333 El Camino Real Ste A South San Francisco CA 94080

Demystifying Acupuncture: What to Expect During Your First Session


Many potential patients are curious about acupuncture. I explain the process, the sensations you might experience, and the benefits you can expect. I hope to alleviate anxiety and encourage more people to try acupuncture.

Are you curious as to what actually happens during a first acupuncture session?  Let me walk you through the process that my new patients go through when they come in for a first session.

1. Scheduling
I have a convenient online scheduling system so you are able to schedule yourself for an appointment when you are at home with your calender in front of you, or we are happy to schedule you if you’d like to do so in person at the end of your session, or over the phone.

2. Paperwork
Yes, I know, sorry we all don’t love it! But I need to know about your medications and health history. Also, in Chinese medicine we like to know how the internal organs are functioning and if there are other health imbalances in the body.  There are health disharmony patterns that I know to keep an eye out for with certain symptoms and this is only possible with a thorough health history form. So you’ll fill out some paperwork to let me know about your contact info and health history. I will send a copy via email before your first session, or you are welcome to do it by hand in the office.

3. History and Chief Complaint Review
You’ll come into the treatment room with me, sit down, and I’ll ask questions about your chief complaint. If it’s a pain problem, I like to know the cause and related history.  Sometimes that takes a little problem solving as often patients don’t know why a particular pain started. If it’s an internal problem the history can get very complex, especially in fertility cases as fertility requires a global wellness assessment. In cases of fertility, I get the best results when I have a full picture of the patients’ life so that I can best target mine and the patient’s efforts for maximum change. If the complaint is pain I might feel the areas of pain, after asking you to point out exactly where it hurts and when. Using this information I choose the acupuncture points that will bring the most effect for you.  The first appointment I allot 70-80 minutes for, as I need to really get to know you as a person in order to best treat you.  So depending on the complexity of your condition, we will talk for 10-25 minutes.

4. Prepare for Treatment
There are 2 types of treatment: face up and face down. Typically the position is chosen in relation to the chief complaint.

Face up:
For most complaints I will choose face up treatment. I will leave the room while you prepare. To prepare for face up treatment usually you’ll only need to remove the shoes and socks.  The exception would be shoulder pain. In that case I need access to the shoulders.  Most patients just remove shoes and socks and lay down, face up with their neck on a pillow, on the massage table.  Note there is minimal removal of clothing.  I have a heat lamp for the feet so that they won’t get cold, and a heat mat on the back for cold days.  These heat sources also benefit fertility. I will knock and ask before reentering.

Face down:
Typically the position is chosen in relation to the chief complaint. If the complaint is neck or back pain, then usually this necessitates a face down treatment. I will add on a face cradle to the end of the massage table and leave the room while you get ready. Note that there are face up options for neck and back pain treatment, but my preference is face down. If this is not your preference, I have other options available. For a neck treatment, women can leave on their camisole if they like, as long at the neck is exposed. Bras can stay on. Men will need to remove their shirts for access to the neck area.  For lower back pain, if the pain is only in the lower back, you can keep your shirt on and just pull it up to expose the low back. If the pain is in the middle or upper back then the shirt is best removed.  If the back pain extends into the hip and leg, then pants will need to be removed and I will leave a sheet to put on top of the lower half of the body.  Underwear stays on.  Most of the time, unless there is back and leg pain, there is not much removal of clothing. I will knock and ask before reentering.

5. Acupuncture Treatment
Many of my patients have never had acupuncture before. You may be a bit nervous, understandably. That’s natural. I usually chat with my patients to distract them. I get a new cotton ball, pump some alcohol onto it, and wipe the skin in the area I’m going to work. For pain, I may feel the area to confirm the areas of tightness, inflammation, pain or numbness.  I might tap or press the area before needle insertion to desensitize it.  I try to work quickly and get the needles in fast so that your body doesn’t have much of a chance to react. If there is nerve involvement or if the case is fertility related, I might add e-stim (electrical stimulation). It is light and feels like a tapping or a tingling, and sensations usually fade away after 5-10 minutes. You’re in control of the level and if you don’t like it, I’ll remove it.  After the acupuncture has been completed, turn off the lights, and ask if the volume of relaxing music is good for you. Then, I’ll place a sanitized button in your hand, and then exit the room for you to rest alone for about 28 minutes.

6. Relax
I leave you to listen to the music and relax, and let the acupuncture do it’s work. Typically my patients take a little nap.  If you don’t, that is totally ok as well.

7. Treatment End
After your rest time is up, I will knock on the door and reenter. I will remove the needles (you might feel a tickle, that’s about it.) And place them into a red sharps disposal container. After they are all out, I will visually double check all areas and then let you know, ok, you may get up, we are done! I leave the room while you redress and you’ll come out to the front desk to pay and make your next appointment. Most of my patients feel very relaxed after their session.  They sleep really well that night.  Sometimes they might feel tired, but this is often due to them previously running on tension energy.  It is always a good idea to allow yourself time to relax and integrate after a session, but you can also go ahead and do normal life things after.