What Happens During an Acupuncture Session?

What Happens During an Acupuncture Session?

What happens during an acupuncture session can be mysterious if you’ve never been. Here we break down what to expect, what kinds of questions you’ll be asked, and how often you need to get treatment.

Expert Reviewed by Rachel Hemphill, DACM, L.Ac, FABORM
Owner and Head Acupuncturist at City Pulse Acupuncture in Oakland

What are the types of acupuncture visits?

Generally there are two types of visits to an acupuncturist - an initial visit and a follow-up visit. Each time you see a new practitioner, you’ll always do a first visit with her, even if you’ve had acupuncture before. The first visit is a “get to know you” visit and includes a consultation (diagnosis) and actual acupuncture (treatment). A follow-up visit is every treatment after the first one and generally only includes treatment.

What can I expect from a first visit?

An initial visit is usually 90 mins long and involves two parts.  

  1. Diagnosis: The first half of your visit will be a conversation around your health history & conditions. Be prepared for detailed intake forms (multiple pages) and questions such as -- “Let me see the color of your tongue.” and “Did you have a vaginal or c-section birth?”

  2. Treatment: Depending on your needs, the acupuncturist will customize a treatment for you - including inserting needles at specific personalized points and potentially including other modalities such as cupping or massage. The treatment is performed on a soft table resembling a massage table. You may or may not remove clothing depending on the points of insertion for the needles. Generally, your acupuncturist will put the needles in and leave you in the room to relax for around 20 - 30 minutes. Many people take a short nap before the acupuncturist comes in to remove the needles and end the session.

During a first visit, your acupuncturist may also do the following in person:

  • Get a comprehensive medical history and family history of illness

  • Get details about your chief complaint for coming to acupuncture (if there is one)

  • Ask questions about your lifestyle, such as:

    • Diet

    • Exercise

    • Type of work you do

    • Menstrual cycle

    • Past medical history

    • Bowel movements

  • Perform any mix  of acupuncture, acupressure massage, cupping, moxibustion, or more. You can always ask for explanations of what is happening, or refuse certain treatments if you feel uncomfortable.

  • Recommend lifestyle changes or prescribe herbs

What does an initial intake form look like?

They’re incredible detailed and in depth! Expect to spend 30 min - 1 hour filling it out before your appointment. Here’s an example of an Acupuncture Intake Form.

What can I expect from a follow-up session?

Follow-up visits are usually 1 hour, and do not include the in depth diagnosis. Instead, you’ll do a short update chat on your health and then jump into treatment. Often you won’t get the same treatment every time you go in. Generally, your acupuncturist will ask before a session what you’ve been experiencing that week and what areas you want to work on. She may target specific areas related to recent pain.

If it’s for a chronic condition, the consecutive treatments may be more similar to one another.

How often do I need to go?

After your first treatment, your acupuncturist will usually provide a personalized plan including an estimate for how many treatments you’ll likely need. This is always an estimate because response times to acupuncture varies widely, but it’s a good guideline. Generally, when starting out, many acupuncturists will have you come in 1-2x per week. Some acupuncturists say that for a chronic condition, you should see your acupuncturist for 1 month corresponding to each year that you’ve suffered from it. For acute conditions, the number of sessions needed varies depending on your response to the treatment.

Acupuncture works cumulatively, which means each treatment builds onto the next. Similar to how medications aren’t effective unless you take the prescribed dose, if you don’t get acupuncture consistently and within an appropriate time frame it is unlikely to yield the desired result.

Do I need a referral to see an acupuncturist?

In some cases yes, in others no. This largely depends on your insurance coverage.

Many insurance companies do cover acupuncture treatment; however a referral may or may not be required for insurance purposes. For more information on insurance and referrals, contact your insurance company. To learn more about insurance coverage, check out our in-depth guide on how to save money on acupuncture.

If you’re paying out of pocket and going to a private acupuncture practice, you don’t need a referral.

I’m In! How do I find a great acupuncturist?

We’re here to help! Over 80% of our practitioners are in network with at least one insurance provider. We also match you based on location, specialty, personality, and more. We don’t stop until you are happy with your practitioner, guaranteed. Message us at Rupa Health to get started.

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References & Further Reading:

What Happens During an Acupuncture Session?, WebMD

What to Expect from a Treatment, British Acupuncture Council

Your First Acupuncture Visit AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine


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