture works its magic. Sometimes needles are inserted for as little as thirty seconds, but that is an exception.

It is possible that during your rest period, your acupuncturist will use moxibustion. Moxa is the dried leaf of a plant (Atemisia vulgaris). Moxibustion is the process of warming acupuncture points by burning moxa. I have seen it done two different ways. One is that a small amount of moxa is attached to the end of an inserted needle and burned. The other is that the burning moxa is held just above your skin (about 1 1/2 inches away). The result of both methods is to transfer heat into your body at those points. I find it a very pleasing sensation and the smells of moxibustion will bring back memories of the last rock concert you attended.

After the needle is inserted, there may be additional needle movement like spinning the needle or moving the needle up and down. These movements provide additional stimulation to the acupuncture point.

You never know where the acupuncturist will need to insert needles. Leave as much skin accessible as possible. Before your visit, you may want to find out what to wear. When I go, I wear short pants, a short-sleeved shirt and sandals. That way, my acupuncturist has access to those points he needs on my arms, legs and feet. Some facilities are more like a spa, where you disrobe and cover up with a towel.

One thing that may strike you as odd is that the needles may get inserted in areas far remote from the problem area on your body. You may get a needle stuck in your foot to help you relieve your migraine headaches. It all depends on the location of the acupuncture point controlling a specific meridian associated with your disorder.

At the end of your rest period, your acupuncturist will return and remove the needles. Depending on what your diagnosis is, you may be asked to inhale or exhale during needle insertion and/or removal.

Before sending you home, your acupuncturist may ask you to take some herbs. Part of TCM is the practice of ingesting Chinese herbs. There are five different ways that herbs may be administered.

1) Pills: powered herbs are formed into hard pills

2) Powders: herbs dried and ground up

3) Decoctions: raw herbs are placed in water and then boiled. The liquid is strained off and drunk like a tea.

4) Syrups: the herbs are boiled until thick and syrupy, then sweetened with sugar or honey and taken like cough syrup.

5) Plasters: the herbs are added to heated oil and applied externally. This is typically used for skin conditions or joint and muscle pain

You may or may not choose to take herbs. I always take the herbs. I don’t believe in doing something halfway. If you are to try a new modality to cure your health woes, you should follow all the instructions completely before you are able to judge whether it works or not.

Along with the herbs, you may be given diet instruction: foods to eat, foods to avoid. You may be asked to avoid iced drinks or spicy foods or even foods high in potassium.

Acupuncture has been widely accepted for a handful of health problems like morning sickness, relief from chemotherapy, and substance addictions. I had not heard of it being used specifically for sufferers of Meniere’s disease until I read the book Acupuncture: A Viable Medical Alternative by Marie Cargill. In it, Cargill relates a case study of how she treated a man with Meniere’s disease. Through acupuncture, she was able to eliminate all the associated symptoms he had been suffering. I would highly recommend you read her book if for nothing other than her personal story in the introduction. She tells how acupuncture helped her mother. It is both a powerful and eye-opening story.

Shortly after reading that book, I saw mention of Meniere’s disease at the web site for the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. In their FAQ, the World Health Organization lists conditions to treat with acupuncture. Included in the list is Meniere’s disease (referred to as Meniere’s syndrome).

 

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