As a Doctor of TCM and a practicing acupuncturist in Calgary, I often talk to people about what I do. A common theme I am encountering is “I tried acupuncture once, it didn’t work”. What people don’t realize it that acupuncture is a process not a magic pill.
Would you take only one pill out of an antibiotic prescription and expect the infection to be gone? Would you take only one pain killer and decide that even though it gave you 8 hours of relief it must be no good since the pain came back?
For a long time all we had was anecdotal evidence that acupuncture worked. With modern medicine came a need to have scientific proof that drugs and treatment methods worked. This scientific process is now being applied to acupuncture.
What the Research Suggests
Research shows that acupuncture is effective in treating or managing a wide range of conditions such as allergic rhinitis, arthritis, headaches, low back pain and gastric ulcers to name just a few. While reading various acupuncture research papers I have noticed some similarities independent of the condition being treated. None of the treatment protocols call for only one session of acupuncture. On average the treatment prescription tends to be 2 – 3 sessions per week for 4 – 6 weeks.
To assess effectiveness participants provide both subjective and objective information such as pain scale rating, range of motion measurements, functional tests, or heart rate. This information is collected before getting any acupuncture, at the end of the treatment regime (after the last acupuncture session) and then weeks or months later.
No one asks the participant how they feel after the first visit, or even the second visit. The results of the acupuncture are not assessed until the end of the treatment regime. This is because the researchers know it takes a series of acupuncture sessions to achieve the best results.
Your acupuncturist is trained to assess your condition and recommend a suitable number and frequency of treatments to you. They will suggest a specific number of visits before doing a reassessment to see how you are doing. In China an initial round of treatment typically consists of 10 sessions. You may also be given herbal medicine and some homework in the form of stretches, strengthening exercises, heat application or rest or diet changes. To get the most benefit from acupuncture it is best to “follow the Doctor’s orders”. Make sure you talk to your Acupuncturist or Doctor of TCM if you have any concerns about following their suggestion. Work with them to come up with a treatment plan that you can stick to so that you see the results you desire.
Acupuncture, like all healing modalities, is not a magic “one shot cures all” treatment. Acupuncture is a process.