I'm sure that a lot of patient people exist out there, but I am not one of them. To me, there is nothing more frustrating than holding out for something in the future when I have my eye on something directly in front of me. My disdain for waiting probably stems from a lifetime of dealing with champion procrastinators, but I never realized just how impatient I am (or perhaps "present-oriented" would be a better phrase) until I spent an afternoon searching for entertainment options while I was on vacation with my boyfriend. We were wandering down a street in New Haven, no particular destination in mind, when a sign in a bar advertising a particular craft beer that I had never heard of caught my eye. I'm a big fan of craft beer, and an even bigger fan of sampling items that I've never had before. Immediately, I was drawn toward this bar like a moth to a flame. I suggested that we go in and try it out.
"Why don't we walk a bit and see what else is around here?" he asked.
It was as if he was speaking a different language. "But...why would we keep looking if I already found something I want to try, right here?"
"Because maybe there's something better, and we'll miss out on it because we stopped at the first place that caught our attention?"
"But what if this is the most magical, delicious beer that has ever been created? And what if we keep walking to see what else is out there that's better and we get hit by a bus or something? We'll die never knowing how good it is!"
Needless to say, we never got hit by that bus (and I never got to try that beer, either, which I'm still rather annoyed about, in retrospect), but this is the way my mind works. If there is something worth having that's right in front of you, why wait and wait for the possibility of something better and pass up a sure thing?
This impatience trickles over into my practice, as well. I want results, and I want them immediately. Acupuncture is about balance, true, but I can't seem to break this mindset. Every once in a while, though, I need to remind myself that not every journey to health is a straight and quick path. And I also need to remind myself to set the appropriate expectations with patients, so that they have an accurate timeline of what to expect regarding this process.
So, as a patient, how much time should you anticipate spending on your particular issue? Well, if you've been suffering with chronic pain for 20 years, you shouldn't expect full resolution after one or two treatments. However, you should feel some difference, whether this difference is a reduction in pain, a more comfortable night's sleep, or perhaps a shift in your perception, such as less stress surrounding the concept of your pain. I tell every patient that if I don't see some difference within 4 sessions, we need to rethink whether acupuncture is the right option for them. I know plenty of practitioners that don't agree with this; many think that long-standing issues can take 20 treatments or more before seeing results. And perhaps this is true, and there are certainly patients that respond more slowly than others. However, at this point I have seen thousands of patients, and in my experience only a handful have not had results within 4 sessions. I would rather send a patient to someone else, whether it is another acupuncturist who practices a different style, or another type of practitioner, than to keep them coming to no avail. Let's face it, that looks bad for all of us. Acupuncturists already need to struggle to mainstream this medicine; we don't need people telling their friends that they went for 750 sessions without any improvement.
Sleep and digestion improve relatively quickly. I can state with a fair degree of confidence that most people should see progress in these areas within 1-3 sessions. Pain can follow an unpredictable trajectory. Some patients feel relief immediately, and others feel the same after treatment, waking up with decreased pain in the morning. While not common, it isn't unheard of for patients to feel slightly worse before feeling significantly better (this is referred to as a "healing crisis.") Asthma and allergies seem to respond fairly quickly, and I have found that anxiety is generally reduced dramatically post-treatment. Depression, on the other hand, tends to take longer. It is usually around session 3-4 when patients begin to notice a change.
Acute pain responds far more quickly than chronic pain. So if you throw your back out, get injured in an a car accident, or tweak your neck, put an acupuncture session at the top of your priority list. The longer you wait, the more sessions you will need.
This is a quick rundown, but we acupuncturists treat far more than what I've discussed above. If you have any questions about how much treatment you will need for your particular problem, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss. And know that my ultimate goal is to get you out of my office, symptom-free, as soon as possible!