Five days of acupuncture

Image: sarniebill1 via Flickr

Do acupuncturists have acupuncture treatments? You bet we do.

Last week, I had five acupuncture sessions in five consecutive days. I must admit, this is quite an indulgence even for myself, but it felt ever so good.

Spring always catches me off-guard, especially spring in London. The weather is ridiculously unpredictable: the sun teases you with her rays and then the wind appears to show you who’s the boss. Having grown up in Greece where a sunny day equals a warm day, I still get caught out by the bright glare outdoors to discover that it’s not quite tropical weather just yet. This isn’t helped by the number of overenthusiastic people parading about in short sleeves already. They may have an abundance of yang qi, but I definitely don’t and I pay for it if I don’t continue with my layers.

I don’t know what is about the spring but I always feel under the weather, which is so annoying when the world is coming alive again with the flowers pushing through the earth and the ducks and geese squawk and honk merrily. Whereas most people feel sluggish at the first signs of colds and flu around September and October time, my own body finds the emergence of yang qi out of winter mode more difficult to handle.

So instead of having my usual maintenance session this month, I had five, all in one week. It was difficult to squeeze them all in, but once I had committed and marked the appointments down it became a non-issue. I had mine in the beginning of the day as I work late, but oh how I would’ve loved to have my sessions in the evening.

During the first two treatments I was completely knocked out, sleeping on the treatment bed as soon as the needles were in, with the dull sense of de-qi keeping me company. On the third treatment I was sleepy but awake and by the end of the week I could feel the acupuncture changing from having a restorative and tonifying effect on my body to an invigorating and balancing one.

It was wonderful, and the little moments of calm during my week were sublime. How are you preparing yourself for spring?

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The needling question about acupuncture

What is de-qi and is it important?


The needling question about acupuncture


Over the years I’ve come to realize that the number one, all important, billion dollar question in everyone’s mind when you bring up acupuncture is, “Does it hurt?”


Sure they may ask what acupuncture is good for; can it help with weight loss; does it work (?); how many treatments will it take; but what they’re really thinking is “Go on, be honest it hurts like heck, doesn’t it?”


I explain that the insertion of needle is swift but the more important sensation we’re aiming for is that of “de qi” which, while not painful, can be quite strange for those first-timers. Generally I’ve learned that people having acupuncture for the first time expect the worst and are almost pleasantly surprised.

Ironically the most awkward moment I’ve ever had in a first consultation was with a patient who had had acupuncture before, from a physiotherapist. As it turns out, what she’d had all this time was dry needling (also known as trigger point dry needling or medical acupuncture) which is completely separate from traditional acupuncture. The two share no common ground besides the actual insertion of needles so you can imagine my patient’s surprise when she felt the heavy dull ache and busy “activity” of de qi during her treatment.


The best descriptions of a traditional acupuncture session, I find, are those from the point of view of the receiver, you the patient. You tell me about your anxieties and nervousness, we work together to steady the breathing, you give me the cue to continue our chat or we have an easy silence. I recently came across a blog about three women on their fertility journeys and I think this particular blog post of an acupuncture treatment describes the feeling completely. 


Photo credit: Ernest Vikne via flickr

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What is de-qi and is it important?


Almost every new patient of mine expresses surprise during their acupuncture treatment when they first experience the new sensation of de-qi. De-qi, which can be roughly translated to “obtaining the qi” or “arriving at the qi” often manifests as a heaviness or numbness, a soreness or achiness similar to a slight cramp. Sometimes it presents as warmth or slight redness or more dramatically as s sensation travelling down the leg or up the arm in an invisible path from the needle. 


Some express great curiosity at this strange new awareness of activity “bustling up and down the leg” as one patient put it while others come to relish the feeling during each treatment. Others are not so keen and I have built a relationship with each and every one of them to establish how strong or light a sensation of de-qi they can handle or need. Some people’s bodies are stronger and more sensitive and feel de-qi quite well, others require a bit more of manual manipulation from me.


Acupuncture in its simplest terms is the insertion of a needle to an acupoint, but I believe the therapeutic effects of acupuncture do not occur if there is no de-qi. There is debate in some quarters to as to whether de-qi is necessary to a treatment with some saying you don’t need to feel it every time.


Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture is a complex system and there are symptoms and treatment plans where de-qi or even manipulation is not appropriate. However if it’s not contraindicated I will attempt to have my patient experience de-qi every single time, and if I can get each of my patients to feel the sensation of de-qi for a short while longer even when the needles have been removed then that is even better.


An article published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine reports that de-qi, not psychological factors, determines the therapeutic efficacy of acupuncture treatment for primary dysmenorrhoea (painful periods). The writers concluded that:

“Compared with the psychological factors, De-qi contributed more to the pain-relieving effect of acupuncture in subjects with primary dysmenorrhea. Moreover, manual manipulation is a prerequisite for eliciting and enhancing the De-qi sensations, and De-qi is critical for achieving therapeutic effects.”

This particular study focussed on women with primary dysmenorrhoea but it shouldn’t be taken to mean that de-qi isn’t important if you’re having acupuncture treatment for another condition. Talk to your practitioner, discuss with her what that feeling in your leg, or abdomen is like. Let her know if you feel discomfort (de-qi while not painful can seem strange or uncomfortable for some, especially if it’s strong).



Xiong, J. et al “De-qi, not psychological factors, determines the therapeutic efficacy of acupuncture treatment for primary dysmenorrheaChin J Integr Med 2011.


Photo credit: BAcC

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“But I’m Scared of Needles.” | Acupuncture and the needle phobic patient



One common stumbling block for acupuncturists is convincing people that their anxiety over needles is vastly outweighed by the benefits of acupuncture. Although public awareness of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture has never been higher, there are still many, many people who have never experienced it. And many are adamant that they never will because the treatment involves needles.

Which is a great shame, because there are times when I believe they will truly benefit from a session or two. For instance, patients presenting with back pain, insomnia or fatigue would definitely be helped by a holistic, chemical-free approach such as acupuncture. However as a practitioner, I must carefully determine whether it is advisable to try and convince the person. The last thing I want is to have a patient lying on the table shaking with fear. This is not conducive to the treatment and will most probably be the last acupuncture session he or she will ever have. 


As a holistic therapy, acupuncture relies on the team effort of the practitioner and the patient. This team effort is based on the foundation that the patient sought out the best treatment for themselves based on research and recommendations. Certainly I have had patients who were slightly nervous and then pleasantly surprised by the unique sensation of deqi brought on by correctly administered needles. However, for the unfortunate percentage of people who truly do not want needles inserted into their body I think it’s best to refer them to a practitioner of another type of therapy. In these situations the damage to a patient’s trust (and the reputation of acupuncture as a whole) is far larger than any benefit acupuncture could have to a patient’s condition. 


Other posts you may be interested in:

Five Reasons to See an Acupuncturist

How to find a good acupuncture practitioner | Three questions to ask when choosing an acupuncturist