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  • Writer's pictureNicole Berrios, L.Ac.

How Long Does it Take for Acupuncture to Work?

Pretty much every person who begins a course of acupuncture treatment wants to know how long it takes for acupuncture to start working. When you begin treatment, you are more than likely coming in with a pressing issue, whether it’s pain, insomnia, anxiety, etc., and you want to know how fast you can expect results. The quick and dirty answer to the question “how long does it take for acupuncture to work” is that it depends on the circumstances. Since there is no one straight forward answer to this question, I’ll elaborate on this a bit.

Acupuncture is Like Medicine

For the sake of clarification, let’s compare acupuncture to a course of antibiotics. When you are prescribed antibiotics, you are expected to take the full course of the medicine, whether it’s twice a day for 7 days, once a day for 10 days, etc. If you do not take your antibiotics as prescribed, you will not fully clear out the infection you are trying to eliminate. Then if you go back to your doctor after being prescribed antibiotics saying that you only took one antibiotic and it didn’t work, your doctor would probably laugh at you.

Acupuncture works much the same way: you cannot just do one acupuncture treatment and expect to have miraculous results. Chances are likely that whatever condition you are hoping to get relief from didn’t just show up overnight, and you can’t expect your acupuncture treatments to work overnight either.

Acupuncture is a natural medicine that works with your body’s own internal healing systems. This means that acupuncture is working to actually HEAL you, and this can be a process that takes time. It is not like taking an Ibuprofen that simply covers up your symptoms. Acupuncture digs deep down to resolve the root causes of whatever symptoms you are having. Because of this, it may take some time for acupuncture to fully work.

When to Expect Results

Regardless of what you are receiving acupuncture for, most patients typically notice some improvement pretty quickly after just one treatment. Every person responds differently to treatment, but in general, people will notice positive changes either while they are resting on the acupuncture table, or a day or two following treatment.

Positive changes that can be expected shortly after just one acupuncture session include less stress and anxiety, better quality sleep, improved digestion, less pain and more. Once you are less stressed, sleeping better, digesting better, etc, your body will then be able to devote more resources to resolving whatever your main concern is. And the more out of balance your body has been for a prolonged period of time, the longer it takes to unravel things to get you feeling real relief from the things you wanted relief from.

So basically, you will feel better relatively quickly after your first acupuncture session, but getting total relief from your main issue can take some time. This is why your acupuncturist will recommend a course of treatment (just like a course of antibiotics).

The Correct “Dose” of Acupuncture Medicine

Your acupuncturist will always recommend a course of treatment. This is your “dose” of the medicine (acupuncture) that will get you the best results. A typical course of treatments is around 10-20 sessions for adults and 6-12 sessions for children. There are a variety of factors that determine what would be best for you, such as the severity of the condition you are coming in for and how long you have had said condition. In general, the more severe your condition, the more acupuncture you will want to get in a short period of time. Less severe conditions generally require fewer acupuncture treatments to get relief. Also, the more acute something is, the shorter it is to resolve it and the more chronic something is, the longer it takes to resolve it.

The effects of acupuncture treatments build upon themselves, so it is especially important in the beginning to get treatments as close together as possible. Spacing your acupuncture treatments too far apart can hinder momentum and cause your condition to return back to where it originally was.

Typically, an acupuncturist will recommend 1-2 treatments per week for a couple of weeks to get the issue under control, and then once symptoms begin to resolve, you will come in less frequently, perhaps once a week or once every 2 weeks for a time as the issue continues to resolve. You do not need to get frequent treatment forever, just until the symptoms are under control, then you can taper off.

Prevention and The Maintenance Phase of Treatment

Your acupuncturist will evaluate your condition and give you their best estimate as to how many treatments you should expect to receive in order to get relief. As you progress and start to get better, fewer treatments will be needed until eventually you get to the point where you can come in for acupuncture on an as-needed basis for health maintenance. This can look like coming in for treatment anywhere from once a week, to once a month or even once a season, depending on your circumstances.

Because we live in the western world where we are familiar with the “sick care” model (meaning you seek medical care only when you are sick), many people don’t quite grasp that while acupuncture is great at sick care, it really shines at preventative care. This is when you receive treatments even when you are feeling well, as this will prevent issues in the future.

Typically, people have to go through a course of “sick care” before they can reach this level of wellness. We like to call these acupuncture tune ups or maintenance, not much different than getting maintenance done on your car. Your car requires regular oil changes and other fluid flushes in order to keep it from breaking down, and the human body is pretty much the same. Acupuncture tune ups are the perfect example of doing regular maintenance on the body to keep it functioning optimally.

Once a person finishes a course of “sick care” treatment to get them relief from whatever issue they are having, they will then go into maintenance where they receive infrequent treatment every so often just to keep things at bay. They can also go back and receive more frequent treatment if other issues crop up that need to be resolved.

The Bottom Line

What this all boils down to is that how long it takes for acupuncture to work varies depending on the circumstances. But typically, a person will need to receive a course of treatment that is anywhere from 6-12 visits for kids and 10-20 visits for adults. Remember, acupuncture is medicine and it needs to be dosed correctly and for the correct amount of time in order for the benefits to fully be actualized.

But every person is different and responds differently, so this is truly an individualized medicine with no cookie cutter or one size fits all solutions. Your acupuncturist will work with you to come up with the best plan for the results you want.

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