One of the more common questions we get as acupuncturists is how many treatments will be necessary to resolve any given condition. The answer? It's complicated. End of blog post!
Just kidding. It is a complicated subject, though, and one that needs to be understood in order for the treatments to have their optimal benefit. First and foremost, it is important to understand a big difference between Western and Eastern medical philosophies. Specifically, Western medicine is designed to bring about rapid change and produce immediate results. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach; however, most treatment options are merely band-aids. By masking symptoms, you're never truly addressing the body's underlying needs – you might feel better taking a certain medication, but likely will have to take said medication for the rest of your life in order to continue to reap the benefits.
Traditional Chinese Medicine sees the body as a holistic system and employs a more moderate and gentle method. This is because the body needs sufficient time to to adapt, change, and heal itself. Acupuncture treatments are designed to be cumulative and build upon each other. That's not to say that patients don't experience any immediate relief from acupuncture – most do! However, more long-standing (chronic) conditions take a significant course of treatment to completely resolve. For example, if a patient experiences 12 hours of relief after one treatment, that's great! However, subsequent treatments should bring about longer lasting effects. After the second treatment in this scenario, I would expect the patient to feel better for about 24 hours. And so on and so forth, until the condition is resolved.
So then, how many treatments will you need??? It depends on a couple factors that are always covered in the initial intake and medical history: how severe are the symptoms and how long have you been experiencing these symptoms. While no two cases and no two patients are the same, generally speaking, the more chronic and severe the symptoms, the longer the condition(s) will take to resolve. More specifically, it can take one month of treatment for every one year the health issue has existed. I will always be able to give a more accurate assessment of the how many treatments question after having completed two or three treatments.
Now that that's all been covered, it is worth mentioning a couple common mistakes patients make when initiating a series of treatments. The first is when a patient experiences what appears to be a complete resolution of their symptoms in one or two treatments. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled when this happens. However, it is always in our best interest to reinforce this result by coming in for several additional treatments. This patient will invariably call me two or three months after having been “successfully” treated, only to need to start over from scratch. Maintenance is key – coming in once or twice a month will ensure we are getting the body to optimally respond. The other mistake is when a patient will give up after not having experienced any result after a couple treatments. As we covered earlier, acupuncture is designed to be a gentle, moderate process. I have seen (admittedly stubborn) patients come in for eight or ten treatments before they start to improve! Every case is different and every patient experiences acupuncture's effects in their own way.
If you're considering acupuncture, I hope this blog provided you with a better understanding of how long it can take to see substantial results. Instead of just resolving symptoms, Traditional Chinese Medicine can provide true health and wellness. It can take some time and dedication, but is always worth the effort.
Michael A. Sassack is a licensed and board certified acupuncturist serving the northwest suburbs of Chicago.