By Dr. Mary Froeba, LAc DAcOM
I am frequently asked “how often should I get acupuncture?” This is an excellent question! Usually it is after the first appointment or two a licensed acupuncturist can create a treatment plan tailored to the individual. I can’t just tell a person out of hand how many treatments they need to meet their goals. It really isn’t ever that simple. With that said, though, you can break plans down into general categories based on what the individual’s goals and needs are.
Treatment plans are specifically tailored to the individual, there is no one-size-fits-all.
This article goes over how often a person ought to get acupuncture and cupping therapy generally speaking based on my own practice, but keep in mind…. Treatment plans are specifically tailored to the individual, there is no one-size-fits all.
Let’s assume for this category that we are talking about really nasty pain that just started!
In the absence of an apparent emergency, it is still best to get checked out by a Medical Doctor (MD) or Chiropractor (DC) before seeing your licensed acupuncturist. Assuming this isn’t the job for the emergency room, acupuncturists (as well as chiropractors) are great at working on pain!
In the case of an emergency, please call 911 and/or head towards your local emergency room!
So how often will you need to see your acupuncturist for non-emergency acute pain? Generally speaking, the more painful and limiting the condition is, the more often you will see your licensed acupuncturist. For example: If you’ve thrown out your back and can’t go to work, you’ll probably visit daily. If you have a bothersome but not limiting muscle spasm, two or three times for the first week should suffice. For some folks, one visit does the trick but others need more time. Typically the better a person takes care of themselves, the quicker their recovery, if the condition isn’t too severe.
Usually one or two weeks of frequent treatments can get you out of the woods, then you’ll move to once a week and eventually once a month.
Once a muscle spasms it is at risk of doing it again, so staying on top of it with your practitioner will help keep it in check. If this is where you are, then see the maintenance section of this article.
Much like acute pain, the worse it is the more often you will come in at first. Expect roughly twice a week to begin with but just to start.
Often chronic pain, pain that persists over time in the absence of a medical emergency, can be reduced significantly pretty quickly, but it is still more of a long-game compared to treating acute pain. The longer a pain has existed, the longer it will take to resolve the problem. For example: if you’ve been pushing through that back ache for over a year, expect a minimum of a month of weekly or biweekly treatments. So don’t put off getting help for your pain! If it hasn’t gone away by itself already, when will it?
Once that pain is in check, you can move into a maintenance treatment plan (see below.)
Here we are talking about things like losing fat, gaining muscle, improving cholesterol, or trying to conceive, et cetera. Long-term goals are all about daily habits and lifestyle. The work is done daily from the home/kitchen/gym etc. Your acupuncturist is there to help guide the way, break down barriers in your path, and turn new habits into a lifestyle.
So how often should you see your acupuncturist? That’s harder to generalize – it really depends on how big those barriers are in your way. Are you trying to quit smoking? That is a daily struggle and seeing your acupuncturist 2-7 times a week at first may be the best move. If you don’t have an addiction to kick but are trying to improve your overall health, once a week or every two weeks may be sufficient.
Some long-term goals require more visits up front before moving into a maintenance program. A study recently published on the JAMA website showed a protocol of three acupuncture sessions a week for one month significantly reduced the frequency of angina attacks in patients diagnosed with chronic stable angina. This study was huge too, with over 400 participants! Three times a week for a month seems like a lot of acupuncture, but that’s a breeze compared to the years of pain that may be the alternative.
As you achieve your goals you can move into a plan for maintenance, general health, and longevity.
Maintenance, general health, and longevity
Here’s where some fun science comes in: Long term inflammation leads to a slew of health problems later (but sooner than you think) in life. We’re talking about cardiovascular disease, dementia, the whole nine yards. Everyday stress, poor diet, and too little or too much exercise all contribute.
Heart disease in the number one killer in the U.S., up there with stroke, dementia, and lung diseases.
The good news is acupuncture reduces inflammation and cytokine storms, improves sleep, lung heath, cardiovascular health and brain function.
Regular treatments, once or twice a month, add up to some great benefits not only in the short-term but also the long-term.
In the end, nothing beats daily self-care. Self-care should be proactive, not simply reactive. You don’t need to wear yourself to the bone to take a break. Everyday stop and smell the roses, recover from your workouts, and appreciate what you have. Eat something green and leave out something sugary. Quit smoking and take a deep breath.
This time of doing very little is very well spent if it helps prevent injury or illness, right?