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Acupuncture: How Much Do You Need?

Many of my patients come in seeking relief from acute or chronic pain from neurological conditions or injuries. Often, we do not acknowledge our health until it is compromised and only then do we seek ways to regain it. Some will not try acupuncture until they’re in so much pain the thought of a needle does not seem so scary or painful. Once they come, one of the first questions a patient will ask is, “how many treatments will I need to get relief?”

When patients begin acupuncture treatment to receive quick relief from pain, discomfort and other symptoms, we refer to this as ‘acute’ or ‘relief’ care. The goal is to make you feel better as fast as possible. Many patients experience immediate relief and about 1/4 are what I call “one-hit wonders,” and just one session achieves their goal. However, most people – and those with more serious or chronic conditions – require more sessions. After the first visit, I ask patients to wait a few days and report how they are feeling. If the pain returns, I recommend more sessions before the pain spirals to the same or greater level as before. The idea is to chase the pain, relieve it, and then maintain relief. It often requires 2-4 visits to accurately assess a patient’s condition and determine a course of treatment.

Each session builds upon the previous, working towards eliminating the initial problems and concerns. Often a course of treatments spaced two or three days apart and no longer than a week apart, is recommended until symptoms are dramatically reduced or eliminated. For example, a herniated disc can require 2-3 visits in the first 7 days, then 1 or 2 times a week for several weeks.

Once symptoms are reduced, we begin the next phase of recommended treatment (called ‘corrective care’) and visits are less frequent. This phase maintains and supports the relief achieved thus far, and is a foundation for deeper healing to occur. This is also the time when the underlying problems are addressed. Even though you may not be experiencing symptoms, or the symptoms are much less severe, it is important to continue treatment to strengthen, build and support your body. Stopping care could disrupt the healing process. Acupuncture treatment may be combined with herbs, cupping, moxabustion, massage, or light exercise and physical therapy.

The final phase of treatment is ‘maintenance’ or ‘wellness’ care. This care preserves all the progress made up to that point. Visits may be monthly, then every-other month or even seasonal. Just as we bring a car in for oil changes and tune-ups to keep it running smoothly, periodic visits will strengthen your body’s resistance, build up immunity to colds and flu, and keep you healthy and balanced.

Wellness care is the root of healing. In ancient times, an acupuncturist was only compensated as long as the patient remained healthy. If they became ill, it was the doctor’s duty to get them well again without compensation. Acupuncture, combined with regular exercise, a healthy diet, and other good habits can keep you looking, feeling, and performing at your best.

Diane Sheppard is a licensed acupuncturist with a Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine. Dr. Sheppard trained in both China and the U.S and is now a staff practitioner at Eisenhower Wellness Institute. She can be reached at AcQPoint Wellness Center in La Quinta. 760-775-7900 www.AcQPoint.com

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