Acupuncture: Questions & Answers – A Patient’s Primer

Acupuncture: Questions & Answers – A Patient’s Primer

Q: What is acupuncture? 

A: Acupuncture is the insertion of sterile, fine needles into the body at specific points which have been proven effective in the treatment of many disorders.  These points were mapped by the Chinese over 2000 years ago.  We still have copies of texts written 2200 years ago.  Some find it interesting that acupuncture point locations have been confirmed by electromagnetic research.  Acupuncture points have little resistance to energy flow, and thus, exhibit higher than background levels of current.  In this way simple amp meters can be used to locate the precise location of acupuncture points on the body, or on the surface of the ear.

Q: What problems can be treated by acupuncture?

Acupuncture has been used for centuries in China to treat a host of problems. Any kind of pain, whether it be from traumatic injury, sprains or strains, or other condition that presents with pain; arthritis, headache, migraine, gall bladder blockage, menstrual cramps, gout – all can be effectively treated with acupuncture to not only reduce the pain, but to treat and re-dress the underlying condition.  Many other non-pain defined conditions can also be effectively treated and resolved with acupuncture: insomnia, dizziness, nausea, hypertension, and most gynecological complaints, including menopause,  just to mention a few.

In 2003 the World Health Organization published a report about clinical trials researching the effectiveness of acupuncture. More than one hundred indications were discussed and divided into four groups concerning the strength of existing evidence.  Their complete list will be added at the bottom of this article.  

Q: How deep do the needles go?

A: This depends upon the nature of the problem, the underlying anatomy of the points selected, the patients’ size, age, and constitution, and upon the style of acupuncture being used.  In general, needles are inserted between 1/4 to 1 inch, though some must be inserted 3 inches.

Q: Does it hurt?

A: In Mandarin, acupuncture is bu tong, painless.  However, if the correct stimulus of the needle has been obtained, the patient should feel something!   Heaviness, distention, achiness or electric sensation either around the needle or traveling up or down the affected energy pathway or meridian are common.  These are not usually described as painful sensations.  If there is any discomfort, it is usually mild and fleeting.

Q: How many treatments will I need?

A: That depends upon the duration, severity and nature of each individual’s complaint.  Generally from five to fifteen treatments are adequate for the majority of chronic ailments.  Some acute conditions may only require a single treatment and some degenerative conditions may require scores of treatments.  However, the patient has the right to expect that their major complaint will be addressed and treated in a direct and timely manner.  1 -3 treatments per week to start would be average, and then decreasing in frequency as the symptoms decrease.

Q: Is there anything I need to do before receiving acupuncture?

A: Yes, the following suggestions will help you get the maximum benefits from your treatment.

1. Maintain good personal hygiene to reduce any possibility of bacterial infection.

2. Wear loose clothing.

3. Avoid treatment when excessively fatigued, hungry, over-full, or shortly after sex.

Q: Is there anything I need to do while receiving acupuncture?

A: Yes, again.

1. RELAX.  Relaxation is something that cannot be overemphasized.  I often teach people a qi gong breathing technique to help them get the most from their treatment.

2. If you experience dizziness, nausea, cold sweat, shortness of breath, or faintness during treatment this is known as needle shock.  Immediately tell your practitioner and s/he will withdraw the needles.  Needle shock is primarily due to anxiety, excessive fatigue, or other cause of short term disordered energy circulation.

3. Feel free to let your practitioner know of any pain or burning sensations experienced during acupuncture or moxibustion.  If you find acupuncture or electro-stimulation unacceptable at any point during treatment, be sure to speak up so that you can be made comfortable as soon as possible!

4. Do not change your position or move suddenly.  Flexing muscles around the needles may strongly stimulate the acupuncture point, making it uncomfortable.  Ask for help before significantly changing your positioned if your needles are already inserted.

Q: What can I expect after treatment?

A: I aim to reduce pain symptoms by 50% or more with the first treatment.  An immediate partial relief of pain or other symptoms is most common.  15% of people do not notice the benefit until later that day.  This relief will last for a while, but one should expect it to return.  In a very few cases, the pain may seem even worse.  This is called the rebound effect.  By the next day, the pain can be expected to gradually improve. Often the most dramatic results are experienced in the first treatment.  However, one should see further incremental improvement after each subsequent treatment.  In a few cases, there may be no immediate relief but one usually experiences the pain diminish over the next couple of days.

Though we should expect the pain to return in time, if we time subsequent treatments well, we will get the most efficient and efficacious improvement of your condition, leading to long term alleviation of your pain. This is something I call “graduation”!  After the pain has decreased dramatically, we may need to do a few more treatments to consolidate the effect, so that the condition does not slowly recur over time.

There is also often a feeling of deep relaxation after a treatment.

You should be confident that the treatments and the timing of the treatments you are getting are really suited to your condition.  If you are not, please have a frank discussion with your acupuncturist!

Most patients will have more questions than these, such as: Should I continue taking my present medication?  What should I eat?  Is there anything I can do for myself at home?  What signs of success should I look for and after how long?  All these are valid and valuable questions and can be answered in person by your practitioner.  In the meantime, remember,


Dr. Bonnie


Here it is the World Health Organization’s complete list of indications for acupuncture treatment.  Author: Bartosz Chmielnicki MD

 1. Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proved – through controlled trials—to be an effective treatment:

  • Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy

  • Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)

  • Biliary colic

  • Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)

  • Dysentery, acute bacillary

  • Dysmenorrhoea, primary

  • Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)

  • Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)

  • Headache

  • Hypertension, essential

  • Hypotension, primary

  • Induction of labour

  • Knee pain

  • Leukopenia

  • Low back pain

  • Malposition of fetus, correction of

  • Morning sickness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Neck pain

  • Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)

  • Periarthritis of shoulder

  • Postoperative pain

  • Renal colic

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Sciatica

  • Sprain

  • Stroke

  • Tennis elbow

2. Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown but for which further proof is needed in order to prove its efficacy:

  • Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)

  • Acne vulgaris

  • Alcohol dependence and detoxification

  • Bell’s palsy

  • Bronchial asthma

  • Cancer pain

  • Cardiac neurosis

  • Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation

  • Cholelithiasis

  • Competition stress syndrome

  • Craniocerebral injury, closed

  • Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent

  • Earache

  • Epidemic haemorrhagic fever

  • Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease)

  • Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection

  • Female infertility

  • Facial spasm

  • Female urethral syndrome

  • Fibromyalgia and fasciitis

  • Gastrokinetic disturbance

  • Gouty arthritis

  • Hepatitis B virus carrier status

  • Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus 3)

  • Hyperlipaemia

  • Hypo-ovarianism

  • Insomnia

  • Labour pain

  • Lactation, deficiency

  • Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic

  • Ménière disease

  • Neuralgia, post-herpetic

  • Neurodermatitis

  • Obesity

  • Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Pain due to endoscopic examination

  • Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein–Leventhal syndrome)

  • Postextubation in children

  • Postoperative convalescence

  • Premenstrual syndrome

  • Prostatitis, chronic

  • Pruritus

  • Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome

  • Raynaud syndrome, primary

  • Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection

  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy

  • Retention of urine, traumatic

  • Schizophrenia

  • Sialism, drug-induced

  • Sjögren syndrome

  • Sore throat (including tonsillitis)

  • Spine pain, acute

  • Stiff neck

  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction

  • Tietze syndrome

  • Tobacco dependence

  • Tourette syndrome

  • Ulcerative colitis, chronic

  • Urolithiasis

  • Vascular dementia

    • Breathlessness in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

    • Coma

    • Convulsions in infants

    • Coronary heart disease (angina pectoris)

    • Diarrhoea in infants and young children

    • Encephalitis, viral, in children, late stage

    • Paralysis, progressive bulbar and pseudobulbar

      Whooping cough (pertussis)

      3. Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which there are only individual controlled trials reporting some therapeutic effects, but for which acupuncture is worth trying because treatment by conventional and other therapies is difficult:

      • Chloasma

      • Choroidopathy, central serous

      • Colour blindness

      • Deafness

      • Hypophrenia

      • Irritable colon syndrome

      • Neuropathic bladder in spinal cord injury

      • Pulmonary heart disease, chronic

      • Small airway obstruction

      4. Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture may be tried provided the practitioner has special modern medical knowledge and adequate monitoring equipment: