First Time Acupuncture Treatment: What to Expect

Posted On: April 25th, 2021

Amelia Knowlton

First Time Acupuncture Treatment: What to Expect

According to the National Institute of Health, researchers are just beginning to understand whether acupuncture can be helpful for various health conditions. A number of research studies suggest that it may help relieve chronic pain such as low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. While the effects of acupuncture are only beginning to be understood, it’s believed that other factors unrelated to needling, such as expectation, play a part in the beneficial effects. Read more information on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s website.

Before this year I had never received acupuncture, but heard varied stories from friends and colleagues about its effects. I heard about boring, ineffective visits to relaxing, mediative sessions that left the person in a state of bliss. I wasn’t sure what to expect but hoped for the latter.

After beginning weekly sessions this year, I’ve had different types of experiences. Some where I stared at the ceiling wondering when I can get off the table and on with my day. Others were so relaxing I had no concept of the amount of time I’d spent there. I’ve learned that my mental condition at the time of treatment has an effect on how it will go. Based on my experiences, I’ve put together some guidelines to prepare for optimal results.

Wear loose fitting clothing

Loose, comfy clothing is a key to staying cozy for the 25-30min spent with thin needles poked into different parts of the body. Your acupuncturist may dim the lights, put on soft music, and supply a heating lamp or blanket. Don’t be shy to speak up if the conditions aren’t right for you, your acupuncturist wants to make sure you will be as comfortable as possible during treatment.

Come ready with health history: medications, supplements, past and current concerns

The first part of each session is a check-in where the acupuncturist will ask about your medical history and symptoms. Be honest about what is bothering you and use this time to ask any questions that may be on your mind. It is equally as important to talk about your experience after and ask any lingering questions. Building a rapport with your acupuncture will allow them to tailor the treatment to you and allow you to relax during treatment.

Use the restroom before your session

The worst feeling is hearing your acupuncturist dim the lights and shut the door, only to realize you have a full bladder. Make a point to visit the restroom and avoid diuretic beverages like coffee before your appointment.

Relax & let go

It might feel unnatural the first few sessions, but it’s in your best interest to ignore the needles and focus on your breath. Some emotions and sensations may come up during treatment. For one session, I cried from the time that the needles were inserted until the end of the session. After the needles were removed, I felt lighter and more relaxed. At the start of another session I had a blocked nostril from allergies. Slowly through the session I felt the pressure in my sinuses decrease to the point that my nostril opened back up. Take notice of your body while keeping your attention on your breath to stay relaxed through any sensations.


I’ve learned for myself that a morning appointment when my head is clear and I am naturally more relaxed works best for me. Going on a day where I have no plans before or after and feel no need to rush allows me to be present in the session. Avoiding caffeine and having a small breakfast or snack before puts my body in the optimal condition to relax. Results will differ for everyone, but so far, I can say that treatment has helped me relax and release tension in my body.

If you are a Mass General Brigham employee on AllWays Health Partners insurance, it’s never been easier to find a practitioner that fits your needs. Read more about insurance coverage for acupuncture here.  

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