How should I prepare for my first acupuncture appointment?

In my practice, I’ve found that acupuncture is still very new in the United States because of many unexpected situations happening. For example, patients’ tongues were either brushed or stained by colored foods and drinks. Sometimes people just come in for their first appointment with either an empty stomach or they had just finished a big meal. This will actually affect the acupuncturist’s diagnosis and treatment results. Of course, if you find a good acupuncturist, he/she will ask you to come back without brushing your tongue and without eating a big meal and/or colored foods and drinks. Now, you must wonder why it is necessary.

To explain this, we must first know the diagnosis system in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture. This whole system was created about 2500 years ago. Ancient Chinese doctors believed that what goes on inside the body will definitely show indications on the “outside” of the body, such as your pulse, your tongue, your eyes, face, hair, etc. in addition to your complaints, regardless of modern facilities to check what’s going on in the body in that time period. Since then, an almost perfect diagnosis system has been developed, which includes four main aspects:

  • observation
  • listening
  • history and complaints discussion
  • pulse examination and checking/pressing the troubled areas

In addition to these main four, there are some other things that need to be considered to make a diagnosis such as location/environment, climate, seasons, timing, age, gender, etc.

As you can see, all these are very natural ways to examine our bodies. One of the observation methods is about your tongue. The acupuncturist needs to see your tongue’s color, the color of the coating on the tongue, the shape of your tongue, etc. In terms of the color of your tongue, if it is too red or purplish, it means you have either poor circulation/stress, or you have qi stagnation/you are easily irritated or excited. If you have a pale tongue with teeth marks on it, it means you are fatigued.  The color of the coating on the tongue can help with the diagnosis even further. For example a thick, yellow, greasy coating means either too much “junk” or humidity inside the body. It means you either have a bad mood/you are irritated easily, or your energy is stuck inside your body. You feel heavy, lazy and sluggish. This is just one of the four aspects, and clearly it is already very indicative. The others show even more about the inside of the body.

If you brush your tongue before you go to the acupuncture office, all of the indications of the body from your tongue will be wrong, and this will affect the diagnosis. In turn, it won’t be helpful towards getting results from your treatment. If you have a good acupuncturist, they will remind you when you make your first appointment about this. Otherwise, you should ask what you should do before your visit.

In order to have the best understanding of your condition, it’s best to find an acupuncturist who has a broad background in modern medicine, herbal medicine, and acupuncture. If your acupuncturist asks you to bring all the lab test results or other test results from different specialists, congratulations, you have found one of the most thorough, top level acupuncturists!

What should I know and expect from my acupuncturist?

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are getting more and more popular in the world. For the Chinese, it is a very old healing therapy and they know what goes on in an appointment and what to expect from an acupuncturist or herbologist. For people outside of China, it is still relatively new even though some countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam have had it for a “long” time (still much less than China but have had it for 1000 years). In the United States, just like the other parts of the world, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is still very new. At the beginning, when the Chinese got into the US, they also brought their culture, traditions and customs, which included acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) but only in the Chinese communities. Maybe there were a few local Americans who knew and had experienced it as well. It did not become officially recognized until 1971 when President Nixon went to China. One of his journalists suddenly suffered from appendicitis in Beijing.  After an operation, he still suffered from a stomachache. Because he needed to get back on the job, he needed to get rid of the pain right away. The Chinese government sent him an acupuncturist and after a few needles, the pain disappeared. The New York Times reported the whole story about the journalist. Later on, all the major TV networks reported it as well. That is how Americans became more exposed to TCM and acupuncture. The story obviously gave the public the idea that acupuncture is good for pain. Some people even got the impression that acupuncture is only good for pain. However, that is not all it is good for.

Ever since, acupuncture and TCM have grown in popularity. Most states have legislation and regulation for acupuncture. An increasing number of  people started to apply acupuncture for their problems because NIH and WHO announced the conditions and diseases acupuncture and TCM can help. Also, the internet helps spread knowledge to more people. Statistically, at least 455 diseases and conditions can be helped by TCM and acupuncture.

We already have an article called “What Should I Do To Prepare For My First Acupuncturist Visit?” Now we want to tell you what you should expect from your acupuncturist. When you make an appointment, your acupuncturist or their assistant should tell you not to brush your tongue the day you come in or don’t have any colorful/staining food/staining drinks  before your appointment. Don’t come in with an empty or full stomach. When you talk to the acupuncturist, they need to go through your history of medical problems, not just the one you’re going to them for help. They should ask you about family history of medical problems too. The acupuncturist has to give you a picture of your conditions in terms of acupuncture and TCM diagnosis, food restrictions, activity restrictions, and some simple tips to improve your condition. If the acupuncturist gives you herbal pills/tea, they should tell you how to take the pills/tea, and about any side affects. You should mention if you’re allergic to any common pill or pill coatings/fillers, since they may contain wheat or corn starch etc. If you are seeing different professionals for help, sometimes the acupuncturist also needs to talk to the other specialist(s) about your situation and see if there any do’s/don’ts from the other specialist’s point of you. This will help the acupuncturists understand how to treat your condition better. The acupuncturist may need to refer you to take an X-Ray, MRI, etc. modern medical facilities and tests to see what is going on with your problem as well. Before the acupuncture treatment  begins, you should choose a comfortable position you won’t mind staying still in for a while. During acupuncture treatment, you shouldn’t feel the needles too much unless it is necessary and purposely done for certain conditions or needle techniques. After a few minutes, you should feel comfortable and relaxed. Generally, you will get good results if you feel comfortable and relaxed during treatment. You may need to see your acupuncturist once every other day to once a week or month. The frequency and results depends on your situation and how good your acupuncturist is. By the way, different acupuncturists will have different specialties too. Some patients need fifteen to twenty sessions to see significant changes, while some others maybe need once or twice.

Nowadays, some people say there are different styles of acupuncture, when they are all actually Chinese acupuncture. The bottom line is the type of acupuncture is supposed to be fitted to your disease or condition. Acupuncture can be done with or without the following: electricity, cupping, Chinese herbs, TDP (heat) lamps, massage, and modern medicine including physical therapy if necessary. Sometimes, your acupuncturist may need to refer you to a good different specialist if they think the combination can help you quicker. Occasionally, there are a few patents though that will probably feel worse first after getting acupuncture and then feel better.

Overall, it is a good idea to think about acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine when you have diseases and conditions because you can have amazing results if you try it. For example, you can avoid having an operation, drugs, and etcetera. Besides, the side effects, if any, are much less and will be easily overcome.