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Recommended Number of Acupuncture Sessions for Optimal Effect

I am frequently asked how many sessions of acupuncture I would recommend for various treatment conditions. I remember during my early acupuncture training that we were taught that acupuncture has an accumulative effect, meaning that the more sessions you have, the longer the treatment effects last.
We were also taught that often, if a person’s system is depleted of energy – that is, if they are already experiencing symptoms – one may well need to build up the energy stores of the body system, before you could expect the body to rally enough energy to bring about a resolution of the symptoms (imbalance of energy) that is affecting them.

In my experience and over the years I have practiced acupuncture, I have seen some people who have responded immediately to a single session of acupuncture, while others with seemingly the same set of symptoms may take much longer to respond. Once again, this reinforces my belief that ‘one size does not fit all’. We are each unique, and respond in our own way to our individual needs in our own individual set of circumstances.

While I remember these ‘rules’ clearly, I felt it would be both helpful and interesting to research some Journal articles on a few conditions that I work with. I wanted to know how many sessions were completed in their research, and the frequency of the sessions. I have summarised a few articles below.

The first article [1] deals with Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy, which is the most common late complication of diabetes. Symptoms can include loss of sensation and strength, prickling or pain. A randomized controlled trial was performed where 42 patients participated in one session per day lasting 30 minutes, for 15 days. (Total of 15 sessions). The results of the trial suggest that acupuncture can delay the progressive deterioration of nerve function secondary to Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy, and could actually accelerate the nerve regenerative process. The treatment also appeared to significantly improve subjective symptom scores, particular numbness, pain, rigidity and alterations in temperature perception.

An Abstract from another article describing a long-term study of Acupuncture for the treatment of chronic peripheral diabetic neuropathy [2] states that 46 patients were treated with acupuncture analgesia. The patients received up to 6 courses of classical acupuncture analgesia over a period of 10 weeks. 77% of the patients showed a significant improvement in their primary and / or secondary symptoms. These patients were followed up for a period of 18-52 weeks, and only 24% of the patients required further acupuncture treatment. 21% of the patients noted that their symptoms cleared completely. The conclusion suggests that acupuncture is a safe and effective therapy for the long-term management of painful diabetic neuropathy.

Acupuncture in a Rheumatology Clinic [3] is the topic of the third article. An acupuncture clinic was established for a limited period within a rheumatology department of a hospital. A prospective observational study was made of the progress of 41 patients, in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment. Courses of 6-8 sessions of traditional and trigger-point acupuncture were offered for a specified range of conditions. (Neck pain, Thoracic pain, Low back and leg pain, Knee pain, Ankle and foot pain, Shoulder pain). Contrary to expectation, some patients with a long history of degenerative disease responded well. In conclusion, 73% of rheumatology patients included in the study showed at least a 33% improvement in pain after acupuncture treatment. There was a considerable reduction in the intake of analgesic drugs.

A Pilot clinical study of 31 Frozen Shoulders [4] describes the symptoms as ‘severe aching in the shoulder and upper arm, with tenderness around the area, with all glenohumeral movements becoming restricted to about 25% of normal expected movement’. These patients commonly get little relief from conventional medical treatment or physiotherapy. Of all the 31 patients treated, all but one (who withdrew after only 2 treatments) had beneficial responses. Some patients obtained therapeutic effect with only 4 sessions, while others needed up to 15 sessions for the same level of benefit

“It appears to be individual response rather than a specific optimum number of treatment sessions that determines both the amount of benefit and the speed of recovery in acupuncture treatment”.

How many sessions of acupuncture would you, personally, benefit from? Let’s offer your body the chance to discover your optimal treatment response!

1. Fifteen-day Acupuncture Treatment Relieves Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: Yanqing Tong, Hongyang Guo, Bing Han; J Acupunct Meridian Stud 2010; 3(2):95-103
2. Acupuncture for the treatment of painful peripheral diabetic neuropathy: a long-term study; B. B. Abuaisha, J. B. Costanzi, A. J. M. Boulton;
3. Acupuncture in a Rheumatology Clinic: Rosemary Alexander, Adrian White; Acupuncture in medicine Dec 2000 Vol 18 (2) p100-103
4. Frozen Shoulder: A Comparison of Western and Traditional Chinese Approaches and a Clinical Study of its Acupuncture Treatment; Emad S Tukmachi. Acupuncture in Medicine June 1999 Vol 17 (1) p9-21

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