Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are you new to acupuncture? Here are answers to some of the most common questions about acupuncture that our new patients ask.

What are the side effects of acupuncture?

Acupuncture is considered safe when performed by a qualified practitioner using sterile needles. There are however reports of mostly mild and short-term side effects such as:

  • Pain where the needles were inserted
  • Slight bleeding or bruising
  • Drowsiness
  • Feeling dizzy or faint

Millions of people receive acupuncture treatment every year, but the number of complications reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is relatively low. According to two surveys conducted independently of each other and published in the British Medical Journal in 2001, the risk of a serious adverse reaction to acupuncture is less than 1 in 10,000. However, you may risk complications if you have a bleeding disorder or if you are taking anticoagulants.

You can read more about acupuncture and potential side effects here:

“Is Acupuncture Safe?”, By Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD

Is acupuncture painful?

Acupuncture needles have an average diameter of 0.00325 inches which can be compared to a strand of hair. You would need around 100 acupuncture needles to match the diameter of a regular hypodermic needle. The majority of people report that they usually don’t feel the needles going in or that they feel a slight tingling at the puncture point. When the needle is in place a dull or throbbing sensation may be felt which many people find relaxing. You could also experience an electric sensation and warmth around the acupuncture points.

Acupuncture should not be painful which is why you should tell your acupuncturist if you experience any form of pain. Some people feel sore after an acupuncture treatment and this is nothing to worry about. An acupuncture session is usually a relaxing experience and many fall asleep during treatments.

You can find more information on the subject here:

“Ask an expert: does acupuncture hurt?”, by Endeavour College of Natural Health

Is acupuncture safe during pregnancy?

Acupuncture is considered safe during pregnancy. In fact, a large number of pregnant women seek out acupuncture to help treat lower back pain, pelvic pain, fetal malposition, nausea, vomiting, headache, depression, insomnia, and other pregnancy-induced issues. Evidence of acupuncture being effective during pregnancy for various conditions is emerging.

More extensive studies on the effects of acupuncture on pregnant women are needed, although there have been numerous studies on the risk factors of acupuncture during pregnancy. Out of 10,000 pregnant women receiving acupuncture treatments, only 1.5% (147 women) reported mild or moderate adverse effects. The most common is reported to be needling pain. There were no serious adverse effects related to acupuncture in 10,000 treatments.

To read more about the studies made on the subject, you can click on this link:

“The Safety of Acupuncture During Pregnancy: A Systematic Review”, by Simin Park, Youngjoo Sohn, Adrien R. White, and Hyangsook Lee

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine involving the insertion of fine and flexible needles into the skin at precise points called acupuncture points or acupoints. In traditional acupuncture, the goal is to clear and balance the energy pathways called meridians. This energy or life force believed to flow through the meridians is known as Chi or Qi (pronounced “chee”). Practitioners of traditional acupuncture believe that when Qi does not flow freely, it can cause illness. They also believe that acupuncture can restore balance and health on a holistic level.

Western medicine explains acupuncture’s healing effects differently. Whilst traditional Chinese acupuncture is based on more philosophical principles, western medical acupuncture uses the current knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and the principles of evidence-based medicine. Western scientists believe that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, and this results in the release of substances including immune system cells, endorphins, neurohormones, and neurotransmitters. These substances may have a great variety of beneficial effects on the body like pain relief, lowered stress, and an overall sense of well-being. Research also indicates that acupuncture has positive effects on involuntary central nervous functions like blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature regulation.

For more information on acupuncture you can click on the following link:

“Acupuncture in Modern Society”, by Kristin VanderPloeg, Xiaobin Yi

Can I have acupuncture if I am stressed or if my muscles are tense?

Yes. You can have acupuncture if you are stressed or if your muscles are tense. If this is your physical state, it may be even more beneficial to get treatment. Stress often makes muscles tense. And if left unmanaged, stress can cause other negative effects on the body and even provoke illnesses.

There are two main ways that acupuncture can help relieve pain and stress.

Relaxing Muscles: When a muscle is tense for an extended period of time, it stops the natural cycle of contracting and relaxing. This means that less blood and nutrients are delivered to the muscle. As a result, knots or tight bands can develop causing pain. Stimulating acupuncture points can help muscles relax and release.

Relaxing the Mind: Another reason why people feel relaxed after an acupuncture session is that it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. When activated it sends signals to your brain to relax and unwind. This is why it makes sense to book an acupuncture appointment if you are feeling stressed.

To read more about the effects of acupuncture on stress and other disorders you can click here:

“Relieve Pain: Does Acupuncture Work?”, Emily Laber-Warren

How many sessions does it take to see a difference?

In general, people experience a positive effect from acupuncture after 2-3 sessions. The number of sessions it takes before seeing results varies from person to person. And it also depends on the disorder being treated. While there are no scientific studies on this subject, there are countless testimonies.

But acupuncture is not a quick fix. It requires commitment. Especially if your reason for seeking treatment is to heal your body. Even though you may experience positive results after the first session, lasting results are more likely with continued treatment.

Here are a few indicators that your treatment is working:

  • Improved sleep: Some insomniacs are surprised to see that their sleep cycles are normalized, even though it was not their primary reason for seeking treatment.
  • Reduced stress: You may find that you are less stressed and not overwhelmed by daily tasks.
  • Improved awareness: Experiencing sharpened senses, enhanced colors and tastes for example.
  • Increased appetite: and digestion …
  • Balanced emotions: When it comes to emotions, some people experience more balanced emotions and others a sense of emotional release.
  • Pain relief: Many experience pain relief, even after the first session.

Results are individual and they usually show up gradually. Even though we can’t determine the exact number of sessions it takes for a person to see results, we know that the majority experience positive results.

Here is an article describing other positive effects you may experience:

“What is Acupuncture”, by Elizabeth Palermo

How can I prepare for my acupuncture treatment?

Although there are no mandatory preparations for an acupuncture appointment, here are a few recommendations.

Do not arrive at your acupuncture appointment on an empty stomach. Most experts recommend eating something around two hours before. Do not eat a large meal, but just enough to keep you from being hungry. Also, try to avoid fried or spicy foods. Arriving on an empty stomach may leave you feeling lightheaded and physically depleted.

Try to avoid coffee and alcohol the day of your appointment. Caffeine can make you jittery and trigger the body’s fight-or-flight mode which is counterproductive for an acupuncture treatment.

Wear loose clothing to your appointment. This will help you feel comfortable and will make it easier for the acupuncturist to access the acupuncture points.

Try not to schedule an appointment on a busy day. You do not want to worry about being late or be thinking about your next meeting during your session. You should have a relaxed attitude so that you can receive the full benefits of the treatment.

Finally, be sure to tell your acupuncturist of any medications you are taking, especially if you are taking blood thinners. Also, mention any illnesses or problematic physical conditions.

Here is a list of things to remember before your treatment:

“8 Things to Remember Before an Acupuncture Appointment”, by Sara Calabro

Can children and adolescents have acupuncture?

Yes. Based on available data, pediatric acupuncture is safe when performed by a licensed professional. According to a National Health Statistics report from 2007, around 150,000 children in the U.S. receive acupuncture each year. The reasons for getting treatment include headaches and migraines, abdominal pain, musculoskeletal problems, and anxiety.

Some children may find acupuncture unsettling so it’s important to talk to them both before and during treatment. Bring a favorite toy or digital device to help the child relax. When curiosity wins over the nerves, acupuncture can be an enjoyable experience.

The risk of adverse effects in children is almost the same as in adults. Research shows that only 1.55 out of 100 children reported adverse effects. The effects were mostly mild, including nausea, bruising, pain at the puncture point, and crying.

These numbers show that it’s very rare that children experience discomfort or adverse effects so you can safely bring your child or adolescent to try acupuncture.

You can read more about the subject here:

“Safety and Efficacy of Acupuncture in Children, A Review of The Evidence”, by Vanita Jindal, MD, Adeline Ge, MD, Patrick J. Mansky, MD

What can I do if I’m scared of needles?

The fear of needles is common and often starts at a young age. Receiving vaccines as a child can be traumatic, even though the actual pain is usually not worse than being pinched.

When people think of needles, they typically think of hypodermic needles. These are the needles nurses use to give painful shots or draw blood.

Acupuncture needles are very tiny in comparison. They are as thin as hair and flexible. It takes around one hundred acupuncture needles to match the diameter of a hypodermic needle. In addition, they do not tear tissue. So most of the time people do not feel them entering the skin.

An acupuncture session should not be painful. It is in most cases a relaxing and pleasant experience. And of course, in contrast to the aggressive, forced needle pricks we receive in the doctor’s office, you are free to stop an acupuncture session any time you want.

If you are scared of needles, the following article may be useful:

“Do You Want Acupuncture But Hate Needles?”, by Sara Calabro

How are acupuncturists educated?

In Massachusetts, licensed acupuncturists must undergo rigorous training. An applicant needs to complete two full academic years in an accredited university, college, or other institution approved by the Board of Registration in Medicine. The education must include general biology, human anatomy, and human physiology. In addition, acupuncturists need to complete nearly 2,000 hours of clinical/didactic instruction in acupuncture-related courses, of which a minimum of 100 hours must be in the supervised diagnosis and treatment of patients for whom the applicant was solely responsible. Acupuncturists also need a minimum of 30 hours of herbal medicine training from a Committee-approved school or program.

You can read the full requirements here:

243 CMR 5: The Practice of Acupuncture, Board of Registration in Medicine

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