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What can I expect during an Acupuncture Treatment?

acupunctureTypically, an initial personal session begins with a thorough health assessment that includes pulse, tongue reading and discussion of particular needs and concerns unless an emergency such as a migraine headache requires immediate action! Words are then best kept for later!


In a community acupuncture clinic, the treatment is more likely to be geared toward the immediate symptoms and will not focus on the medical history and long term treatment. It is ideal for many types of body pain and immediate relief and less appropriate for more complex treatments and difficult diseases. During the treatment you lie comfortably on a massage table. Acupuncture points are chosen according to specific needs and symptoms.


Requirements, of course, may vary according to individual needs and situations. Most of the time, acute symptoms such as occasional headaches or nausea require only one or two treatments.

For more chronic or deeply entrenched symptoms, the frequency of treatments might need to be increased to every other day or a couple of times a week for a while and tapered off as the condition improves. This is discussed with your acupuncturist. As a health maintenance modality, a weekly treatment is usually a good average.

This is probably, and understandable so, the most common question I hear as people typically do not have a strong affinity for needles. Please, when you have a chance, have a look at the needles and you will see how thin they are. There may be a sensation when the needle is inserted, experienced either as coolness, heat, a traveling current or electrical connection when the needle reaches the level of “Qi” or life force current. That sensation is very brief and stops once the needle is in.

Veterans of acupuncture typically look forward to that sensory signal that the body is “connected.” In some cases, it might slightly hurt but the sensation is again extremely brief and “electrical” in nature. It is nothing like the pain experienced with common or epidural injections for example. If a needle is uncomfortable once inserted, your therapist will take it out or adjust it.

dolphin microcurrent 400 300Micro-current is a safe alternative to using acupuncture needles and is a beautiful technological invention that has changed the landscape of acupuncture. However, electricity has long been part of acupuncture and some stone carvings of the ancient Egypt, 2500 years ago, depict an electric fish being used to treat pain, a practice one found again during the socratic era. Interestingly, modern science has recently validated the “electric fish” theory.

Fast forward to 19th century and we reconnect with the use of electricity for pain treatment.

Fast forward to 20th century and we find the TENS (transcuteneous electrical nerve stimulation) with low voltage current transmitted to electrodes attached to specific skin areas, used mostly in physical therapy but also in acupuncture, linked to needles for extra stimulation.

Fast forward a bit more and you find micro current. As it name implies it is a very fine current or voltage, actually 1000 times less than what is used in physical therapy. Micro current is the homeopathy of electrical pain treatment, closer to vibration and less to an electrical jolt. The advantages? sometimes TENS can exacerbate the pain. Micro current, which can be tuned to patients’ sensitivity, offers a wider range of treatments, on more points or meridians. It is a great tool for those who, for any reason, shy away from needles. It is also a great tool to use in conjunction with acupuncture, either to reinforce the action of the needle or to treat more sensitive areas. Micro current can be felt on some places more than others but generally speaking the sensation is either non existent or very mild.

What is micro-current like?

In my office, I use an “acutron” machine that offers different programs of micro-current. It comes with probes and pads.

My use of the acutron comes from personal history: as it turned out, I was trying out the acutron just as my mother was visiting from France. Her arrival was quite dramatic as she had fallen on the escalators at the airport, a very scary experience since she fell backward on the moving escalator. Because of knee surgery and chronic low back pain my mother had no flexibility so she saw herself move upward immobilized. Somebody stopped the escalator, firemen and medical support came to her rescue and I was called to go pick her up where she had fallen. Needless to say, I was very scared and worried about concussion. She was in a panic, repeating that she did not want to go to the hospital. We went to the closest hotel and I gasped as I saw her back: as well as the state of her back: long black and blue lacerations from the escalator dents all along her spine. I finally took her home, watching closely for any sign that I might need to take her to the ER in spite of her refusal.

I wanted to give her acupuncture but her skin was raw and tender all over so I was reluctant to use needles. Since I had the acutron machine for trial, I decided to use the pads and some of the pre-programs for pain.

The experience was truly amazing: I gave her treatments everyday and could literally see from one day to the next the black and blue recede around the places where the pads were. Within a week, we were able to resume our travel plans.

I made the investment into the machine and have been using it ever since. The only problem with the acutron is that it is a bit bulky and awkward, therefore limited in mobility. Not something I could use at the community clinic from one person to another.

Fast forward: I discovered the Dolphin, little hand held micro current machines called dolphins (apparently because their shape and sound, with a bit of imagination, resembles those of dolphins)

Does one need a special appointment for micro-energy treatments?

No, micro-current energy treatments may be included in any of the treatments, as part of individual treatments or as part of the community clinic treatments. It may be used with acupuncture or in lieu of acupuncture. Some people prefer to opt for only one option —traditional needle acupuncture or micro-current energy only. All these options constitute valid choices.

Any drawback to micro current?

Results are great and the experience is overall pleasant. The only drawback, possibly, is that the treatment is more “busy” than the ones with needles. After needling people usually fall into a deep state of relaxation. Needles also work like little electrical antennas and, therefore, our whole electrical system — our nervous system— is reset. To palliate the “busyness” of treatments with probes or Dolphin, I might use one or two needles at the end or simply let people rest for 10-15 minutes so that they can experience the letting go that comes from treatment.

Some people still prefer simple acupuncture and actually refuse the use of any electricity. Some people do not want needles at all. Some people want both.

All of it is made possible nowadays and I am happy to have tools to accommodate people’s wishes and also to have different treatment options available.

Acupuncture “a la carte”…just pick your choice on the menu!

For utmost safety, in my practice like in most modern day Western practices only one-time sterile disposable needles are used. Accidents are very rare and, for that reason, acupuncturists enjoy very low insurance rates compared to their Western counterparts (less that $1,000 a year).

The two most common acupuncture accidents, which are not to be dismissed, involve pneumothorax (needling too deep into the lung cavity) and burns caused by poor use of heat through TDP lamps or moxa usually on people who have limited or no sensation in their limbs, because of diabetic neuropathy for example.

It is therefore important to choose someone you trust and who has been well trained in Chinese medicine. If you feel fear or are uncomfortable with the use of any points, just let your therapist know. Along the years, I have met patients who did not want to be needled on their hands, some not on their feet, some only on their belly. I have always found ways of working with all of them. Typically, their fear disappears after a couple of sessions. I have seen people go from being very nervous during the first treatments to peacefully falling asleep as soon as they lie on the table, even as I am putting needles in!

For children or for people who, for any reason, refuse needles, I offer a non-needle option, using an “acutron” probe and very mild electrical stimulation of points. It is a valid and effective option, especially for body pain. The difference is that, once needles are inserted, you can deeply relax while the needles do their job. An “acutron” treatment is more “busy” and includes more interference during treatment time.

Relaxing music is played during treatment and most people either fall asleep or reach a very deep state of relaxation. The time of needle insertion typically lasts from 20 to 40 minutes, occasionally longer if more time is required to alleviate certain symptoms.

A session may also include adjunct techniques such as aromatherapy or cupping (moving or fixed cups on specific areas of the body to relieve pain or tension)

An acupuncture treatment is a very enjoyable experience of pain relief, emotional balancing and deep relaxation and it comes as a surprise to many that they actually look forward to their acupuncture session after they discover it provides them with a new and unusual level of deep rest and relaxation.

Let’s not forget that acupuncture is part of an old medicine system that was the medicine of the East. It has evolved and changed over centuries in response to all kinds of diseases and new conditions of life, epidemics etc. Therefore acupuncture can address all kinds of diseases either by itself or with the support of herbal treatments. In our modern times, acupuncture can also support conventional treatments or be an adjunct to medications, enabling to reduce dosage or control side effects.

The WHO published the following list regarding acupuncture:

WHO's List of Conditions Treated by Acupuncture

From WHO's Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trial of Acupuncture, year 2003. The diseases or disorders for which acupuncture therapy has been tested in controlled clinical trials reported in the recent literature can be classified into four categories as shown below.

  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, andgastrospasm)
    • 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:
    • 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
    • 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:
    • 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