How Often to See Your Acupuncturist

“How often do I need to come in?” I field this question from every new patient.

I have a standard answer depending on the severity of the patient’s concern: an initial course is typically six treatments over four to six weeks; the greater the severity, the greater the frequency of treatment.

As a general acupuncturist, i don’t have a specialty, much like an internist or GP with an MD. As a matter of good health, it is wise to see the same MD for yearly physicals. Any doctor that can order lab tests could compare your results to the standard result ranges, but only one you see annually can see trends, and know what is normal for you. For the most part, they are watching out for big changes, and indicators of change towards pathological conditions that can be of major medical concern.

Acupuncturists look at the interrelationship of organ function, patient experience and lifestyle, and the external environment. Because of this, to establish a good baseline with an acupuncturist, quarterly visits would be an ideal minimum; this way we can at least observe how patients tolerate the climatic conditions of the four major seasons. Ideally, i’d like see healthy patients every four to six weeks to observe how their bodies, minds, and habits shift in response to the changes within seasons.

For example, i started treating a patient last winter for dizziness and hand pain. As part of my normal assessment, i always palpate the (acupuncture) channels on the arms and legs with moderate pressure. When i began with this patient, any palpation on the legs, especially the inner legs resulted in excruciating pain. Eventually, with treatment, that pain subsided, only to return with a vengeance when we entered the heat and humidity of Chicago summer.

We worked tirelessly to improve the flow of qi in the legs, only to discover that once the weather began to shift into the cold of fall, the patient’s legs could tolerate deep pressure with little to no discomfort. We tested this weekly during the next few visits as the weather tossed and turned erratically, confirming that there was little to no pain in the legs with cold weather. This kind of information is vital to understanding an individual’s constitution, and cannot be gleaned from yearly visits, and perhaps not even quarterly visits.

For most people, there is usually something they shrug off as small, which from the perspective of an acupuncturist may still not be of major concern, but can contribute long term to the development of greater imbalance or disease. Working with these smaller concerns is not only good preventative medicine, it gives an acupuncturist the opportunity to understand how an individual patient responds to treatment, and to observe how a patient responds to natural climatic shifts. This way, when a major event occurs (a traumatic injury, a psychological or emotional trauma, a contracted illness…) it is clear to the practitioner which observations are normal, and which are abnormal.

As acupuncturists, our most reliable data gathering tools are our senses, and while there are norms for how a tongue should look, and how the pulses should feel, they vary widely for individuals, much more than the lab value tolerances for blood tests. Thus, consistent observation through the changing seasons gives an acupuncturist the most robust data needed to deliver the best care possible.

As i have said before in Finding Balance in the Time of Youth, Chinese Medicine is meant to be practiced with prevention in mind, following the idea presented over two thousand years ago that one should not wait until they are thirsty to begin digging a well.

See your acupuncturist every four to six weeks and get that well dug.