How long does it take for acupuncture to work? That’s a trick question. The answer is it depends.
It depends on a) what your personal set of symptoms are and b) how long you’ve been carrying your symptoms around.
Your symptoms are unique to you. Even if 10 different people report having a migraine, one may experience it after running, one after not enough water, one may describe it as pounding and hot, and someone else may describe it as cold and depleting. A person’s posture, or where they carry their tension, or the way their desk is set up at work – these may all be contributing to the root cause. Investigating triggers is just as important as treatment.
How long you’ve been carrying around your symptoms matters because we are creatures of habit – and so are our neural pathways. Remember the saying “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks”? When you experience pain, your nerves create a specific pathway and connect to your brain. When you continue to experience a pain over and over, that same pathway becomes more deeply ingrained, and your brain establishes a strong memory of that experience so that each time it happens that ‘pain file’ is quickly accessible.
By activating specific points with acupuncture, we’re helping your nervous system use new ways of problem-solving by accessing different sets of nerves to approach a set of symptoms. We’re helping your body establish new habits of healing. For some people, this takes one treatment. For others, this takes several treatments.
In medicine, the quick fix is only natural for us to gravitate towards. “Ouch. I’m in pain. Make it go away” is the normal response. Many find it hard to have patience with a natural approach like acupuncture, which can be a slower, gentler, more holistic form of healing. See Carl Honore’s Ted Talk, “In Praise of Slowness”, where he discusses the value of a more organic, awareness-based approach to our modern lives.
Sometimes the effects from acupuncture are quick and intense, and sometimes they are subtle. Because this world is now high definition and we have hundreds of things grabbing our attention each day, subtle can be easy to miss. It requires being able to hear whispers of signs of change.
Noticing changes in your basic daily functioning can be harder than it sounds. And this is an important step in setting a benchmark to monitor your progress before and after an acupuncture treatment.
Here are a few aspects to observe for changes:
- How’s your sleep?
- How’s your appetite and digestion?
- How are your bathroom experiences?
- How are you able to navigate emotional ups and downs?
- Do your symptoms come and go? Do your sensations fluctuate throughout the day?
For more on these subtle things to look for, check out our fellow acupuncturist Sara Calabro’s piece in the Huffington Post about it.
Your body is a work of art, not a machine. There is meaning behind each symptom you’re experiencing, and we’re here to help you interpret what’s going on and find a way forward, no matter how much time that takes.