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During your first appointment, your practitioner is likely to ask you detailed questions about your health, lifestyle, and behaviors. The questions will range far beyond the specific symptoms for which you are seeking treatment. This is in keeping with the holistic nature of traditional Chinese medicine. You will also be asked about any medical conditions you have, which may or may not be related to your current symptoms, and about all medications and other treatments you are currently receiving.

Before the acupuncture treatment begins, you will be asked to lie down. You may lie face down, face up, or on your side, depending on where the needles are to be placed. Alternatively the acupuncturist may want you to sit in a chair. You may be asked to roll up your sleeves or pant legs, or otherwise adjust your clothing to allow your acupuncturist access to the required body parts.

The acupuncturist will wipe the spots where needles will be inserted with alcohol or another disinfectant. The practitioner will then begin to place the acupuncture needles are various locations on your body. The needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin. You should feel no or minimal discomfort as the needles are inserted. Most people either feel relaxed or energized when the needles are inserted.

You should not feel soreness or pain during treatment. Pain and soreness usually result when the patient moves during treatment, if a needle is improperly placed, or if there is a defect in the needle.

In a variation of acupuncture known as electroacupuncture, the practitioner may use a device to generate electric pulses along the needles. Considered an enhanced form of acupuncture, electroacupuncture further stimulates the points of acupuncture, or acupoints. The needles may be left in for only a few minutes, or up to thirty minutes or longer.

Acupuncture may be used as a stand-alone treatment. But it can also be used in combination with more conventional, Western medical treatments.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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