An acupuncture treatment involves a consultation where health issues are discussed in detail and diagnosis is made in accordance with the established methods of Chinese medicine (palpation, tongue examination and reading of the radial pulses). The treatment will then commence, as explained below.
How a Diagnosis is made
Palpation: Often the acupuncturist will gently press the body in various places to establish areas of tenderness, tension or softness. This will often correspond to meridan theory whereby the areas of interest will not necessarily be anywhere near the ‘problem’ (i.e. I may palpate your foot to learn more about your headache.)
Tongue Examination: Yes, I will ask you to stick your tongue out at me! The tongue will often give clues to what is happening internally, and I will be looking at shape, coating and colour. Please do not brush your tongue before an appointment, I need to see it in all its natural glory!
Pulse taking: This is the part which fascinates and confuses patients in equal measure! By feeling the radial pulse, acupuncturists are able to tell a great deal about which areas and organs of the body may require the most attention. On each wrist there are six different pulse positions, which correspond to a total of twelve different areas / functions of the body. Pulse-taking also works as an instant feedback system – when the needles are inserted the pulses are used to establish how the body is reacting to the treatment, specific to certain areas.
The acupuncturist then selects several points on the body to use and inserts a small number of ultra-fine needles into the body for approximately 20 minutes, whilst the patient relaxes on a treatment couch. Occasionally the needle may cause a sharp sensation or tenderness when inserted, but this often subsides in a few moments (See ‘What does it feel like?’ for further explanation). The needles are much, much finer than a hypodermic needle used for injections (and are solid not hollow), and so are often not felt at all.
As with palpation, the location of the needles does not usually correlate to where the issue is – for example a headache may be treated with a needle in the lower leg. The patient may or may not need to remove clothing, but if so then towels are used to cover up and keep the body warm and comfortable.
Patients should generally take it easy after a treatment for the rest of the day, as much as is possible with busy lives and work patterns. They may feel slightly ‘spaced out’ and more relaxed, although this depends on what was being treated. Sometimes the effects of the treatment are not felt until two or three days afterwards and very occasionally a patient may experience a worsening of symptoms for 24 hours or so before there is a ’shift’ and the improvement is felt.