Interview with an Acupuncturist

By Barbara Poczyniak, R.Ac

min read

I practice a traditional style of acupuncture, based on Chinese Medicine. Here are some common questions I get about this therapy. These may be useful if you’re on the fence about getting treatment.

Did you have to go to school to learn acupuncture?

Yes! Registered Acupuncturist are licensed, board-certified professionals that have undergone rigorous education and licensing examinations. Most Acupuncture programs in North America are at least 3 years or more of full time studies. Comprehensive education includes anatomy, physiology and pathology of mainstream medicine as well as the philosophy of Chinese medicine and the acupuncture system. Due to strict guidelines in most areas of the USA and Canada, practicing Acupuncture without a license is usually no longer permitted. 

Is acupuncture the same as Chinese Medicine?

Acupuncture is a complete system of complementary medicine dating back thousands of years to ancient China. Although it is part of East Asian Medicine, it is only one modality (others include herbal medicine, bodywork, meditation and nutrition).

It is used to alleviate pain and provide relief from a wide range of physical and emotional health issues. Acupuncture is now widely practiced throughout the world, and is seen as a safe and gentle therapy that can be used on its own or as an effective adjunct therapy alongside mainstream medicine.  

Will I be covered in acupuncture needles?

Ouch – that is not how it works. Unlike what you may have seen in the movies – an acupuncture treatment rarely (if ever) uses hundreds of needles. Most treatment styles utilize anywhere from a couple of needles up to 20 or so. There are well over 400 standard acupuncture points, but well trained acupuncturists know which ones to use effectively for each individual treatment.

Acupuncture needles may be placed at different points on the body, including: feet, hands, limbs, torso, back, ears, scalp and face. Acupuncture points are chosen based on an acupuncture prescription determined by the goal of each treatment.

Why would you choose acupuncture over mainstream medicine?

Acupuncture works well alongside mainstream medicine. But there are also many instances where it may offer more relief than just conventional medicine alone . Did you know that many doctors are now recommending acupuncture to their patients as a safe, drug-free method of pain and stress relief? Studies have shown that acupuncture can help increase blood circulation by enhancing micro-circulation. It can help to relieve muscle tension, as well as help the body reduce inflammation.

Research indicates that acupuncture can help calm and balance the nervous system; as well as help increase the body’s release of endorphins. It can also help reduce the body’s over-production of stress hormones such as cortisol. Acupuncture is commonly used in conjunction with mainstream medicine, for instance as an aid to faster recovery after surgery or to help deal with unwanted side effects of chemotherapy.  Depending on the situation it can be a great supportive therapy or used effectively on its own.

Read more here on how Stress Affects the Body, and how acupuncture can help.

Are acupuncture needles reused?

Needles are sterile, single use devices that are disposed of as medical waste. They are not re-usable on other patients, or even for continuing treatments on the same patient. Registered Acupuncturists are knowledgeable in Clean Needle Technique as part of their extensive training. As licensed professionals they must also follow the safety and sanitation guidelines required by their licensing boards.

Does my insurance cover acupuncture?

Insurance coverage for Acupuncture can vary widely throughout the USA and Canada. In general it is not part of government covered health benefits. In Canada, it is not yet covered under any of the provincial government health plans.

Many third party insurance plans do include Acupuncture treatments by a Registered Acupuncturist. If in doubt, please check with your insurance company. If it is not yet included and you would like it to be, contact your insurer to tell them so. In many cases, private insurance coverage is based on demand and as more clients ask for acupuncture coverage this may change what is included.

How long does an acupuncture treatment last? 

An acupuncture treatment typically includes a brief consultation as well as the treatment. If it is a first visit, the consultation will likely be a bit longer in order to cover in-depth health history and treatment goals. Subsequent visits usually include a brief follow-up on how you are feeling since last treatment. Your practitioner will then insert the needles and give you between 20-60 minutes to relax. On average the time the needles are retained is about 30 minutes.

How painful is acupuncture?

Acupuncture needles are very thin, about the width of a cat’s whisker. There may be a slight feeling on the skin during the initial insertion, but it is usually not sharp or very painful. Once the needles are inserted, the practitioner may briefly manipulate them in order to stimulate the acupuncture point.

It is not uncommon to feel certain sensations such as a slight tingle, heaviness, warmth or even a gentle throbbing at the acupuncture point, or in areas near it. This may be momentary. If acupuncture is done properly by an experienced practitioner it should not be painful and the feeling of discomfort should be at a minimum.

What are the side effects of acupuncture?

Regardless of the reason for seeking out treatment, one of the best positive side effects of acupuncture is a relaxed, settled feeling – usually after even one treatment. With ongoing treatments patients usually also report the ‘happy side effects’ of better sleep, improved digestion and a better handle on stress management.

Negative side effects of acupuncture can sometimes be slight bruising at the site of needling. This often fades in a few days. Acupuncturists are very careful not to cause a bruise. If you are prone to bruising easily, please inform your acupuncturist prior to treatment. Patients must also inform their practitioner if they are pregnant or actively trying to become pregnant, as there are certain acupuncture points that are not used during pregnancy.

What diseases can acupuncture cure?

Acupuncture is an effective treatment for many physical and emotional conditions, but it cannot claim to cure any particular disease. Acupuncture can relieve the symptoms of a condition but also address the root of the imbalance that is causing the condition to happen in the first place. Essentially it looks to treat “the root” of what is causing an illness – not just cover up symptoms.

For this reason it can often work very well for conditions that mainstream medicine does not have an easy way to treat effectively. Unlike many medications, it does not come with any major side effects. It also views and treats the body as a whole system, rather than just as a set of parts and symptoms.

Next steps?

I offer a free 15 minute consult call to answer any questions about how acupuncture may help your specific situation, and what to expect from treatment.


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TCM, Toronto Acupuncture

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