By Dr. Matthew Fellner, DACM, L.Ac.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of receiving acupuncture treatments from a patient perspective that I have encountered in my 16 years in practice, is how long it should take to fix a problem. Obviously, for any patient, getting better is the primary concern, and doing it as quickly as possible is ideal both for one’s health and pocketbook. But there are a few nuances that make it difficult to accurately predict how long it will take before a patient starts seeing lasting results.
Firstly, it is always crucial to remember how long it took you to get to where you are. There is a huge difference between trying to relieve pain that is caused by an acute injury or strain, and a pain that is chronic and has been present for many years. The longer any condition has been present, the more it becomes engrained in every aspect of your life. This is what we call a pattern in our medicine. A pattern is not just a disease or illness, but a determining motivation for how a person expresses any aspect of their overall being, including emotions, recovery from injury, posture, and lifestyle choices.
Secondly, you the patient should be an active participant in your overall health, which includes active steps to be compliant. Resetting an engrained pattern and restoring optimal balance in your health is not easy and requires time and effort. Whether you see an acupuncturist, herbalist, nutritionist, physical therapist, chiropractor, etc. there are additional steps or exercises that you may need to follow to ensure that the work that is being done during your visit is not lost in the time away from the office. The more willing a patient is to commit to their care and actively participate away from the clinic, the quicker the pattern can be reset and the greater the chances of the healthy balance being maintained.
Thirdly, and often this the most difficult to manage, is eliminating as much of the interference that prevents you from committing to treatment. When your acupuncturist creates a plan, it is meant to be followed so that you can get back to feeling well as soon as possible. It is never arbitrary. There may be slight differences in how often a practitioner wants to see you, but for the most part following a schedule will be an important part of changing the unhealthy pattern. Often, patients complain that they are too busy to commit to treatment, or they don’t have the means to come on a regular basis. But the one guarantee I make to patients is, I cannot help you if you don’t show up. Unfortunately, acupuncture does not work remotely, so there needs to be some level of commitment to make it work. Here is a general layout of the course of a typical schedule of acupuncture treatments. You can see that more frequent sessions early on leads to better results where fewer treatments are needed to maintain the proper healthy pattern.