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FAQs Acupuncture

All you need to know about acupuncture at Virtue Acupuncture in North West London

Image by Katherine Hanlon

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that originated in China approximately 2500 years ago. It is regarded as an effective treatment for many health conditions and is widely practised across the globe. It is based on the belief that life energy, called Qi (pronounced "chi"), flows through and around your body along pathways called meridians. These meridians intersect at specific points along your body, known as acupoints. Injury, disease or emotional distress can block the free flow of Qi along these meridians, leading to pain or illness. The main aim of Acupuncture is to move the Qi within this system to tonify deficiency and reduce excess and clear blockages.  

In modern times, more and more people have begun to take more interest in Acupuncture. As a result, the popularity of Acupuncture has been growing more and more. That being said, a lot of people have a lot of questions about Acupuncture. While some people know a lot about Acupuncture already, others may have some more questions.  This is why we have put together a collection of some of the most common Acupuncture FAQs along with the answers.

If you are considering Acupuncture for pain relief, improving your general health or other specific reasons, we hope that this page will help you understand Acupuncture better.

Acupuncture FAQs and Answers

General Questions

Is acupuncture for me?


Many people that seek Acupuncture have already been through medical treatments and have failed to see the desired benefits from these approaches. As a result, they want to try Acupuncture as an alternative treatment and the most popular alternative medicine practice available today. Acupuncture is used to relieve specific aches and pains, such as osteoarthritis of the knee, TMJ, headaches and low back pain, or common health problems like an overactive bladder. Some people use acupuncture to help with more general symptoms or feel unwell but have no obvious diagnosis. Others choose to have treatment as a preventative measure to help maintain good health or improve their well-being. There is no age limit for acupuncture treatment. Some health conditions may stop you from receiving acupuncture or mean that the treatment should be used with caution. Pregnancy does not preclude Acupuncture or its benefits, but it is vital to advise the practitioner if pregnant. It is not unusual that even pregnant women have Acupuncture throughout their pregnancy. Babies and children may be treated with acupressure instead of the use of needles.




Does Acupuncture feel good?


Yes, acupuncture feels good! Acupuncture needles are nothing like hypodermic needles. They are generally very fine and solid. Most people will not even know that the needles have been inserted. Sometimes little discomfort with a mild tingle or dull ache may be felt when the acupuncture point is reached. Many people feel deeply relaxed during the Acupuncture Treatment, and some fall asleep during treatment. If the patient has severe needle phobia, plenty of alternatives and other therapies can be utilised to stimulate the acupuncture points to good effect without needles.




Is acupuncture safe?


When performed by a properly trained professional, Acupuncture is safe, and the risk of adverse events from Acupuncture is low. Sterile only-use disposable needles are used so there is no chance of infection or contagion. Acupuncture is almost certainly a lot safer than any medication you may be taking for your complaint.




How many acupuncture sessions will I need?


Weekly Acupuncture Sessions are typical, to begin with, reducing in frequency as your body responds. The effect is usually felt within five or six acupuncture Treatments. Occasionally just one or two Acupuncture Sessions are sufficient. However, a great deal depends not only on the seriousness of the problems someone has in combination with the length of time they have had them but also on the person's constitutional strength. A healthy person can have a severe illness and recover quickly, whereas an unhealthy person can have a relatively minor condition that can last for years. Considering the treatment expectations, sufficient review periods will be set aside to look at progress. Please feel free to complete an MYMOP questionnaire to measure the outcomes of the Acupuncture Treatment.




What are the side effects of acupuncture?


Most people don’t experience the adverse side effects of Acupuncture. However, depending on individual circumstances and the patient's general health condition, some individuals may experience some non-life-threatening minor side effects from the Acupuncture Treatment. People sometimes report feeling a bit spacey after an Acupuncture Treatment. For this reason, you should give yourself time to relax before driving or jumping straight into work or other duties. The result of an Acupuncture treatment usually continues for several days after the session.​ The most commons side effects of Acupuncture are:

  • drowsiness occurs after treatment in a small number of patients, and, if affected, you are advised not to drive
  • minor bleeding or bruising occurs after treatment in about 3% of treatments
  • pain during treatment occurs in about 1% of treatments
  • existing symptoms can get worse after treatment (less than 3% of patients)
  • fainting can occur in certain patients, particularly at the first treatment.




Can I be a blood donor after having Acupuncture?


As there is no regulation of the Acupuncture profession, the blood donor service has decided not to accept blood from anyone who has had Acupuncture within the previous four months. The is due to the minimal risk of hepatitis, which can be a problem if proper hygiene procedures are not followed. Rest assured that we do everything possible to minimise this risk.




Should my doctor know that I am planning to have Acupuncture Treatment?


If you have been prescribed medication, we recommend telling your doctor that you plan to have Acupuncture. Do not stop taking your medication. It would be best if you tell your acupuncturist about any medication and supplements you are taking. Please note that BAcC Registered Acupuncturists (The British Acupuncture Council) are trained to recognise potentially serious underlying health conditions and will refer you to your GP if they consider it appropriate.




Will my health insurance pay for acupuncture?


Most health insurance policies cover the cost of treatments with BAA Registered Acupuncturists. You should check with your insurer directly.




Is acupuncture painful?


Acupuncture needles are nothing like hypodermic needles. They are generally very fine and solid. Most people will not even know that the needles have been inserted. Sometimes little discomfort with a mild tingle or dull ache may be felt when the Acupuncture point is reached, but it won´t last more than a few seconds.




How should I prepare for my acupuncture treatment?


Needles are usually placed on the extremities of your body. Hence, it is best to wear loose-fitting clothes, such as the type of kit you would typically wear for sporting activities or anything similar. However, in some cases, you might need to strip down to your underwear. The practitioner will leave the room and provide some draping to ensure modesty while you get undress. You are welcome to bring a chaperone/friend into the room. Also, try to avoid heavy meals just before your Acupuncture Treatment.




How does Acupuncture work?


How Acupuncture works is still a mystery from the Western scientific point of view. However, it makes sense when the question is approached from the Chinese understanding of reality. Anatomy in Chinese medicine is not based on the mechanistic understanding of muscles and bones but on meridians/channels that run along the body. These meridians compromise skin, muscles, bones and everything in between, but they are understood from a functional point of view. For example, the feeling along the arm when having a heart attack follows exactly the heart meridian/channel pathway as described in Chinese texts. Although this can be currently explained in relation to the C3-C4 spinal nerves that innervate the heart, the idea of a nervous system was absent 2000 years ago yet they were able to find relationships between the organs and the somatic pain. Similarly, the relationship between gallbladder stones and shoulder pain can be explained by the gallbladder meridian/channel.




Can children and teenagers have Acupuncture?


Acupuncture is safe for children and teenagers.





What should I expect from my first acupuncture session?

Taking your medical history


Generally, your first Acupuncture consultation will be longer than follow-up sessions due to the initial interview. You will be asked questions about your current symptoms and your health history. The follow-up sessions would usually take less time. During your initial interview, we may ask questions that appear irrelevant to your main complaint, but those are important for us to have a holistic view of the issue you are coming with. The standard questionnaire may include questions about your medication, diet, sleeping patterns, digestive and urinary functions, sexual function, menstrual period, emotional quality, and a basic stress level. We want to know about you as a person, not just as a patient with complaints. We are here to listen to you and take your views into account, respecting your individuality and preferences so we can have a complete understanding of your concerns. You will have enough time to express your concerns and come up with questions at any time during the consultation.




Body diagnosis


Needles are usually placed on the extremities of your body. Hence, it is best to wear loose-fitting clothes, such as the type of kit you would typically wear for sporting activities or anything similar. However, in some cases, you might need to strip down to your underwear. The practitioner will leave the room and provide some draping to ensure modesty while you get undress. You are welcome to bring a chaperone/friend into the room. The body diagnosis comes after the initial interview, and it is where we may feel for areas of muscular tension or pain. Taking the pulse in both wrists is the cornerstone of any Chinese medicine diagnosis as it gives the practitioner information about your energetic body from the Chinese point of view. That will take a minute or so, and you will experience it several times during and after the treatment. Tongue diagnosis is another fundamental diagnostic technique as the tongue is thought to be a 'microcosm' of the entire body. It is important not to scrape or brush your tongue on the day of your treatment, as your tongue colour, coating, and shape will be checked. Additionally, eating highly coloured foods or drinking highly coloured drinks may impede diagnosis.




Placing the needles


Having all the above information into account, the practitioner will make the diagnosis and proceed with the Acupuncture Treatment, which will consist of the gentle insertion of 3 to 6 single-use sterile needles. It may also involve the use of moxibustion (the burning of a medical herb either directly on the body or indirectly from an inch or so away). Needles will stay for about 20 minutes, and the final removal of the needles is usually painless. To check the side effects of Acupuncture, please click here. How deep do the needles go? In general, the depth will depend on the area and the body constitution of the patient. Needles on the belly will go deeper than needles on the skull, and skinny patients will have thinner and shorter needles. Some specific points will need to go deeper, but there is no need to worry about that. In most cases, the deeper it goes, the less you feel it.




During the consultation


Consultation time is your time! You can enjoy it relaxing in a safe and quiet environment, having a casual chat with the practitioner or feeding your curiosity with questions.




After the consultation


Every consultation is followed by advice about aftercare. The practitioner loves supporting patients in caring for themselves to improve and maintain their health and wellbeing. He will use visuals or models (where possible) to explain your concerns from the Chinese point of view in a way you can understand, helping you to take control of your health. He will also consider the contributions of other health and care professionals to optimise your care when necessary. We treat your details confidentially. You can rest assured that what you tell us always remains confidential.