by Michael Hurley, L.Ac.

In last month’s article, I discussed the proactive approach acupuncture takes to managing overall health as well as some components I look at in my patients when they come in for treatment.  This month, we’ll focus on how to get the greatest benefit from acupuncture and what to do the day of an acupuncture treatment to help optimize its effectiveness.

Understanding Your Treatment Plan:

Simply put, you will get out of acupuncture what you put into acupuncture.  What I mean is: If you follow your treatment plan given to you by your acupuncturist and concentrate on one or two issues at a time, you will most likely be very happy with your results.  If you only seek a couple of treatments for an issue that requires several treatments or come in for treatment too infrequently, you will very likely be disappointed in your results.

One analogy many people can relate to is to think of your acupuncture treatment plan in the same way you would consider prescribed medication.  If your western medical doctor prescribed a course of antibiotics for an infection and you took it only one or two times, likely the infection would not go away or may even get worse.  The same goes for acupuncture, which is most effective when it is received regularly and as prescribed by your acupuncturist.

It is very common for a treatment plan to include two or more treatments per week for several weeks.  While this varies based on an individual’s condition, in my practice, I typically ask patients to come in twice per week for four weeks to start.  Often, this is all a patient needs to provide relief for the condition they originally came in for. However, in many cases, conditions require much more.  A general rule of thumb is that younger patients and more acute conditions require less treatment than older patients and more chronic conditions.

Role of Healing Phases and Treatment Frequency:

We often share the above image explaining how we approach treatment frequency.  Remember, acupuncture is always working to address the underlying cause of issue.  So, we look at treatment in terms of phases in a healing process and the frequency of treatment is directly related.

    • Relief Stage: In the initial treatment of an issue, the goal is to provide relief. During the relief stage of healing, treatments are most frequent and often spaced relatively close together.
    • Healing Stage: Once symptoms are relieved, acupuncture treatments focus more deeply on healing the underlying cause of the issue. At the healing stage, the treatment plan often includes tapering back on the frequency of visits.  Patients should still come in at the frequency recommended by their acupuncturist to bring healing and balance to underlying causes.
  • Maintenance Stage: This stage is where the proactive nature of Chinese medicine makes a big difference! When you are in this stage of healing, you are overall relatively healthy.  During this phase of treatment, the goal is to continue to optimize your overall health and balance.  The treatment plan includes regular, but usually much less frequent visits to help proactively bolster the immune system.  Our patients who receive regular acupuncture at this phase often tell us that they are amazed that their immune system is strong enough to prevent illness or find the duration of an illness is limited.

Optimal Post Treatment Practices:

How you care for yourself both immediately following treatment and in your overall lifestyle can make an important difference.  Here are few things you can do after your appointment to increase the benefits of your acupuncture treatment.

It is important to rest.  After acupuncture, you will want to avoid vigorous exercise or other strenuous activities. But here is a great workout that is suitable to do regularly after this treatment. While naps or spending the rest of the day in bed are not necessary afterward, you will want to take it easy.  So, putting some thought into scheduling your treatments is helpful.

You will also want to make an effort to avoid stressful situations.  I realize that sometimes this cannot be avoided.  However, I also realize that often times it can.  What I mean is that it is helpful to become aware of and learn how to work with your own energy boundaries.  Doing so can help you deflect and/or release any negative energy you may take on during difficult moments.  This becomes especially important if you tend to take on negative energy when spending time with certain individuals or in certain situations.

Temperature is another factor to consider.  Temperatures can get extreme here in the Northeast.  You will want to dress accordingly and try to plan your day so that you are not exposed to extreme temperatures after an acupuncture treatment.  When it is very hot or very cold outside, these are stresses that your body will need to deal with and may throw off the balance that we have attained.  It is best to try to avoid prolonged exposure to either right after an acupuncture treatment.  It’s not something to panic over but rather something to be aware of.

I am also often asked about timing other self-care appointments. I will hear, “It is alright to get a massage or go to a chiropractor before or after an acupuncture treatment?”  I always say yes.  In fact, if you were to do all three in one day, in my opinion, it should be acupuncture, massage, and then chiropractic.  The acupuncture will make the massage therapist’s job easier and then the chiropractor will be able to make adjustments that he or she may normally not be able to do.

I hope the above helps you more fully understand what you can do to attain the greatest benefit from acupuncture.  In my next article, I will discuss things you can do to help yourself in between treatments, especially if you are in the maintenance phase of treatment.