Acupuncture treatments can be done in clinics, hospitals, medical spas, chiropractic offices, and wellness centers. “The physical environment may be a conventional clinic or resemble a spa,” Chu says. The treatment room is typically a quiet, private space, and patients are often given a means of communicating with the practitioner through a bell or call device, he adds.
New patients should expect to complete a medical history intake form upon arrival, just like at any other healthcare visit. You’ll also spend time, from a few minutes to longer, discussing with the provider your concerns, similar to a medical doctor taking a history. “There’s a little back-and-forth of questioning and diagnosing,” Sheinberg says. This helps the provider understand any health concerns you’re hoping to address through acupuncture, so they can create the best treatment plan for you, usually in a collaborative way.
From there, you may undress, lie on the treatment table, and cover yourself with the sheets, as you would prepare for a traditional massage. Or, the practitioner may provide you with a gown to wear over your undergarments.
You may feel nothing or you may feel a mild discomfort when the needles are placed in the skin, but there shouldn’t be any pain once the needles are in place. “If there is persistent pain, notify the practitioner,” Chu says.
While you shouldn’t feel pain, you should feel a deep ache or pressure in the regions where the needles were inserted. That deep ache signifies that the needles have been inserted at just the right level within the fascia to stimulate the acupoint. “Sometimes, I ask patients for feedback because I want to ensure I’m in the right place,” Sheinberg says.
Acupuncture sessions can last for a few minutes of up to an hour, depending on the purpose of your visit and the provider’s style of practice. Forty-five to 60 minutes is pretty typical, Sheinberg says.
What’s more, you may feel sleepy, drowsy, or light-headed after your acupuncture session. “Drinking warm water or tea afterward is encouraged,” Chu says.
Before leaving the clinic, check your body to make sure all acupuncture needles were removed. “It’s uncommon, but acupuncture needles are sometimes unintentionally left in,” Chu says. Don’t be alarmed if you find a needle; simply notify the practitioner and they’ll remove it.
The results of acupuncture typically aren’t immediate. It can take several months of weekly treatments to see lasting changes, depending on your desired outcome. Some short-term effects may indicate that the acupuncture sessions are working. One sign is you notice slight improvements in your symptoms. Curiously, the other is a worsening of symptoms. “It’s actually not a bad sign if you feel worse after acupuncture,” Sheinberg says. “It means we’ve stirred things up.”
On the other hand, if you don’t notice any changes following acupuncture, that may indicate that you haven’t landed on the right acupoints yet. “Just like everything in medicine, there’s a bit of experimenting to find what works best for any one person,” says Sheinberg. Take notice of how you feel after your acupuncture sessions and share that information with the practitioner at the next appointment. This will help the practitioner fine-tune your treatment.