Sometimes when I’m out in the world, I have heard people say, “I tried acupuncture once and it didn’t do a thing.” To me, that’s like saying I tried exercise once and didn’t get any fitter, or I took one piano lesson and couldn’t play a concerto. Acupuncture is a therapy, and it almost always takes more than one treatment to achieve your desired results—much like physical therapy or mental health talk therapy. It’s rare in any of those cases that it’s a one and done situation.
If you’re considering acupuncture, it’s certainly a reasonable question to ask how many treatments you might need. The answer is that it depends. There are, however, a number of factors that help your practitioner determine the likely course of treatment. They include:
How long you’ve had your condition. Acute problems that are fairly recent tend to resolve faster than a chronic condition that you’ve had for years. For example, a patient seeking acupuncture to help heal a sprained ankle will likely need far fewer acupuncture sessions than one who is being treated for chronic fatigue syndrome.
What exactly you’re being treated for. Some conditions are quickly resolved with acupuncture, while others can take longer. For instance, stress tends to respond quickly to acupuncture, while fertility conditions often need treatments for at least three or four menstrual cycles.
Whether your condition is one of excess or deficiency. Wait…what? Let me explain. In Chinese medicine, an excess condition is one of too much. A build-up of phlegm, water retention, pain, stress and blockages may be considered to be excess conditions. In contrast, anemia, fatigue, poor energy and chronic debilitating illnesses can be instances of deficient conditions. In general, it can take a long time to rebuild your energy, strength, immunity when you’re suffering from deficiency or depletion, but excess problems are often resolved much faster.
The nature of acupuncture. Most people will feel slightly better for a few days after one or two acupuncture sessions. However, the results may last for only a few days or a week, requiring a follow-up treatment fairly soon. After a handful of treatments, the results you feel will last longer; and with continued treatments, even longer. That’s why your acupuncturist frequently suggests several appointments close together early on, and tapering to appointments less and less frequently as time goes on. This often translates into once or twice weekly treatments for a few weeks, and then spreading out the frequency as you improve and that improvement is sustained from appointment to appointment.
Fertility treatments are a little different. Because your practitioner must take into account the various stages of your menstrual cycle or the stages of assisted reproductive techniques you may be undergoing, the timing and frequency of acupuncture treatments may vary. For example, if you’re undergoing IVF, several appointments to support implantation may be necessary during that specific time.
Other treatments used. Frequently other healing therapies are combined with acupuncture to speed up the recovery process and reduce the number of acupuncture sessions you need. At BodaHealth, we may combine your acupuncture treatments with Chinese herbal medicine, cold laser therapy, cupping, heat therapy, nutritional guidance, bodywork (such as massage therapy or Tui Na) or shockwave therapy to help you heal faster.
Preventative appointments. Many patients schedule preventative acupuncture appointments to maintain their health throughout the year. Some choose to come once a month; others once a quarter or twice a year. Other patients time their preventative treatments around a time certain time of year, such as a treatment or two right before their seasonal allergies are due to kick in.
The bottom line in that acupuncture promotes a number of physiological reactions that stimulate your body to heal. How long that takes depends not only on your body constitution, but also on the nature and length of your condition and the healing tools used by your acupuncture provider. If you’re considering acupuncture and want more information about how our practitioners at BodaHealth can help, please give our clinic a call.
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Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.