Here's What a Month of Acupuncture Did for My Bloating

acupuncture I Tried It

Photo Illustration by Michela Buttignol for Verywell Health; Getty Images

ORA provided Verywell with four free acupuncture appointments for this story.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve dealt with digestive issues and chronic bloating. After I turned 22, inconsistent sleep became an issue for me as well. Some mornings I wake up from a restful nine hours, and others nights I lie awake wrestling with my sheets. 

I wanted to get my health back on track. So when my job gave me the opportunity to try four acupuncture sessions at ORA, a NYC-based acupuncture space, I enthusiastically accepted. 

Acupuncture is the practice of inserting needles into different points of the body to achieve different outcomes, licensed acupuncturist Gianna De La Torre, owner of Acu Intuit, an acupuncture space, told Verywell. It’s a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a holistic approach to healthcare that seeks to treat the root causes of your symptoms whenever possible, not just your symptoms themselves.

Treating the root cause is important to me, and something I began doing in the fall of 2022 with the help of an integrative medicine doctor. Through countless vials of blood work, we determined that I have hormonal imbalances and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a syndrome defined by the presence of excess gut bacteria that helps explain my bloating and my sleep issues. I’ve undergone two rounds of antibiotics, as well as a series of diet and lifestyle changes to help get this bacterial overgrowth under control. While acupuncture won’t cure SIBO, it's another treatment modality for the condition I had yet to try. 

At first, my main objective for my month of acupuncture was to improve my quality of sleep. But after an initial consultation about my health history with an ORA provider, we determined that bloating and digestive issues were bigger concerns for me, and better targets for my treatment. 

My foray into acupuncture was a very positive experience. While it improved my health in several ways, there are other places it fell short. Here’s what you should know. 

My First Session: Getting Comfortable

While I was excited to try acupuncture, the idea of subjecting myself to the insertion of dozens of needles still seemed slightly more horrifying than relaxing. I was nervous walking into my first session at ORA.

Immediately after entering the spa-like space, though, I felt a sense of calm. The receptionist offered me water and tea before leading me back to the treatment room.

My acupuncturist, Max Annis, LAc, picked up on my jittery nerves as soon as he entered the room. To make me feel more at ease, he began the session with a thorough discussion of my health history and goals. He then left the room so I could undress, get under the blanket, and make myself comfortable.

After I was situated and Annis returned, it was time for him to insert the needles. I laid face-up on the table as he placed needles into specific acupoints on my stomach, as well as other acupoints on my body, like my arms and toes, that would support the main treatment objective: alleviating bloating. I was terrified of the first needle. But Annis explained everything that was happening and helped guide my breathing. 

By the time he was done, Annis had placed dozens of needles across my body. He said he was going to leave me to relax—needles and all—for 20 to 30 minutes.

After five minutes of light internal panicking about being left alone as a pincushion, I began to feel a sense of calm—I even fell asleep briefly. I could feel the insertion points tingling, almost like an electrical surge throughout my body. Annis later explained this means the needles are doing their job.

He re-entered the room a half hour later to remove the needles and to offer up some after-care instructions: hydrate and rest.

Did One Session Make a Difference? 

One session was not a cure-all. After my initial treatment, my bloating persisted, but I felt a lot of released stomach gas—and not the bad, trapped kind that I typically deal with. 

Part of the reason we decided to focus on bloating instead of sleep is that improved sleep tends to be a byproduct of any acupuncture treatment. I certainly found this to be true, even following the first session.

Right after my session, I went home and had the best night's sleep in recent memory. I fell asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow and woke up feeling rested. 

In subsequent days, my bloating continued, but I continued to have restful sleep. I found that I felt more calm during otherwise stressful points in my work day. 

How Acupuncture Works  

Different acupoints on the body have specific indications, De La Torre said. 

For example, the ST36 (stomach 36) toward the top of your shin is "well-known for its powerful ability to harmonize the spleen and stomach in order to reduce bloating and treat gastric pain" she said, adding that there are many reasons for bloating, each of which may require treating a different acupoint. 

"It’s like inputting a code or a system into your body to activate all these specific points," she said. "Acupuncture tells your energy how to flow and correct itself in order to downregulate the nervous system and help restore balance within the body."

People tend to seek acupuncture to treat pain, sleep, and fertility issues. But De La Torre said there are many other benefits that come with achieving a resting state through acupuncture, like regulated digestion, increased energy levels, and improved mental and emotional states.

Even if patients don’t have a goal for an acupuncture session, De La Torre said there’s always an imbalance that providers can work on, whether that manifests itself as a stiff back, a headache, or PMS. 

"Acupuncture has the potential to restore balance in the body and treat the cause of countless uncomfortable symptoms you may otherwise just live with," she said. 

Follow-Up Sessions Fixed Some Unexpected Problems

Entering ORA for my second, third, and fourth sessions felt a lot different than my initial visit. I spent each week looking forward to the meditative state I found myself in during my first (and subsequent) sessions. 

Session two looked just like session one: a face-up treatment focusing on local stomach and large intestine acupoints, as well as supporting points throughout the body. Just like the first time around, I experienced intense relaxation during and after my session, along with easy gas and improved sleep. However, my bloating persisted.

During my third and fourth visits, Annis recommended that we try a face-down treatment to address some of the deep, uncomfortable tension in my neck, shoulders, and upper back. Because my bloating and digestive issues are likely due to underlying medical conditions, like SIBO, we decided to use our final two sessions together to address some other concerns. 

My job requires a lot of sitting at a desk in front of a computer. In my personal life, I’m fairly active, and participate in Pilates classes and strength training. Both my professional and personal pursuits mean I carry a ton of tension in my neck, shoulders, and back. It’s quite uncomfortable, distracting, and sometimes even painful.

The experience was completely different from my first two sessions. As Annis inserted needles in my neck and along my back, I experienced what felt like an involuntary muscle spasm with each insertion. This was a muscle release, often called the trigger point style of acupuncture.

According to Annis, if one of these trigger points feels a lot more tender upon insertion of a needle, it means there’s some sort of blockage—whether at the site of the needle itself or at a connected point along that "channel" of the body. These are the points that need the most work.

The muscle releases from working on the backside of my body offered immense relief. During these final two sessions, the tension in my neck and upper back seemed to dissolve, and for the next few days, I felt less discomfort and pain.

A surprising result of acupuncture was its impact on my period. I got my period the day after my third treatment, and it was two days shorter and much more manageable than previous cycles—a common effect of acupuncture, Annis said. I’m happy to report I’ve been through two more cycles since my acupuncture regimen and my periods are still more manageable than they were before.

Overall, my month of acupuncture was a positive experience. But I'm taking a break before pursuing further appointments. The treatment can be costly: one 50-minute session at ORA is $135. Still, I would recommend acupuncture to anyone looking to finally address aches, pains, and other bodily issues we all tend to ignore.

The Final Verdict

While acupuncture did not cure my chronic bloating and digestive issues, it did help in other (somewhat unexpected) ways. Four weeks of consecutive acupuncture sessions had significant impacts on my overall wellness, including improved sleep, decreased neck and back tension, shorter periods, and an increased sense of calmness. 

1 Source
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  1. Khanijow V, Prakash P, Emsellem HA, Borum ML, Doman DB. Sleep dysfunction and gastrointestinal diseases. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2015 Dec;11(12):817-25.

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