You’ve heard all about acupuncture from family and friends, and you just booked your first appointment to see if this stuff can help with your nagging back pain that you’ve had for months. You’re also curious because you hear it can help with stress, sleep, and even digestion- all things that can be a struggle for you. You may be thinking, is it magic? Will acupuncture miraculously cure all my ailments after just one session? The simple answer – no, likely not.
Acupuncture is a holistic medicine. I know that the word holistic is thrown around quite a bit these days, kind of like “organic” and “all-natural”. We often just buy it, because it sounds good. But when it comes to acupuncture, holistic simply means treating the whole person and not getting bogged down by the conventionally linear approach to treatment. This being treatment = symptoms relief, which is only part of a much larger equation.
Unlike the quick-fix mentality that the medication mindset alludes, East Asian Medicine (which includes acupuncture), is a slow medicine that treats the body, mind, and spirit as a whole- system. But please don’t let slow deter you, because slow in this context simply means thorough, comprehensive, and realistic when it comes to the true nature of healing.
You may be thinking, “okay, that all sounds great, but how long is this going to take? And how much am I going to have to shell out for this?”
In a nutshell, for any chronic condition (anything that has been around for 3 months or more), treatment can take anywhere from 6-24 sessions. This may seem like a large range, but everyone’s response to acupuncture is different. Additionally, there are many different variables outside of care that can either speed up or hinder recovery.
To provide context and as a general blueprint, I often divide treatment into 3 phases for my patients – Initial phase, Reinforcement phase, and Maintenance.
Initial phase: 6-12 treatments at 1x per week
What is the focus?
Reduce the stress response
Recirculate energy in the body, so that the body has energy to heal
Take the edge off
Before planting the seeds, we want to till the soil so that we will reap a rewarding harvest. During the initial phase of care, it is important to set the body up for healing. It is likely that you will experience symptom relief after 1-2 treatments, but if you are coming in for a long-standing and deep-rooted issue, you should keep in mind that this relief can be short-lived and inconsistent. This doesn’t mean that the treatment isn’t working, it means that you’re body and mind are trying to regain balance. You’ll have really good days, and you’ll have really bad days. This is the true nature of healing, and the reality of growth and change. But once you make it through this phase, the edge should be taken off considerably, and relief should last long enough to start reintroducing activities that have been limited.
Reinforcement phase: 6-12 treatments at 2-3 times per month
What is the focus?
Keep the stress response regulated
Chip away at that last 5-10% of discomfort
Carefully reintroduce activities that have been limited
At this point, you should be feeling pretty comfortable. Relief lasts for 1-2 weeks at a time, and any exacerbations that may occur should be mild and short-lived. This is also the time to start engaging in activities that were limited, though carefully. Depending on how well you respond to these activities will determine the amount and frequency of treatment during this phase.
Maintenance phase: As needed, usually once a month.
What is the focus?
Boost immunity and resilience
You did it! You’re at a 0/10 level of discomfort, and you feel great! But we want to keep this going, so if during your recovery you become a big fan of acupuncture and its numerous benefits, then at this point you can consider coming in for monthly maintenance. This is where acupuncture really works its wonders, by keeping you healthy, vibrant, and balanced through whatever life throws your way.