What to expect at your first acupuncture treatment

So you’ve heard that acupuncture may be able to help your aches and pains. You’ve asked around, or googled and found an acupuncturist (maybe me?) and booked your appointment. But it can be a little daunting if you haven’t had acupuncture before and you don’t know what to expect. Let me walk you through what I do in a typical first appointment.


When you first book your appointment you’ll have an email confirmation with all the details you need including a quick online for to complete with all of your personal details. This includes some information about any medical conditions that you may have and any allergies. We will go through your medical history in more detail as part of the consultation, but it is important to make sure you fill this out so we can make sure the treatment is suitable for you.

Next, we’ll sit an have a chat. Not just a general chit chat about your day and the weather (although being in England we do often end up on that subject anyway) but more specifically about the symptoms that you are coming to get treated.

I’ll ask you how long you’ve had the problem, how it effects your life, what tends to make it better or worse, what time of day it might be better or worse and even if your symptoms change with the weather (I told you we’d get back to the weather).

We’ll then take a holistic run through of you, covering you and your physical symptoms and emotions from top to toe. From headaches, to diet, eyesight, hearing, sleeping, digestion – everything! Asking all this information helps me to bring together a whole picture of your health and wellbeing and look at any patterns that arise.

Symptoms that you may think are completely unrelated are often linked together from a Chinese Medicine perspective.

Say Ahhh!!

Jaguar with tongue showing

Next I’ll ask to take a look at your tongue. Not quite the same way as your GP. We look at a number of different things on your tongue, including the shape, colour, any markings and the coating. All of this builds up a bigger picture of your symptoms. I’ll cover some more about what we look at on your tongue in a future post. For the meantime – it’s great if you don’t brush your tongue before coming along – as that helps me see the real state of affairs.

I’ll also take your pulse, and on both wrists. Here I’m checking for the speed, the depth and a number of other characteristics. Each of the locations along your wrist representing different organs in the body and their different functions.

Piecing together the Puzzle

So now I take all these pieces of the puzzle together, and they usually fit into one or more patterns of disharmony, where things are out of balance. I look at the best acupuncture points that would be useful for your condition and whether we should incorporate some other techniques like massage, cupping or moxibustion.

Don’t worry at this stage if these things sound like I’m speaking Chinese. I always make sure I explain what I will be doing before we get started.

Do I need to undress?

Generally no. But. it does depend on what symptoms I am treating, most of the time you will just need to roll up you trousers and sleeves as a lot of the acupuncture points we use are on the ankles and feet. Sometimes I’ll need to get to your back so you may need to remove a little more. It’s a good idea to wear loose comfortable clothing that can be easily adjusted. Where possible I’ll also make sure you are covered with towels or a blanket.

Where will the needles go?

There are over 365 points on the body that we can use, saying that, I certainly won’t be using them all. As I mentioned above often points are on your lower legs and wrists, occasionally on your head and abdomen. Or we can do a treatment with you laying face down and use points on your back.

I will explain where I am going to be putting the needles throughout the treatment and you are always welcome to ask me more about the treatment. If you feel uncomfortable with any of the points you can just let me know, as there is usually a good alternative.

Does it hurt?

If you are not fond of needles, rest assured, acupuncture needles are very fine and noting like those used for injections. You often won’t feel the needles as they go in. The sensation can be one of tingling or heaviness, it might travel along your arm and leg.  It can feel a little strange at the start, but you soon get used to the feeling and most people find it very relaxing.

How long do the needles stay in?

Again this may vary from person to person, but usually 20-30 minutes. It will depend on other techniques that I use and what we are trying to achieve. I leave you there to relax. Sometimes I may leave the room for a short time (don’t worry I’m always nearby if you need anything) other times I’ll sit quietly and let you relax.

What happens next?

After you’ve had some time to relax, I’ll take the needles out. After the treatment you will usually feel really relaxed, possibly a little sleepy, sometimes more energised. It’s a good idea to pay attention to how you feel over the next few days. I will always chat to you some more about what you might expect and you are always welcome to get in touch if you have any questions between your appointments.

Phew!! You’ve made it through your first acupuncture treatment. I’m sure you have some more questions feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch and we can talk about how acupuncture can help you.

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin