Acupuncture acts to boost the body’s innate healing system. Healing is a process in our body, not an instant reaction. Because of this it will take more than one acupuncture treatment to heal. Number and frequency of acupuncture treatments is a concern many patients have. How many treatments you will need and at what frequency will depend on what is going on in your body.
Here are some general guidelines your therapist will use when determining a treatment plan for you:
Intensity of Pain
One of the things taken into consideration when creating a treatment plan is whether there is pain and how intense it is. The image below is a visual tool that therapists use to help determine pain levels.
The more intense the pain is the more frequent your treatments should be. Just like pain medication you will need more frequent “doses” for stronger pain. Acupuncture can be used to stimulate the release of the body’s natural endorphins or pain relieving chemicals. This pain relief is free of side-effects and may last from a few hours to many days.
- Mild pain (1-4 on the pain scale) = 1 treatment /week
- Moderate pain (4-7 on the pain scale) = 2 or 3 treatments/week
- Severe pain (7-10 on the pain scale) = 3+ treatments/week
Keep track of your responses to acupuncture and work with your therapist to determine the optimal number of treatments per week that will keep you comfortable.
Duration of Condition
The second step in determining the frequency of acupuncture is to look at how long a condition has been bothering you. The longer you have had the problem the more time it will take to go away.
An acute condition is one that has just started in the past couple days to a week. A condition that has just begun will typically require only a few treatments to heal up. For example, lets say you sprained an ankle yesterday. It might be painful and a little swollen or bruised. A couple treatments in the first week to reduce pain and swelling might be all you need.
A chronic condition is one that has been around for a long time or has no cure. The frequency of treatment for a chronic condition will change throughout the treatment plan. This will depend on the stage of healing, which we will address next. For example: a long term imbalance in the body (such as painful periods or digestive problems) might take months to treat.
Stage of Healing
There are various stages to the healing process and each stage has a different recommendation for frequency of acupuncture. As you progress through the stages of healing the amount of acupuncture you need will change. An acute condition, like that sprained ankle I mentioned, will progress through the stages quite quickly. A problem that you’ve struggled with for years will progress through the stages slower.
Stage 1 – Reducing Symptoms
In this first stage of treatment the goal is to get you feeling better as quickly as possible. It is generally recommended that you get 2-3 treatments/week until you see a change in symptoms. The change will depend on your reason for getting acupuncture but may be things like less pain and reduction of bruising or swelling for an injury. It be better sleep, less headaches, better digestion, etc.
This stage of treatment is typically the shortest stage. It is tempting to stop treatment once the symptoms are gone and that is fine with an acute injury. However, with a chronic condition the root problem hasn’t healed so the symptoms will return.
Stage 2 – Healing the Root
This second stage of treatment is where the real work happens. The treatments are designed to treat the root of the problem not just manage symptoms. This stage can take longer than symptom reduction and feel frustrating as you may not notice the subtle signs of a return to better health.
During this stage it is recommended that you get 1-2 treatments/week to heal the underlying imbalance. Your therapist will be looking for subtle signs in your tongue and pulse to indicate that your body is healing and returning to a healthier state of balance.
Stage 3 – Maintenance
This final stage of treatment is to maintain all the benefits you have achieved thus far. At this point you will be symptom free and feeling much healthier. Treatments will be spread out with the goal of going as long as possible between treatments without a return of the symptoms. Work with your therapist to determine the best frequency. It may be 1 or 2 treatments/month.
This stage is also where preventative maintenance occurs. Check in with your therapist for a tune-up and to correct any minute imbalances before they are bad enough to manifest symptoms. This is like taking your car in for an oil change and tune-up. You want to stay healthy rather than fall sick. Visit every month or so to look after yourself.
Looking at our examples: an acute ankle sprain may not need this maintenance chronic conditions (such as arthritis or asthma) may stay at this stage indefinitely, come back at a frequency that keeps you feeling your best – this may be once a month (arthritis) or a cluster of treatments seasonally (asthma)
Sample Treatment Plans
Our first example above was an acute ankle sprain (or any other recent injury). Stage 1 might be 3 treatments in the first week to relieve pain and swelling. Stage 2 might be 2 treatments in the next 2 weeks to ensure the damaged tissue continues to heal quickly. Stage 3 might be 1 treatment per week for a further 2 weeks to keep the healing going while returning to slightly more vigorous activities.
Our second example is a more chronic condition such as chronic daily headaches. Stage 1 might be 3 treatments per week for 2 weeks until there are no more headaches. Stage 2 might be 1 treatment per week for a month to heal the underlying imbalance and ensure no further headaches. If a headache does pop up an additional treatment on the day of the headache to get rid of the headache. Stage 3 might be 2 treatments per month for 1 month and then 1 per month for a further 2 months to ensure the headaches don’t return.
Frequency of acupuncture visits
Acupuncture, like all types of therapy, acts to push the body toward balance and health. One treatment gives the body a small push. With difficult or chronic conditions one small push will quickly be overwhelmed by the forces pushing the body away from health. For example; if you had a bacterial infection your Doctor would prescribe a daily dose of antibiotics until the infection was gone. If you only took one pill many of the bacteria would be killed off, but enough would remain alive that they would quickly re-establish the infection.
The number and frequency of acupuncture treatments will be based on the factors written about above with the goal of maintaining the healing momentum.
Initially it may take a few treatments per week to keep the momentum going. As your body gets going on the healing process it will take less and less of a “push” from acupuncture (or other therapies) to keep the momentum going and thus the treatment frequency will decline.
Everyone responds differently to acupuncture depending on their constitution and the severity of the problem they are coping with. If you find that you are not getting good results with acupuncture it may be that you need more frequent treatment for a few weeks to get the momentum needed to overcome any imbalance that is hindering your return to optimum health.
When creating a treatment plan for you, your therapist will take all of the above guidelines into consideration. They will also consider your general state of health and how you may have responded to acupuncture in the past. Each plan is a “best guess” not a guarantee that you will be cured at the end of the plan. Your therapist will monitor your progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed. Your therapist will also likely advise you on lifestyle adjustments to increase the effectiveness of the acupuncture. These may include herbs, food choices, stretches, or exercises. Following these suggestions will help you get the most from your acupuncture.