If you’ve committed to trying acupuncture, you probably want to make sure you get the most out of it. There are certain things you can do to support your treatment and make sure it’s as effective as it can be.
The initial consultation
Prepare for the consultation
The initial consultation for acupuncture is pretty thorough. Regardless of your main complaint, your acupuncturist will most likely ask you questions about all areas of your health and lifestyle. Expect to answer questions about sleep, diet, and exercise, but also the lovely questions about your bowels, urination and (for the ladies) menstrual cycle. If you’ve given these things some thought before you come for your first appointment, you will be much more likely to give accurate and useful information.
If you are taking any medication, write it down. If you’ve had any recent medical reports, tests, scans or letters, bring them along because they will probably be useful.
If you are not honest with your acupuncturist about your lifestyle or medical conditions, you are unlikely to get the best possible treatment. You’re very unlikely to shock or embarrass your acupuncturist, and we’re well used to hearing lots of detail about poo (and worse). There’s also no point pretending that your diet or lifestyle is better than it is, because at best we won’t give you the kind of advice that could really help you, and at worst your diagnosis will be confused because the information we can read from your tongue, pulses, face, eyes, nails, posture, breathing (and so on) doesn’t match what you’re telling us.
If there’s anything you really don’t want to talk about just yet, it’s fine to say that. It’s not uncommon for patients to share really significant information after five, ten or more treatments, when a deeper level of trust has been built — that’s just part of the process.
How have you been?
It’s really helpful if you can remember how you felt straight after the last treatment, and how things have changed since then. What about things like sleep, appetite and energy levels? Write it down if you find that helpful. Have you made any other changes — diet, exercise, other treatments?
Don’t drink alcohol on the day of treatment
As well as being more sensitive to the effects of alcohol after acupuncture treatment, it’s possible that you may find drinking on the same day reduces the effectiveness of treatment. This becomes increasingly likely the more you drink.
Wear appropriate clothing
It just makes things a lot easier if your arms, legs and torso are easily accessible. Gowns, towels and blankets should always be available if needed, but if you can, save time and effort by wearing loose clothes and/or layers.
Relax and focus on your treatment
Read the previous article — what should you do while the needles are working?
Stay hydrated after treatment
If your body is clearing out any toxins after acupuncture treatment, this will be much more effective if you stay well hydrated. It’s generally good for you to drink plenty of water anyway.
Don’t overdo things after treatment
Many people feel slightly drowsy or ‘spaced out’ after acupuncture. It’s usually a sign that your body needs to rest for a bit. You don’t necessarily have to go home for a nap, but don’t run a marathon, pull an all-nighter or otherwise overdo things, even if you feel energised by the treatment, rather than drowsy.
Eat to support your treatment
There is some general eating advice that is appropriate for almost everyone, and there are usually specific changes you can make to your diet that will support your treatment. If you’re keen to do this but your acupuncturist doesn’t make any suggestions, you should ask.
Some people really need to start moving their bodies more, and some people deplete themselves by overexercising or injure themselves by exercising inappropriately. What is appropriate for you will depend on your age, general level of fitness, any injuries you’ve sustained, if you’ve just given birth(!), and on other less obvious factors like the time of year. Listen to your acupuncturist and, more importantly, listen to your body.
Learn Qigong or Yoga
Both qigong and yoga, practiced properly, work with the energy system to improve your mental and physical health and wellbeing. There is quite a lot of overlap between the two systems but they also have their differences. If you haven’t done either before, look for local teachers of both and see who you think might be the best fit for you. Qigong is more directly relevant to acupuncture treatment because it is part of the same tradition and many exercises are designed to work with specific acupuncture channels, but in my experience the teacher is more important than the particular system being taught.
Don’t make too many changes at once
Having said all that, it’s usually much more effective in the long term to make one significant lifestyle change at a time, sticking with it until it becomes a habit. Then after a while (usually a minimum of 30 days), add a second change if you want to. Read the article on Developing Good Habits for more on this.
So, there’s a list of things you can do to get the most out of your acupuncture sessions. The more you can do these things to support your treatment, the quicker and better you will respond, and the more you will enjoy having acupuncture.