What happens to your body after acupuncture?

Acupuncture can cause different sensations among different people. Many individuals will feel relaxed and more comfortable with acupuncture. That being said, there are some individuals that may actually feel worse after acupuncture. Acupuncture has been shown to have significant effects on the autonomic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system regulates involuntary physiological processes, such as heart rate and blood pressure. This nervous system can be divided into 3 main components: the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, and the enteric nervous system. Activation of the sympathetic nervous system triggers a level of increased activity and attention, or a “fight or flight” response. This would include an increase in both heart rate and blood pressure.

On the other hand, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system triggers a “rest and digest” response. This includes a decreased heart rate and blood pressure. The enteric nervous system controls digestive functions, including muscle contraction/relaxation, secretion/absorption, and blood flow.

Acupuncture can have significant impacts on both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. This means in some cases acupuncture could trigger a fight or flight response, while in others it could trigger a rest and digest response. For those experiencing a lot of relaxation from acupuncture, it may be related to a decrease in sympathetic nervous system activity or an increase in parasympathetic nervous system activity.

In contrast, feeling worse after acupuncture may be related to an increase in sympathetic nervous system activity or a decrease in parasympathetic nervous system activity. Acupuncture also causes small microtrauma to the area that is treated. Your body detects a foreign object within it, and creates an immune response to combat this. As a result, inflammation may occur at the treatment site, and there may be slight swelling during or after treatment.

The inflammatory response created from acupuncture is thought to play a role in the healing of the injury that is being treated. After acupuncture, you may feel dizzy, lightheaded, drowsy, and could even have a dull ache in the area that was treated. It’s important to stay hydrated and make sure you’ve had something to eat both before and after acupuncture. Furthermore, it can be a good idea to rest the area that has been treated if you’re feeling an ache.


Is acupuncture covered by insurance?

Acupuncture is a treatment that can be performed by many different healthcare providers. In Ontario, acupuncture is not a regulated profession. This means no standards exist on who can perform it. It also means there are no public protection mechanisms in place regarding qualifications, complaints and discipline, and professional standards.

That being said, regulated professionals performing acupuncture must adhere to the guidelines set out by their own regulatory body. Acupuncture will be covered if your insurance coverage includes the specific healthcare provider you’re seeing. Some providers who may offer acupuncture include: registered acupuncturists, chiropodists, chiropractors, dentists, medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, occupational therapists, nurses, registered massage therapists, and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.

So, if your insurance covers physiotherapy, and your physiotherapist can perform acupuncture, it will be covered. Only healthcare practitioners who have had the appropriate education and training can provide acupuncture for their clients. For example, physiotherapists must roster with the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario in order to perform acupuncture. Any physiotherapist who has not rostered with the college is not legally allowed to practice acupuncture.

Furthermore, you’ll need to check with your insurance provider to see which healthcare practitioners they cover. If your insurance provider specifically covers acupuncture, it likely refers to treatment from a registered acupuncturist. Acupuncture performed by a registered acupuncturist will be billed as acupuncture. On the other hand, if you see another therapist, your treatment will be billed under their specific profession. For example, acupuncture performed by a physiotherapist will be billed as a physiotherapy treatment to your insurance provider. This is important to note, as you can still receive acupuncture covered by insurance even if your insurance provider doesn’t specifically cover acupuncture.

Keep in mind that each healthcare practitioner will need to assess you within their scope of practice prior to providing you with acupuncture. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan doesn’t cover the cost of acupuncture treatment.


Still not sure what to expect with acupuncture? Call us at 519-895-2020, or use our online booking tool on www.strivept.ca to book an appointment with one of our knowledgeable physiotherapists, and they will be sure to help you understand your injury. 



Liam Newlands

Physiotherapist at Strive Physiotherapy and Performance

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