Friday, July 31, 2009Many of us tend to hold fairly unrealistic expectations of acupuncture. The other day, I received a phone call from a patient who had a single acupuncture treatment for migraines. I had to inform her that treating migraines required at best only 20 treatments. This was clearly news to her. I went on to explain some things that those who may have had "no success" with acupuncture might benefit from.
The rate at which one can expect resolution of one's problem depends on several factors: your age, how long you have had the condition, the level at which the condition exists, and your constitution or genetic predisposition. Let's take each of these one by one.
Age: Recently, I treated a young man of 25 for upper back pain, incurred about three months. He tweaked something lifting heavy stuff at work. I told him that we might be able to knock out the pain in one session because he was still a spring chicken. In Chinese medical theory, it is maintained that young people are full of energy (qi), thus the body is able to balance quickly from the impulse delivered by acupuncture. If the patient been in his 30s, 50s, or 70s, then the prognosis would have been for more treatments commensurate with the natural store of energy possessed at that age.
Duration of Condition: Had the same 25 year old come to me and said, I've had this upper back pain for 5 years, then it would have been brazen of me to suggest, "I think we can knock this out in one session." It is reasonable in such cases, to expect one session for each year of pain, best case scenario. If a person of an older age reported a similar condition then some allowance would have to be made requiring more time. Don't blame the acupuncturist, blame the qi!
Level of Condition: This is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Chinese medicine. Let's continue with the case of the 25 year old... If he had reported that he had lower back pain that occurred from a work related injury, it would mean that the condition was more serious than upper back pain. This is because the lower back is "deeper" than the upper back. Muscle complaints are more superficial than bone complaints. Respiratory issues are more superficial than gastric issues. Blood and hormone issues are deeper than lymphatic issues. The deeper the condition the longer it will take to rectify. If, one as a congenital pathology or permanent structural damage then often the best that we can expect that acupuncture will work palliatively, meaning it will not be able to cure the condition.
: People with conditions that relate to their genetic proclivities take more time to resolve than simple conditions that stem from a single incident, like whiplash. Often constitutional weaknesses impacts more isolated occurrences. For example, a person with constitutional lung weakness will be particularly susceptible to seasonal colds and flu. If a child is treated for such weakness then she can expect to recover after about a year of treatment. An adult, on the other hand, may never be able to fully boost their lung defenses and would consequently require on-going treatment. A middle-aged person with the same condition would likely require more treatment.
It is clear that multiple variables factor into the prognosis of any condition. Chinese medicine and acupuncture in particular seeks to restore balance naturally by working with the body to restore proper function. This is a process where the acupunctural impulse delivers as much as the body is ready to handle at any particular time. The body's ability to receive and make the most of the impulse depends on the factors just discussed.
Best wishes in your health pursuit,
Yang-chu Higgins, Licensed Acupuncturist