Acupuncture has gained a lot of popularity here in the West, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to public education regarding this medicine. Most patients have a very vague understanding of how Acupuncture works, and even less knowledge when it comes to what the treatment process looks like as a whole. I can’t count the number of patients I’ve seen who lose faith after one or two treatments – never to return. I wish we could work magic in one session, but the healing process is rarely that straightforward. Acupuncture is an amazing tool, but it needs to be given a fair shot in order to succeed. Today we will attempt to tackle the question: “How long will it take for me to see results?”

Acupuncture Point Model

Now, let me be clear right from the start – everything I say in this post is intended to be a general guideline. There are a lot of variables at play that can affect the number of Acupuncture treatments a person will need. Often, patients with good lifestyle habits (a balanced whole-food diet, regular exercise, healthy mechanisms to cope with stress etc.) will see results more quickly. Don’t be discouraged if your progress isn’t matching up directly with these guidelines. The healing process is unique to each individual patient.

The General Course of Acupuncture Treatment

As medical interventions go, Acupuncture is relatively slow working. Don’t get me wrong, we can achieve some powerful results with our needles, but it’s rare that you’ll be symptom free overnight. I explain this to my patients as a kind of trade-off. Western Medicine can get results more rapidly, but there is often a higher risk of complications or adverse side effects. Acupuncture on the other hand may take longer to stick, but there are little to no side effects post treatment.

The changes Acupuncture has on the body often start off subtly. Rather than telling patients to look for a complete disappearance of their symptoms, I ask them to look at subtle changes. Did your pain go from a 8/10 to a 4/10? Did you go from 24/7 symptoms to having symptoms every other day? Did you get a few good days post treatment before things slowly returned? These are all signs that the body is responding positively to treatment, and we usually find that those initial results begin to snowball once we get a bit of traction. Two days of relief becomes four days of relief. Four days becomes a week. The key is sticking with treatment and seeing it through for at least a few sessions

Treatment of Acute Conditions

Acute conditions are conditions that are sudden in onset and short in course (usually less than 3 months). Some common acute health issues are sprains, strains, acute headaches, sudden abdominal pain, nausea, the common cold, etc.

The severity of the disorder, the location of the issue, and the age / constitution of the patient can all play a role in healing times – but we usually like to see results within 4 to 6 treatments. This doesn’t mean you’ll see no change after the first couple sessions, but it usually takes more than one or two for more long lasting effects. If we’re not seeing results at this point it may mean we need to shift our treatment approach, or look at incorporating more modalities (massage, cupping, herbs etc.)

Treatment of Chronic Conditions

Chronic conditions are long lasting, persistent conditions with slower, more insidious onsets. The general rule in Chinese Medicine is that the longer you’ve had a disease, the longer it will take to treat. That is what makes chronic conditions extremely difficult to deal with. A patient’s family background, medical history, and lifestyle really come into play here.

I tell most patients with chronic conditions that they’ll need to commit to at least 6 to 8 treatments while also preparing them for the fact that it may take more than 10 treatments to see drastic change. This range depends on the severity and duration of a patient’s illness and/or injury.

From the very first treatment, your practitioner will be honest about whether or not Acupuncture is a good fit for you.

Frequency of Treatment

So we’ve outlined the fact that acute conditions generally see results within 4 to 6 treatments, and chronic conditions can take anywhere from 6 to 10+ treatments, but, how OFTEN do you need to be coming in?

Generally, I like to keep treatments close together until we start seeing results that stick. This could be 2 treatments per week (in more serious cases) or treatment once per week. I find that if we leave more than a week between treatments we often find ourselves starting back at square one again. By allowing the patient’s condition to completely regress, we become stuck chasing symptoms rather than addressing the real root of the problem.

Where can I get more information?

The information presented here is extremely general, so if you’d like an answer more tailored to your individual situation – your best bet is to contact your local Acupuncturist. If you’re in Edmonton, or the surrounding area, we’d be happy to address your questions here at Meridian Health Centre. Feel free to contact us at 780-428-8897 or shoot me an email at jon@meridianhealthcentre.ca

by Jon McDonell, R.Ac

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