How long does it take for acupuncture to work?

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.



16 Responses to “How long does it take for acupuncture to work?”

  1. Tony Barbossa

    I have degenerative disc disease. (Sciatica with Stenosis), for 2 months. Been to my MD, chiropractor, orthopedic specialist, had all kinds of pain and anti inflammatory meds. Nothing worked. Called an acupuncturist I found in my area. Made an appointment that day. Went in, explained my condition. And he says “Okay, let’s get you in the back (room) and well take care of that sciatica”.
    Which made me think I’d be fixed in one session. No change 2 days later. And he did not say he’d need multiple session to work on me. So could one session be enough to sloooooowly improve my condition?

    • tsw_admin

      Hi Tony,
      Sorry to hear about your pain! Although we have had clients who have found relief after one visit, the majority of our clients benefit from a few sessions rather than just one. Back issues often involve the whole body, and many factors are involved in triggering the pain, from sleeping a certain way to sitting a certain way to walking a certain way, etc., so since many aspects are involved, and since the pain didn’t happen overnight, then it can take some time for neural pathways to establish new routes, and it can take time to explore new lifestyle tips that would support the treatments rather than just relying on the needles alone (such as stretches, sleeping differently, etc.). Let us know if we can help!

  2. Kelly

    Have been receiving acupuncture for 6 months for migraines and it still hasn’t helped. Should I continue? The acupuncturist has practiced for 40 years but I’m wondering if i should just stop since it isn’t helping, although I am doing all that he recommends. My insurance does not cover it, and I don’t want to be someone’s cash cow. I get a migraine daily – for a year and a half.

    • tsw_admin

      Hi Kelly,
      That sounds so painful! There’s no harm in stopping acupuncture treatment at anytime if are not fully comfortable or satisfied. Follow your gut. The questions we might consider are – how often were treatments spaced out (for example: some people go a couple times per week and some go once per month or so); do you have an idea of what the root cause might be yet; does anything else provide relief from the migraines; does the acupuncture help anything else in your life, like sleep, digestion, mood, etc.; and what have your learned from the migraines… in other words, if they had a voice, what would they be telling you? Sometimes a symptom is a loud cry for help, or a request for a change in environment, job or relationship, or a signal of an allergy, etc. And, acupuncture may not be the solution for everyone.
      If you are still curious about acupuncture itself, feel free to try another practitioner at any time. Similar to martial arts, acupuncturists practice different styles; another practitioner may have a different approach to treatment for you, a more affordable price range for you (like community acupuncture clinics), or they may use a different tool or technique. Ideally, after 6 visits with a practitioner, you should have an idea of some kind of progress or movement.
      We trust you to trust your instincts, and we wish you the best of luck!

  3. Sabrina Costain

    Being one of the world’s oldest form of medicine it is great to see the western world start to realize that there is safer alternatives to prescriptions to help them

  4. Charles Levesque

    I was diagnosed with chrone’s disease in 1994 and symptoms until this year. I retired at the end of 2014 from a sometimes highly stressful job. This spring my wife and I went on a cruise to the Bahamas where I decided to try some acupuncture treatment. I underwent 3 treatments during our cruise which went well, but I didn’t feel any changes. Lately I have been noticing that the medication I was taking for my illness seemed off, it wasn’t working the same as before. Since I had been in remission for the last 3 years, I had reduced the amount of medication I was taking daily and because I had been so busy this summer I was also forgetting to take my medication at times. All of a sudden I realized that the amount of medication was quite low in my body and I was not getting any symptoms as I used to.

    I have been off my medication for 1 month now and everything seems normal. I have not told my Doctor yet since I am still evaluating my situation. I don’t understand what happened to me but I do believe that the now stress free environment and the acupuncture treatment helped. Does this make sense?

    • tsw_admin

      Hi Charles,
      That does makes sense. That said, we always advise working with one’s doctor closely to manage medications. We wish you continued ease!

  5. Patrick Millar

    I’m going through heartbreak at the moment 5 weeks on. I had my first acupuncture session today. Felt a bit less wired and a bit sleepy., But now all my anxiety symptoms have come back. The acupuncturist said my pulses were much better after session, is this normal after first session?

    • tsw_admin

      Heartbreak is so difficult! Effects from any acupuncture treatment may last 24++ hours, and sometimes bodies feel things more intensely after treatment before feeling relief. We definitely recommend checking in with your acupuncturist since your unique experience depends on the unique treatment you received.

  6. Ziki Dekel

    There are those who really demand instant results, there really are things that take some time and like you’ve explained very well here — it would depend on your situation! So, it’s not gonna work the same for everyone. I would have to agree with Sabrina in the other comments that it’s great that the Western world is starting to accept the acupuncture treatment better than it used to.

  7. Joanne

    Had my first acupuncture treatment today for menapause and weight loss. Just wondering how long it should take to start helping and how often should I have acupuncture done? How will I know it’s actually working

    • tsw_admin

      That’s great that you had acupuncture! Timing can depend on how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms and weight changes, so it’s different for each person. Your practitioner should be able to help give you an idea based on your health history and treatment goals. Keep up the good work!

  8. Sean Robertson

    Thanks for sharing good knowledge and information, this is very useful and understandable .. because we have been looking for this information for a long time. I am very thankful to your post.

  9. bindalayurveda

    Great information. It is so helpful.. Thank you for publishing this blog.

  10. Dean Phillips

    I thought it was interesting how you said that sometimes the effects of acupuncture are quick and sometimes they are subtle. My wife has been having troubles with sleep and headaches, and we have not been able to figure out how to help with it. We may have to look into setting up an acupuncture appointment for her to see if it will help.


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