What should I expect during my acupuncture appointment?

After filling out a health history form, we will discuss your main complaint and goals of treatment.  Depending on your issues, I may do a brief physical evaluation and assessments to get further diagnostic information. You might need to remove some clothes, depending on your complaint.  You will lie on the treatment table, and I will insert the needles for treatment.  Most people feel either nothing or only very slight discomfort from the needles.  Depending on your complaint, I may perform one or more manual therapy techniques to treat the muscles, fascia, ligaments, and joints while the needles are in. If no bodywork is needed, you get to take a nap while the needles do their magic – usually 30-45 minutes.

What should I expect during my massage appointment?

After filling out a health history form, we will discuss any specific issues and questions you may have, along with any areas you would like treated or avoided and what to expect during the treatment.  We may then perform assessments to determine the course of treatment.  The most important idea is that it is your treatment, so please, please, please ask any questions and communicate any preferences or issues!  It does not hurt my feelings if you need an extra blanket or less pressure – as a matter of fact, it hurts my feelings if you don’t speak up and then walk away unhappy.

What should I wear during my appointment?  Do I have to completely undress?

Wear something comfortable.  The most effective way for me to access the majority of your body for a massage, you will likely remove all of your clothing.  You will always have at least a sheet as a drape covering you during the treatment, with only the body part being massaged undraped at any time. However, if you are not comfortable removing any clothes, I can still do massage or manual therapy with clothes on.  It may not be as enjoyable through clothing, but your comfort and ability to relax during the treatment is the most important thing! For an acupuncture treatment, it depends on the complaint and body part being treated. Some people need to remove some clothes and some just need to remove shoes and socks.

Do the needles hurt? Are they safe?

The needles are much thinner than a hypodermic needle – more like a filament about the size of a human hair.  Most people feel either nothing or just a slight pinch as the needle passes through the skin.  People that are sensitive to energy movements may feel a mild electrical sensation or a heavy sensation after the needle is inserted.  Should you feel any pain, I will remove and replace the needle in a different location. I only use single-use, sterile disposable needles, so they are completely safe.

Will the bodywork/massage be painful?

No! Please see my blog on the difference between deep tissue massage and deep pressure. The idea that bodywork must be painful to be effective, is not only incorrect, but pain is actually counterproductive during a massage for a variety of reasons. The most discomfort that is acceptable to me is that feeling of “good hurt” when there is some discomfort and yet the pressure feels good at the same time, any more than that and you must tell me to ease back. My goal is to make you feel better than you did when you walked in.

What is the difference between Swedish massage, medical massage, orthopedic massage, therapeutic massage and Thai massage?

Swedish massage is basic massage with long gliding strokes, kneading and for the purpose of relaxation.

Medical massage usually involves basic massage techniques, but is done for a specific therapeutic outcome such as relief of low back pain. A medical massage therapist may or may not use any advanced techniques, but often has additional training in musculoskeletal anatomy as well as physiological tests such as range of motion tests to measure progress toward the desired outcome. He or she also will be able to document the treatments and the progress toward the goal for insurance purposes.

Orthopedic massage is a system of assessment and advanced manual therapy techniques that is used to discover the source of one’s pain and dysfunction and to restore pain-free balance and functionality.  The focus is finding and releasing stuck tissues in joints, muscles and fascia to resolve structural pain and dysfunction at the source.  It is typically issue-oriented and therefore not usually a full-body massage.

Thai massage is traditionally performed on a mat on the floor, but can be adapted to the table as well. It involves compression and kneading techniques, combined with passive stretching and joint mobilization.  There is something deeply relaxing about this combination of techniques that causes clients to rave about it.

Therapeutic massage is a customized combination of any of the above techniques to address your specific issues.  It can range from a relaxing massage with a bit of extra attention to an area all the way to orthopedic massage on only one specific area of dysfunction.

Should I tip?  If so, how much?

A Doctor of Oriental Medicine is a physician in New Mexico, so tipping for an acupuncture treatment would be like tipping your medical doctor.  Tipping for a massage is never expected but always appreciated.  The most common amounts range from 10-20% if you felt that the massage was awesome, but not everyone tips.  The best tip is scheduling another appointment and referring friends and family!

Is there a time when I shouldn’t have a massage or acupuncture treatment?

If you are feverish, contagious and coughing, I would still be happy to do an acupuncture treatment on you, but it’s not the right time for a massage.  Massage is contraindicated if you have an acute injury or recent operation, fever or contagious disease, are under the influence of drugs or alcohol (including prescription medications), hypertension, edema or have a general skin disorder.  We can do massage but may need to avoid a body part in the case of varicose veins, tumor or undiagnosed lump, skin lesion, sunburn, open wounds, cuts or bruises.  Clients with cancer or osteoporosis may receive gentle massage.  All of these conditions are okay for acupuncture treatment except being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

What does cupping do?  How does it work?

Cupping is the placement of glass or silicone cups on the body with suction.  The suction may be created by simple pressure on silicone cups or fire cupping which is lighting an alcohol-soaked cotton ball on fire and placing it inside a glass cup for a second to burn away the oxygen in the cup creating a small vacuum just before placing it on the skin. (You will not be burned.) Cupping works by expanding capillaries, which then moves fluid through the tissues around the cup. According to Chinese Medicine theory, cupping relieves stagnation in an area by moving old blood to the surface (which is what causes the bruises) so that new blood can move into the area. According to cuppingtherapy.org, suction cups rapidly facilitate rigid soft tissue release, loosens and lifts connective tissue, breaks up and drains stagnation while increasing blood and lymph flow to skin and muscles in ways not possible using compression.  I use cupping therapy mainly for pain and for respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.

What conditions can be helped by acupuncture?

The World Health Organization lists many disorders that are known to be helped by acupuncture, including ear/nose/throat disorders, respiratory disorders, digestive disorders, some circulatory disorders, menstrual and fertility issues, neurological disorders, and of course, many musculoskeletal disorders.  I currently specialize in the musculoskeletal disorders because of my extensive training in manual therapy techniques that I combine with the acupuncture treatment.  However, I also treat other complaints such as allergies, anxiety, Bell’s Palsy and respiratory issues.

How does acupuncture work?

This is still an open question, which is amazing since acupuncture has probably been performed for over 3,000 years.  The theory in Chinese Medicine is that disease is caused by disruptions in the flow of energy in the body, and the needles re-establish optimal energy flow.  But exactly how the needles do this seems to still be a mystery.  Whatever the route after thousands of years of anecdotal evidence it does work well for many people. Modern research is confirming that acupuncture does affect the body’s release of various hormones, neurotransmitters, and inflammatory chemicals. Stimulation of the body systems perhaps explains how acupuncture can help resolve pain and other disorders.

Will insurance pay for my treatment?

In New Mexico, acupuncture is listed as an “essential health benefit,” and therefore is required to be included in all commercial health insurance plans.  However, Medicaid and Tricare do not pay for acupuncture. Medicare will pay for limited acupuncture for low back pain; however I am not contracted to provide services for Medicare or Tricare.  Please check with your insurance provider to determine your benefits, copays and any deductible you may have.  At this time, I am contracted with Blue Cross, United Health Care, and Cigna to provide acupuncture services.

I have heard that some insurance plans will pay for massage.  I am not currently contracted with any insurance companies to provide massage services.

What are those knots in my muscles and what causes them? 

Muscle knots are a common term for myofascial trigger points.  They are small bunched-up areas in muscle fibers, and they can occur in any muscle.  They may be ‘active,’ meaning they cause pain either with certain movements or all the time; or ‘latent,’ meaning they only hurt when someone touches them.  Knots can be caused by chronic dehydration, lack of movement, poor posture, stress/anxiety, repetitive motion, or injury or trauma.  Massage or manual therapy, along with stretching exercises and regular movement, is one of the best ways to correct and prevent trigger points.

Can your treatments help with my sciatica, frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome, low back pain, tennis elbow, neck pain, headaches, migraine, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, etc.?

In almost all cases of acute and chronic pain, my treatments can help improve your quality of life.  Most people experience a reduction in symptoms along with improved functionality in daily life, and many experience complete pain relief.

Can massage or acupuncture be done if I have had a hip or knee replacement?

Yes.  I have treated patients with both total knee and total hip replacements.  Acupuncture and massage usually speed up the healing and rehabilitation process.  I am happy to work with your physical therapist to provide comprehensive rehabilitation care.


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