This past week I heard what I consider to be an acupuncture horror story. The story came from a new patient who had been experiencing sciatic pain down her right leg. It had been going on for weeks and nothing was helping. To top it off, her MD referred her to someone for a shot, but she could not get in for 2 weeks!

Yikes! At her doctor's office she was offered the option of getting acupuncture. She read agreed and they took her to the treatment room.

Here's where it got odd.

Red Flag # 1 :

The acupuncturist came in and, without even introducing herself or asking any questions, began treating this patient. Being treated like this is a sure sign of an acupuncturist that does not have a lot of experience.

Better : At the very least, you should expect questions about the quality of the pain, where exactly it hurts, the times of day it's better or worse, activities that improve or worsen it, etc. Without knowing the answers to these questions, it's impossible for an acupuncturist to tailor the treatment to your unique situation.

Red Flag # 2 :

During the treatment the acupuncturist did not communicate anything about what she was doing. Nor did she ask this patient if she was having discomfort from the treatment.

Better : Communication is crucial for effective treatment. This is true not only in acupuncture, but in any healing situation.

Red Flag # 3 :

After the treatment the acupuncturist said, “By the way, it's probably going to hurt worse after this.” What?!?!

Let me tell you right now that although it is possible that such a thing could happen occasionally, it only happens when the treatment is done without taking into account the symptoms (as stated above) and the overall constitution of the patient.

I can only imagine that this acupuncturist gets a lot of complaints that it hurt worse afterwards. So much so that she mentions it, but only after the treatment.

Better : The treatment causes immediate improvement without any aggravation of symptoms.

As you may guess, after the treatment this patient's pain got worse. Fortunately, she chose not to continue treatment with this acupuncturist. Instead she called me and came in for treatment. In my office her treatment not only did not aggravate her pain, but she felt immediate improvement. That's how it's supposed to work.

What to Look For

Okay, so if you are looking for someone competent to treat you with acupuncture what should you look for? Basically, here are some positive signs that someone has enough experience to treat you correctly:

Positive Sign # 1 :

If your acupuncturist takes a health history, ask specific questions about your pain or other health problem and also looks at your tongue and takes your pulse, it's a good sign. All of these indicate that they are identifying patterns of imbalance, which in turn will help them make a clear diagnosis and provide effective treatment.

Positive Sign # 2 :

If your acupuncturist pays attention to your input during the treatment – both verbal and non-verbal – it's a good sign. In addition, if you have questions, your acupuncturist should be happy to answer them. An experienced acupuncturist knows that each person is unique and has their own unique level of sensitivity. They will adjust their treatment accordingly.

Positive Sign # 3 :

Your acupuncturist should follow the ancient healing maxim, “First do no harm.” In other words, an experienced acupuncturist will treat the problem in a way that should improve the situation, not aggravate it.

Those readers who've experienced treatment by an experienced acupuncturist know what I'm talking about. Hopefully those of you who are contemplating acupuncture treatment can use this information to make sure you get the best treatment possible.

Be well,

Dr. Bruce