Read This Before Your First Acupuncture Appointment

Your intro to the age-old healing treatment.


Acupuncture isn’t anything new—in fact, it is believed to have been in practice since 100 B.C.. But as of late, there’s been a newfound appreciation for the traditional Chinese medicine practice, and its resurgence has been infiltrating by way of millennial-targeting clinics and Instagram feeds. So what is it all about? What ailments are treatable by acupuncture? How does getting pricked with tiny needles work into your wellness routine? And most important, is it right for you? We asked Dr. Robert MacDonald, DAc, LAc, LMT, and co-founder of Area 25, a brand-new network of cutting-edge acupuncture clinics in New York City, to give us a primer on everything you need to know about acupuncture before your first treatment.

What is acupuncture?

“Acupuncture is one of many treatments used within the larger practice of traditional Chinese medicine (also known as TCM). Simply put, it involves the placement of hair-thin, disposable needles at specific energy points within the body to restore the free flow of energy (qi) and bring your body to a state of balance. Your practitioner will develop a custom treatment plan, selecting a combination of points (from a set of ~400) to meet your individual needs. Each point selected is chosen to produce a certain function in your energy system, as if sending a specific message to your body. These messages help to trigger therapeutic and physiological changes in your body, ultimately generating a strong regulatory effect that activates your body’s own self-healing mechanisms.”

Is acupuncture suitable for everyone?

“Acupuncture is effective for a variety of conditions and can work as a standalone treatment and in conjunction with Western medicine. If you are currently being treated by a medical professional, we recommend that you consult with your doctor before beginning an acupuncture treatment plan. If you are pregnant, have a pacemaker, suffer chronic illness, or are at risk of infection, please make sure to communicate that to your acupuncturist.”

What can acupuncture help with?

“Acupuncture can influence multiple internal systems, including the nervous, endocrine, reproductive, and gastrointestinal systems. It will stimulate a healing response by eliciting certain physiological functions like increasing endorphins and natural opiates to reduce pain, decreasing cortisol to regulate stress, increasing serotonin to influence sleep and digestion, improving circulation, and decreasing inflammation. Acupuncture treats the body as a whole and can address conditions ranging from pain and anxiety to hormonal and immune dysfunction.”

What can one expect at their first acupuncture appointment?

“Your treatment will begin with an in-depth intake to understand the symptoms you are experiencing and how your systems are functioning to help your practitioner determine your diagnosis (called ‘pattern of disharmony’ in TCM). After verbally communicating your concerns, the practitioner will look at your tongue and pulse, which will allow the practitioner to understand how your internal systems are operating and deepen their understanding of your overall state of health ([this] can be equated to blood work at a Western practitioners office). After your diagnosis has been completed, your acupuncturist will place carefully selected needles all over your body to elicit a therapeutic response. Once completely administered, you will lie comfortably for about 25 minutes while your body responds to the stimulus. Your practitioner will then return, remove the needles, provide a recommended treatment plan, and then you are free to resume normal activity. You should expect to feel a heightened state of relaxation, so it is best to listen to your body and not overexert yourself post-treatment.”

How often should you be receiving treatment?

“Each acupuncture treatment plan will be personalized to your specific needs. Generally speaking, acute conditions require fewer treatments, while chronic conditions require more. The effects of acupuncture are cumulative, so each treatment will build upon the previous to optimize healing results. Acupuncture is not just for when you’re in a state of discomfort, but can also optimize overall well-being. Your practitioner will create a plan depending on what type of responder you are, the condition being treated, and the phase of progression of the condition.”

Best way to find a good practitioner in your area?

“Not all acupuncturists receive the same training, so it is important to look into each individual practitioner’s qualifications. The first place you can look is on the acupuncture governing boards website, National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), for practitioners in your area. If you choose to look via Google, just make sure that your practitioner is both state licensed and NCCAOM board-certified. All Area 25 acupuncturists are state licensed, board-certified, and hand-selected for [their] technical and interpersonal skill.” 

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