What makes acupuncture work for some better than others? We’ll go over the keys to a successful treatment so you can get the best results possible.

Key #1: Don’t Miss Your Appointments!

In China, acupuncture is administered daily, typically 5-10 days consecutively, with additional courses of treatment prescribed as needed. Acupuncture research studies, both here and abroad, follow a similar treatment schedule to evaluate efficacy. While the U.S. healthcare system isn’t structured like it is in China (or in research studies), many practitioners will prescribe a treatment schedule similar to this:

Week 1: 3 sessions (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday)
Week 2: 2 sessions (e.g. Wednesday and Friday)
Week 3: 1-2 sessions (e.g. Wednesday and Friday, or Wednesday only)
Week 4: 1 session (e.g. Wednesday)

After these first several weeks, and depending on the acute or chronic nature of your symptoms, eight to ten weekly sessions is common.

The reason for these close, consecutive treatments is because acupuncture works by building momentum in the body. When sessions are spread out too far apart, your body loses that momentum and falls back into old patterns. So, think of acupuncture as a good habit your body needs to make positive, lasting changes.

To help maintain your body’s momentum, practitioners use other tools to support your acupuncture sessions, such as herbal medicine, at-home moxibustion therapy and diet and lifestyle counseling.

With each scheduled appointment, your practitioner is evaluating your progress. Along with your own measurement of results (such as pain relief or improved mood and energy), your practitioner will keep you informed of your body’s response to treatment.

Key #2: Take Your Herbs

Ron Teeguarden, founder of Dragon Herbs is famous for his “First Rule of Tonic Herbalism – Compliance.” If you don’t take the herbs, he says, they won’t work. But compliance isn’t just for tonic herbs (designed for promoting longevity); taking herbal medicine consistently is important for whatever ails you – from digestive, muscular, reproduction conditions and more.

Herbal medicine comes in many forms: teapills, tablets, powders, tinctures and topicals, to name a few. However, it’s important to note that preparing your own decoction from whole herbs is the most potent form of all. Boiling whole herbs the traditional way extracts all the properties and provides the most “qi” or energy in the medicine. Many patients enjoy boiling their own herbal decoctions: making time to do so is a way of taking charge of their health. For others, it is enough to remember swallowing pills three times daily.

When it comes to compliance, just be honest with what you can do, and speak with your practitioner if you need to change the way you take herbal medicine.

Key #3: Follow Any Recommended Diet & Lifestyle Changes

There are eight branches of Chinese medicine, and the first three emphasize self-care: meditation, mindful movement and diet. You may be surprised to learn that acupuncture is branch number eight, in terms of priority. Why do these self-care branches come before acupuncture?

Jeff Nagel, TCM practitioner since 1969 explains, “The beginning branches [meditation, exercise, diet] are the most subtle and therefore the most powerful because they are practiced on a personal level. Due to their less subtle nature, the latter branches miss some of the unlimited potential and power because they are done to someone or for someone.”

This message emphasizes the central role that self-care plays in health and wellness. Daily habits such as eating a balanced and varied diet, scheduling time to quiet the mind, and engaging in moderate exercise all work together to enhance our quality of life.

How can what we eat, or whether we decide to hit the gym really effect our health?  Acupuncturist Dr. Russo explains that our daily habits are in a continuous feedback loop with our organs. “Everything is interrelated. The energy of one organ affects your energy level and mood, this in turn affects your dietary and exercise choices, which affect the original organ.” It’s worth noting here that in Chinese medicine, the organ system is vastly more complex than what we were taught from conventional anatomy and physiology textbooks.

Looking for more ways to jump-start your health? Meditate Your Way to Better Health.

Three Keys to Success, One Common Theme

These are the top three keys we wanted to share with you. What do they have in common? Compliance! Without the luxury of a controlled study from which to gather data and determine your treatment’s efficacy, practitioners are heavily reliant on you to meet them half-way for treatment success.