A couple questions I’m commonly asked by new patients are how often I expect to see them, and how long until they should expect to see changes in their health. These are challenging questions, and while there are no concrete answers there are some guidelines that describe how an acupuncture treatment plan works. Typically, every patient is going to go through three stages of care.
1. Initial Intervention
The treatment plan starts when a patient first steps into my office. In the initial stage a patient has a problem that they’re actively trying to solve: they’re in pain, or trying to get pregnant, or lose weight, or whatever. During this stage I want to see patients often – for me this means (95% of the time) weekly visits, but can be more or less frequent.
How long until things begin to change depends on the condition and the health of the patient. Most acute pain issues turn around in 4-6 visits, but for chronic conditions that’s often just the assessment period, and moving beyond pain relief can take 3-6 months. Women trying to get pregnant and not ovulating regularly need 1-3 months to see menstrual cycle changes. People trying to lose weight can see their weight drop gradually over a few weeks to months. A lot here depends on health history and requires a consultation to fully answer.
2. Stabilization Care
As results start to appear and patients feel better, there is a tendency to stop treatment right away. That is risky. Changes made in the first 1-2 months have not lasted long enough for the body to maintain them and it is easy to relapse. This is particularly true for chronic conditions. Patients will still need to come for treatments even though symptoms are lessening or becoming infrequent, but treatments can drop off to every other week or even less.
It is at this point that a patient’s changes to their lifestyle are most important if whatever they came for is to stay fixed. This is also the best time to look at secondary complaints or other minor issues that need fixing but weren’t pressing enough to treat in the first stage.
3. Wellness Care
As symptoms drop off further and are not seen for weeks at a time, a patient moves into wellness care. Here they are seen once every so often for check-ups, whether to keep a chronic issue in remission, to address smaller acute issues, or simply to ensure they’re staying at the top of their game. Visits here are typically as frequent as once a month to as infrequent as once a season.
This is the treatment plan that describes a typical patient at my clinic and the conversation I prefer to have with them. If your current provider is not having this discussion with you, perhaps it is time for a change.