Getting Acupuncture In Korea

Hi there! Curious about Acupuncture? Thinking about getting some yourself and unsure? When I was considering it I wasn’t massively confident because it would be my first experience of an alternative therapy and I wouldn’t say I was exactly skeptical, but I didn’t really know what to expect and didn’t want to expect too much. Because I’m aware of the feeling of apprehension you might have when considering this type of treatment, I’ve written a detailed description of my own experience. So here it is, don’t expect jokes, but prepare to be informed!

It’s a long story, but I’ve been having some tingling and numbness in my right hand and pain in my right wrist and forearm for around 8 weeks now, originating I believe, during a game of ‘sock wrestling’ at a party (umm whoops). I went to the doctor here and had both wrists x-rayed, revealing two ‘short ulnas’, the smaller bone in the forearm. I’ve done some research and apparently this can cause issues with the ulnar nerve (entrapment etc.), causing pain and discomfort in the wrist and forearm. I’ve had pain in both elbows for around 5 years and have had treatment from my GP at home, including a steroid injection. I could be wrong, but I’m assuming now that this is all connected.

So last week, after little success with prescribed anti-inflammatories, I decided to give acupuncture a go to see if that would make a difference.

I went to a Chinese medicine practice in my small Korean hometown of Sunchang. This doctor (a lovely Korean man with excellent English, accompanied by his wife and two daughters assisting him) was recommended by a friend. I explained my problem to him and he had a good feel of my wrist. He prescribed sessions of acupuncture, electronic massage and natural remedies for both my wrist and my elbows.

I lay down on a bed in his treatment room with heated pads wrapped around both elbows and my wrist for around 15 minutes. These were pretty hot, but bearable. The pads were then removed and replaced with suction cups containing wet sponges, which were connected to a machine at the foot of my bed. This machine sent electrical pulses to the points where the suctions cups had been applied (the inside/back of both elbows, the underside of my right wrist and halfway up on the underside of the same forearm). It was initially a very strange sensation, which after I got used to it, actually became quite pleasant. The pulses alternated their rhythm and intensity; sometimes pulsing quite fast and sometimes radiating quite gradually down my arm. It basically felt like a massage crossed with a mini electrical storm pulsing down my arm to the tips of my fingers. This lasted for about 10 minutes.

Then came the needles. He inserted quite a few needles in and around the areas I’d identified pain. I didn’t look and tried to pretend nothing was happening, but it was nowhere near as painful as I’d expected (nowhere near as unpleasant as an injection needle). I barely noticed him putting the needles in, he did it so swiftly and gently. The only time I could really feel it was when he inserted needles around the ulnar nerve that runs across the inside of the elbow. Then I felt a definite ‘nervy’ twinge. But there was no lasting pain and the only time I could really tell the needles were there was if I wiggled my fingers or moved my arm too much, so I tried to keep as still as possible! He left the needles in for about 20 minutes. I’d expected something to happen with the needles during this time, but they were literally put in and left there for the duration, without any kind of manipulation.

While the needles were in place, he offered me another therapy called ‘Moxibustion’. This entailed using adhesive patches to attach burning posts called ‘Moxa’, which reminded me of the incense cones you can burn, next to certain points where the needles were. He told me that this encourages the production of red blood cells. The posts were allowed to burn down until it got very warm on my skin, at which point someone was on hand to remove them. They were then replaced with new ones and the process was repeated three times, the heat getting more intense each time. According to this article: the practice of Moxibustion quite commonly accompanies acupuncture and even suggests, “Using one without the other is like playing the piano with just one hand.” If you read the article, I believe it was the Indirect Moxibustion with self adhesive Moxa that I received (the third picture across from the left). This was the least pleasant of the treatments but it was fine and I wanted to give it a go.

Moxibustion 'Moxa' (Source:

Again, when the needles were removed (again very swiftly and gently) I barely felt it and I was told I could go. I was given four packets of capsules containing a Chinese trauma remedy, four in each packet to take for two mornings and evenings. They asked me to come back two days later if I was still having pain. The entire process, including the medication, cost 12,600 Korean Won (around 7 GBP, 11.50 US Dollars).

I was a little sore afterwards in the areas that the needles had been but the discomfort only lasted for an hour or so. Generally, acupuncture for me was a pleasant and positive experience, I’m not sure whether the therapy will clear up my issues entirely, but it’s definitely eliminated the constant ache I had and to a certain extent the pain. I will be going back for more!

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