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How long does acupuncture take to work?

Updated: Nov 30, 2023


health is an investment.  acupuncture is an investment.

I hate being vague. My whole brand is based on being black and white. Simple. I pride myself on explaining everything so that you can understand.


But the question "how long does acupuncture take to work"? is a tricky one. Because you are individual. Your [insert condition] is unique to you. How long you have lived with a condition or even your ability to change elements of your lifestyle that might help your acupuncture treatment will impact how many acupuncture treatments.


All those brilliantly unique things mean answering that question is vague. But I am writing this blog post today to provide some guidelines.


Money is important. Time is important. But you and your health are important too.


I hope that you find this useful, but please message me if you have any questions or queries.


Love Andrea

 

How long is a piece of string?

Has anyone heard that annoying phrase to dodge knowing an exact measurement? I don't know about you, but we can measure string!


But acupuncture is tricky to quantify, which is what I want to discuss today. For all the reasons above, I will look at why people with a similar 'biomedical label' may still require different treatments and different treatment numbers.


Let us take, for example, back pain. It is a condition I treat a lot of in my clinical practice. For example, one person might need 4 treatments, another might need 9 treatments and sometimes another person can be looking at at least 10.


Which one do you think goes with each person below, and why?


 


Person One

Is 25 years old. They have had back pain for 3 months after a football injury. They have not been able to play, which is upsetting for them, but they have been having lots of rest. They do have a very sedentary job though which means they are sat for long periods of the day.


Person Two

Is 52 years old. They have had back pain for 5 years after picking up their granddaughter. They are retired and enjoy playing golf and tennis and lead a moderately active lifestyle most days, although they are currently taking lots of medication to help with them.


Person Three

Is 34 years old. They are 30 weeks pregnant and during their whole pregnancy, they have had real trouble with sleeping because of lower back pain. They have really had to start slowing down but struggling with not being able to enjoy these remaining weeks and getting ready for the baby arrival.


So, already we can see three different (and real-life examples) of back pain which I have seen.

  • Cause is different

  • Age is different

  • How long they have had the back pain is different

  • Their lifestyles are different

And all of this can impact how long treatment will take.


I always ask people to invest in at least two appointments. Two appointments give us two opportunities to see if you have experienced a positive change in your signs and symptoms. But keep reading to see my guide on how many acupuncture appointments you might need.


 

General guidelines on acupuncture treatment numbers.

Since I am an evidence-based acupuncturist I am always keen to examine the biomedical studies of acupuncture.


In a 2017 study on acupuncture for chronic pain and they examined 18,000 patients with either:

  • neck pain

  • shoulder pain

  • back pain

  • osteoarthritis

  • headaches/migraines

They found that almost half of those participants had between 6 to 10 treatments.


And almost a quarter had between 11 and 15 treatments.




Of course, this wasn't the emphasis of this study. The study was to discuss the effectiveness of acupuncture for chronic pain for which they found


"Acupuncture is superior to both non-acupuncture controls and sham acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option for patients with chronic pain"

But we know, from a very large population size, for chronic pain, we are looking at somewhere between 6 and 10 acupuncture treatments. But we could also be looking at more.


Below is a general guideline of the number of acupuncture treatments I would like you to be thinking about when you book acupuncture with me. Unfortunately, the caveat is it could be more; it could also be less.


acupuncture treatment guidelines
  • For acute pain: think of at least 5 treatments

  • For chronic pain: think at least 10 treatments

  • For cosmetic facial acupuncture: think at least 10 treatments

  • For anything to do with the menstrual cycle (fertility, period issues, menopause): think at least 12 treatments

  • For anxiety and depression: think at least 12 treatments




It can be less. It can be more.

 

Acupuncture is very often not a one treatment wonder

Because very often you will have lived with your condition for many months or even years. you may have more than one condition.


If you want to be treated by me I want to be honest that it will be an investment in time and money


One treatment will almost never be enough and so you are better off saving your money rather than booking one appointment with me and expecting that to be enough


acupuncture is not a one treatment wonder

 

Acupuncture dosage

Acupuncture dosage relates to:

  • Number of needles

  • Point selection

  • Modalities used i.e. electro-acupuncture or manual acupuncture

  • Duration of treatment

  • Frequency of treatments

  • Number of treatments

The reason this is important to acupuncture treatment is that we need to think about receiving acupuncture at least once a week. For specific conditions, it might even need to be timed in particular to your signs and symptoms.


A 2016 study looking at acupuncture for dysmenorrhea found that


Treatment before the menses appeared to produce greater reductions in pain than treatment starting at the onset of menses. A single, needle during menses may provide greater pain reduction compared to multiple needles. Conversely, multiple needles before menses were superior to a single needle. Electroacupuncture may provide more rapid pain reduction compared to manual acupuncture but may not have a significantly different effect on overall menstrual pain.

Also, the 2017 study for chronic pain discussed dosage saying


in no trial was acupuncture administered more than twice a week. It is not unusual in China for acupuncture to be given four or five times a week

So dosage may too play a part in how many treatments are needed.

 

What my prices are, and why

I have had to really work hard on accepting I cannot help everyone. My prices are reflective of my experience, my training, my overheads and most important what I need to live.


There is uncomfortable friction when you are a therapeutic practitioner, who wants to help people, but you know you must charge for it.


I talk more about my pricing here and why they cost what they do.


I am completely transparent about my prices and what I am asking my patients to sign up for. I will discuss this more in the next section, on why it is an investment instead of a cost.


You are worth the investment. Your health and wellbeing are worth the investment.


 

Investment in acupuncture

As I mentioned above, I can give you guidelines for how many acupuncture treatments it will take.


I always ask that you invest in a minimum of three sessions (I would rather not take your money and will refer you to another practitioner if you can only afford the first treatment only).


But as you can see from the chart below, for 10 treatments, it might cost you £600.



Before I leave this blog post, I want to finish on one point which will really impact your acupuncture treatments.


And that is you.


Acupuncture treatments are a 50:50 partnership.


Based on my acupuncture guidance you will be given food, movement and acupressure to continue at home, between treatments.


You will also need to commit to regular and weekly treatments, at least to begin with.


Your ability to do these things will also impact how many treatments you need.

acupuncture treatments are a 50:50 partnership


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