Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How long should an acupuncture treatment last?

When Less is More and When More is More

When I was in school, I was taught that "Qi takes 20 minutes to circulate through the body". Most westerners translate "Qi" as "vital life force energy". A better translation is the metaphorical "breath" of the body. The character for Qi actually depicts the steam rising off of a bowl of cooked rice: there is a smooth movement of warmth, water vapor, and air all mixed together. Qi is everything in your body that distinguishes you from a corpse.

The idea that Qi takes 20 minutes to circulate has lead some practitioners of Oriental Medicine to the idea that everyone needs a 20 minute acupuncture treatment. Some community acupuncturists (contrarians that they are!) leave people for as long as they don't need the chair for someone else, leading to two hour cook times. 

What if you only have time for a 20 minute treatment, but you usually get an hour? I still think you'll get a good treatment. I feel that anything  less than 15 minutes is pushing it, but my friend Theresa gets great results just leaving needles in for 5 minutes, so who knows! 

Some of my colleagues and I have noticed that, again, one size does NOT fit all. Many patients will do better with a shorter "cook" time. In my experience, those patients who have low blood sugar, are more frail, are elderly, those going through chemo and those who are fighting off colds generally do better with less time. Just like "it takes money to make money", it takes Qi to move Qi around. If you don't have much Qi to begin with, we don't want to go using it up by leaving someone too long with needles. 

One of my mentors taught that building the body's resources takes many short bursts of treatment over a long period of time. This seemed counter-intuitive to me at the time, but now I get it. I, myself, have had several experiences of having acupuncture before lunch that left me wiped out. (This is an example of having your blood sugar too low for acupuncture.) I felt really relaxed, but also like I needed to go home and take a three hour nap. 

For some folks, it takes 45 minutes or more for their body and mind to settle down and let go of all the stress of their life. These are the people who will do better with a longer time.

It's natural to feel relaxed, floaty and slightly spacey after acupuncture. If you feel dizzy or muzzy-headed, please have a glass of water before you get into your car. This will help ground your energy and "bring you back". If you feel exhausted or exceptionally foggy-headed after acupuncture, you had too many needles or both. Please tell us if this happens so we can adjust accordingly. 

Some of our patients feel they get the best treatment from over an hour with the needles. Some of our patients only relax for 10 minutes before they feel "done". Some folks need a lot of needles before they feel the positive effects of acupuncture. Some folks only need 5-10 needles to get a good treatment. How do we know what's right for you? We start out with an average treatment and make adjustments depending what diagnosis we've made for you. Then we see what happens. 

Cook times can change, too. One of my regulars who tends to crash out for 45 minutes got very agitated 20 minutes into a treatment. He got angry, in fact. After I pulled the needles he calmed down and said that he just felt like "he needed to get up and go!" Patients who are more sensitive can learn to tune in to their bodies. The cues are different for everyone. Feeling antsy, suddenly awake, and energized are the ones I've encountered most often in clinic. 

Don't be afraid to ask us for something different. We won't always be able to accommodate you because of safety concerns or logistics, but we do want to help you get the very best treatment possible. Please be sure to communicate with us about your treatments. Tune in for the first 48 hours after treatment: do you feel calmer? More energized? Wiped out? Hyper? Do you have less pain right away? Does the pain slowly lessen over time?

We have wireless doorbells for each patient. (I'm lousy about handing them out sometimes. If you want one, just ask!) Use a doorbell, wave us over or cough repeatedly if you're ready to get up. Note that sometimes we can't get to you immediately if we're in the middle of needling. Please, please tell us if you have to get up at a certain time. We will do our best to get you out the door on time!

Get your 'Qi' on at Left Hand Community Acupuncture
424 E. Simpson St. Lafayette, CO 

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