I’ve always been about the facts, about the evidence and scientific grounding; my background in history, sociology and product development (paired with a very logical mind) means there’s often no space for fluff and flippery, which makes my interest in acupuncture all the more unexpected. For the last 18 months I’ve been visiting an acupuncturist regularly (roughly every fortnight) to tackle all number of niggles and issues, and after every session I feel entirely invigorated. What started as a mild interest has evolved into something that’s fully integrated into my lifestyle and helps to alleviate any issues that crop up; it’s as much of my routine as going to the gym or getting my nails done, because the benefits it brings are so far reaching.
I know there’s a lot of intrigue around the techniques and a lot of questions I get across social media (because I’m so vocal about my use of acupuncture,) so I thought it was about time I shared my personal experiences and debunked a lot of myths – as much as I understand from having spent many hours laying on a table with needles protruding from every part of my body! So if you’ve ever been intrigued or wanted to try acupuncture for yourself, here’s everything you need to know about acupuncture and all your questions (hopefully!) answered…
What Is Acupuncture?
A technique refined over thousands of years, acupuncture is a one of the longest forms of healthcare in the world. Based on the idea that the body has a flow of energy through channels known as ‘meridians’, fine needles are inserted into points across the body to aid the flow of energy and trigger your body’s healing response in order to restore physical, emotional and mental equilibrium. What’s fascinating about acupuncture is that it’s not just designed to treat specific symptoms, but bring your entire being into balance – so in the long term it can positively impact your overall sense of wellness.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Fine needles of varying sizes (dependent upon the placement and need) are placed into any number of acupuncture points along the body’s meridians, mostly across the lower arms and legs. Western medicine believes these needles stimulate sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles, resulting in the body producing pain-relieving endorphins or stimulating repair; Chinese practitioners believe that when there’s a disruption in the flow of energy (or Chi,) the body presents illness or ailments, and that these pressure points help the flow to be restored or optimised. I can buy into both.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
From my experience, around 75% of the needles are inserted without me even feeling them; I really have to concentrate to feel any kind of sensation, which your acupuncturist will ask you to recognise so they know the needle has been inserted correctly. There are more tender areas than others (I personally feel more on my hands and some areas of my feet) but it’s really not at all painful – more of a very quick, short and sharp flash that’s over before you’ve even sensed it. Similarly, once the needles are in place I personally can rarely feel them at all; the sensation can be a warmth radiating from the centre of the acupuncture point, or the gentle feeling of energy flowing (I tend to feel it in my right arm and leg,) but it’s a very relaxing experience rather than one fueled by discomfort or anxiety.
Where Do They Place Acupuncture Needles?
The majority of needles are placed in the lower arms and legs, the hands and the feet. However, for more targeted treatments needles can be inserted direct into areas of discomfort or pain. You may be surprised as to where you end up with needles too, as often they’re placed in a completely different location to where you’d anticipate – this goes back to the idea of ‘meridians’ or energy flow, and how the needles can help to unblock and create balance to remove pain or discomfort.
In a usual session I tend to have around five needles in each leg and another three in each arm, with often more targeted insertion on my face or tummy. I’ve had them pretty much everywhere from top to toe, and the worst was by far just under the nail of my middle finger; this stung, but it’s so quick it’s over before you’ve even recognised the sensation. Needles are left in situ for around 30-45 minutes, while often towards the end of the session smaller needles are quickly inserted and removed to boost energy flow.
What Can Acupuncture Help With?
I started having acupuncture for a damaged rotator cuff (a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint,) and it was the only thing to make a real difference; I tried physiotherapy, massage, strengthening exercises and everything in-between, but it got so bad that at one point I couldn’t even carry my own handbag. After being recommended to try acupuncture by a few friends and family members, I gave it a go but didn’t expect much at all – but within a few sessions I was so much improved that I’ve kept it up every since. (Read my blog post from a year ago here!)
Since then I’ve used acupuncture to aid everything from a sprained ankle and hayfever, to a chest infection and insomnia; it really helped restore my periods last year after they pretty much dried up altogether, and recently it’s been easing the discomfort I get after lengthy motorway drives that leave my hip and knee incredibly sore. Honestly, there’s pretty much nothing acupuncture seemingly can’t help with. Even when I don’t have a specific issue or complaint, I go just for an overall sense of wellbeing and balance as it leaves me feeling ready to face the challenges that lay ahead for me that week.
Acupuncture is even recognised and available (in some areas) on the NHS as a way to manage pain, migraines or symptoms of illness, so it’s not just mumbo jumbo!
How Do You Feel During & After An Acupuncture Appointment?
During my hour long session I’m incredibly relaxed; I close my eyes and most of the time feel like I’m drifting off to sleep, letting go of any anxieties or worries that may lay ahead. After the session I have a ‘zen’ like feeling, where positivity and calmness take over for the rest of the day – that’s why I have my appointments on a Monday morning, to set my week up well! Usually I sleep really well the night of an acupuncture appointment and the noticeable effects last a few days, although there’s significant improvement from one appointment to the next when it comes to targeting niggles or issues.
How Many Acupuncture Appointments Do You Need To Get Results?
It completely depends on the reasons for going, but it’s recommended that you stick with it in the long-term to get the best results. It took me about three months to see a big improvement in my shoulder, and the same for my periods, but often I notice a significant improvement in mobility or discomfort after only one session – even when standing up from the table I can feel an immediate difference! The best advice I can give is to discuss your needs and desires with your acupuncturist and decide on a course of treatment that works for you. Don’t experience miracles within one appointment!
How Do You Find A Good Acupuncturist?
The British Acupuncture Council has an online register of all its members, so you can search for accredited practioners by your postcode; this is how I found my acupuncturist, but it’s also important to find someone you gel with – they need to understand your needs and help you get the results you want. The reason I keep going back to my clinic is because my acupuncturist knows everything about my life and we end up having a general chat for the first 10-15mins!
MY FINAL THOUGHTS…
Over the last 18 months I’ve spoken to so many other people about acupuncture and have never heard a negative story or experience; I know friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances who have used it successfully for everything from managing headaches caused by a benign brain tumor, to immobility following a car accident and fertility issues. I’m a total convert and really look forward to my sessions, so much that it’s part of my non-negotiable monthly budget. (FYI my sessions are £50 for an hour, but prices vary depending upon where you are and what you book.)
I love the fact that it’s a whole wellbeing experience: my acupuncturist asks about lifestyle factors (sleep, periods, poop, diet…) as it’s a treatment that works not only on the symptoms, but on the body as a whole. Since I’ve been having acupuncture I feel more in control of my body and mind, and have a solution when any issues crop up – rather than just waiting for them to go away or having to deal with a much bigger issue down the line.
Although I’m not in a position to speak from a medical point of view, if you’re open minded, haven’t found success elsewhere or just want to give something new a go, I would 100% recommend a little acupuncture. It’s worked for me.