Sometimes acupuncture seems like a miracle. A strained back that suddenly turns into “I guess I did not twist it as bad as I thought I had,” digestion that regulates and settles down, hot flashes that go from a daily irritation to an occasional annoyance, there are times that acupuncture seems like magic. But, as Isaac Asimov once pointed out “any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic.”
Acupuncture seems strange, and it certainly is exotic, so it is easy for belief to run off leash to all kinds of conclusions. Which is why it is important to know that acupuncture is medicine, not magic. It follows a theory of pathology and treatment, has a well detailed physiology (albeit non-Western, but a system that is solid within itself), it has centuries of clinical experience, and abundantly documented at that; at least if you read Chinese. It is neither random, nor a fancy handwaving placebo. There is absolutely nothing magical about it, and as a patient it would be best if you come in without carrying that particular baggage.
Just like disposable lighters would make you appear to be an emissary from the god of fire 1000 years ago, or just like using something as simple an antibiotic to treat a raging infection in a place where antibiotics were unknown, your special medicine would instantly elevate to the status of a magician. But, we all know that these things are simple tools in our day and age. To us, as common as clean water, and warehouses of food at our beck and call.
And it can be this way with acupuncture for those who are not familiar with the science behind. For those who do not understand the technology involved, it seems to be not of this world. In fact, it is nothing more than another way of looking at health and illness, and it uses a different map of the human body. Much like if you had a map that only showed the blue roads between St. Louis and Chicago, it would take you a long circuitous time to make the journey. But if your map included the interstate highways, that trip would be trimmed down to half a day. And so it is with Chinese medicine, we have a different way of looking at the world, and sometimes that means we have what appear to be shortcuts.
The truth is there are no shortcuts. There never are in the healing process. It takes time to arrive in the place we find ourselves, and it takes time to shift and journey to another location. Especially with chronic illness. While the television advertises magic bullets and extolls you to ask your doctor if they are right for you, if you listen to what you know to be true inside, then you know that things take time. And there is usually more than one way to go at a problem.
So, back to the question, how long does it take acupuncture to work? The answer is; immediately. However, depending on your individual situation it can take some time before you start to feel differently.
Does this mean I need to do acupuncture for the rest of my life? For relatively acute conditions; no, just long enough to resolve the problem. Usually 2-5 treatments. For more chronic situations it will take more time, usually once a week and then as you improve the treatments are spaced out at longer intervals. Some people prefer to use acupuncture instead of pharmaceutical medication to deal with long term issues like back pain, menopause symptoms, anxiety, menstrual irregularities, IBS or headaches, as there are no side effects with acupuncture.
Isn't acupuncture expensive? Really depends on how you calculate it. When you consider the co-pays you already are responsible for, and that over the course of years acupuncture can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars that would otherwise be spent on either prescription drugs, physical therapy, or doctor's visits. Then over time the cost of acupuncture can be quite reasonable.
Will acupuncture work for you? There is only one way to find out, try it for yourself!