Medical Acupuncture – FAQ

Medical acupuncture – how does it work?

Medical acupuncture research is still in its infancy and while we’re learning a lot, we still have a long way to go before we fully understand how it works in all situations.

In terms of pain relief, we’ve come to learn that medical acupuncture seems to elicit a nervous system response that causes the release of specific neurotransmitters in the body that regulate how we respond to, or feel pain.

What are the medical acupuncture needles like?

Modern acupuncture needles are very thin, solid yet flexible and are designed for one time use to minimize risk of infection. They come packaged in sterile containers and are safely disposed of after each use. Acupuncture needles are engineered with a rounded tip so that they can glide through tissue rather than the beveled edge found on typical, hollow, large-bore, hypodermic needles, which are designed to slice through tissue and either inject or draw fluids.

Does medical acupuncture hurt?

It depends. There are many techniques that fall under the umbrella of medical acupuncture, some of which may be more uncomfortable than others for different people.

Most people will find that standard medical acupuncture causes minimal to no discomfort, with many people able to fall asleep due to the deeply relaxing nature of the technique. Once inserted, the needles may be manually, or electrically stimulated, which may cause a mild, dull, achy sensation known as “de-Qi” (pronounced “de chi”). This sensation may last for a few seconds or a few minutes and typically diminishes thereafter.

Some of the more aggressive dry needling techniques aim to elicit a specific muscle response or spasm in order to cause a subsequent relaxation of tight and restricted tissues. Some of these may be considered more painful and your medical acupuncture provider will discuss this with you prior to initiating this type of treatment (if this type of treatment is indicated for your issues or concerns).

Is medical acupuncture covered under insurance?

If your extended health care plan has coverage for the practitioner that is offering the service (e.g. physiotherapy coverage for services provided by a registered physiotherapist), the medical acupuncture treatment would typically be considered a modality of the practitioner’s treatment and would be billed as such (e.g. billed as physiotherapy visit). Some practitioners may have separate acupuncture billing numbers, which may allow billing under “acupuncture coverage”. However, since every insurance plan is different, please contact your healthcare provider to discuss your specific policy details and medical acupuncture coverage.

What should I do before a medical acupuncture treatment?

Prior to your medical acupuncture treatment be well rested and hydrated. Avoid the use of alcohol and don’t smoke for at least an hour prior to treatment.

What should I do after a medical acupuncture treatment?

Post medical acupuncture treatment, you should drink plenty of water or other hydrating fluids. Take no alcohol two hours after treatment and avoid smoking for an hour after. Some people may feel very relaxed after treatment and may require rest. Others may feel full of energy and be ready to go.

For more information on medical acupuncture, check out the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute (ACFI).