If you’ve never tried acupuncture, the prospect of transforming yourself into a human pincushion of sorts can be a little unnerving. Nevertheless, the 2,000-year-old Chinese practice has been gaining popularity stateside as alternative medicine and therapies go mainstream. If you’ve been considering trying it out, you probably have a lot of questions—like, does it hurt though? (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t!) To tackle them, we chatted with Alyssa Melody, licensed acupuncturist and owner of a Cali-based acupuncture clinic, about how beginners can get the most out of treatment.
Below, six of the most salient acupuncture truths to keep in mind before giving it a go.
Acupuncture can treat more than just physical pain
While it’s true that acupuncture is often used to treat chronic pain and injury-related pain, it can also ease a boatload of mentally rooted issues. “Acupuncture traditionally was a mental, emotional, spiritual medicine,” explains Alyssa Melody, L.Ac., M.S. “Many of the point names and functions are deeply rooted in spirit, making it helpful for anxiety, depression, and insomnia.” Addictive behaviors such as overeating and smoking are also candidates for acupuncture treatment.
There’s no need to pop an ibuprofen before treatment
While the notion of puncturing your skin with tens of needles may sound painful, the reality is that it’s virtually painless. “Acupuncture needles are very thin, almost hairlike,” Melody explains, “About 20 of our needles can fit into the tip of a hypodermic needle” (i.e. needles used for immunizations). Although a slight pinch upon insertion is a possibility, it’s extremely minimal and dissipates instantly. “Once the needles are in,” Melody notes, “many people fall asleep and have a feeling of deep relaxation that lasts for hours after the treatment.” Bottom line: the overall experience is less ouch, more aaah.
Acupuncture is recognized as a legit medical treatment
“It’s a misconception that acupuncture is a ‘woo-woo’ energy medicine without Western science validity,” Melody says. In fact, many medical institutions recommend acupuncture. Organizations including the US Military have dabbled in the practice; both the NIH and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize it as a valid treatment, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds many clinical research trials on acupuncture. Unfortunately, not all insurances cover acupuncture, but an increasing number are beginning to.
Acupuncture is actually a preventative medicine
You don’t have to be in physical pain or in the depths of emotional turmoil to validate a visit to an acupuncturist. “Traditionally,” Melody notes, “acupuncture was used as a treatment people received regularly to maintain overall health.” Her advice for activating acupuncture’s preventative powers: work routinely with one single acupuncturist who can get to know your body extremely well. That way, it’s more likely they’ll be able to predict and prevent any conditions before they arise. On that note…
You need to be totally comfortable with your acupuncturist
Acupuncture can get personal; after all, you’re honing in on elements of your lifestyle that cause mental and physical strain. “It is really important to have a good rapport with your practitioner,” urges Melody, who says you should feel comfortable talking about everything from bowel movements to what keeps you up at night. As with finding a soulmate, it may take a few tries before you find a practitioner you truly jive with… but once you do, you’re in for a much better experience.
Acupuncture is a commitment—not a one-off cure all
Similar to other medical treatments, the number of times you come in for acupuncture depends on what you’re dealing with. “For acute situations, we might ask someone to come in one to two times a week until the condition is resolved, which might take up to six sessions,” Melody explains. “For chronic conditions, people might come once a week for up to six to ten sessions.” If you’re looking to maintain overall health and keep stress at bay, receiving treatments once or twice a month should do the trick.
Have you tried acupuncture before? We’d love to know your thoughts!