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Ask an expert - about acupuncture - How often?

9 questions

Q:Would it ever be a useful thing to have acupuncture every day - if someone was very ill, for example.


A:  This is very much the case in China, where acupuncture is often administered in a ten-day course for acute conditions. The big difference, of course, is that acupuncture is funded within the hospitals and delivered free at point of treatment. Many BAcC members will treat daily if there is an acute condition, but this is not always possible if practitioners work on different sites in a week and can't always be available every day at the same location.
The only sticking point we hear of is the fee structure. Most practitioners come to an arrangement where this is an affordable option by setting an agreed fee for a whole course of treatment for an emergency or acute situation. Our hope is that this is done with sensitivity, although we have no direct influence over what members charge.

There are no hard and fast rules about the frequency of treatment. The majority of BAcC members tend to see patients weekly, often beginning with a course of four or five sessions, and then reviewing progress to decide how much further treatment may be required and whether acupuncture remains the best option. For more acute situations it is not unknown for someone to have two or even three sessions in a week for a short period.
In Chinese hospital outpatient departments it is not unusual to have a course of ten treatments with one treatment a day. This would be difficult to replicate in UK practice, though, where the majority of practitioners are self-employed and would not realistically be able to charge patients their normal rates for such an intensive burst of treatment.
A great deal depends on the severity of the symptoms which the patient presents. Lower back problems can be chronic or acute, and it would be normal to treat acute conditions a little more frequently.  

There are no set rules for how long it may take for treatment to show benefits, and most practitioners have lived to regret promising change within a set number of treatments. From a Chinese medicine perspective the symptoms are often less important than the underlying patterns to which the diagnostic systems relate, and this can sometimes lead to confusing anomalies - a serious condition based on a relatively simple imbalance can sometimes clear as if by magic, whereas a minor condition based on a complex chronic imbalance can be almost intractable. All that a practitioner can do is to ensure that they review the situation on a regular basis with the patient. We don't make any stipulations, but most members have often drawn a line at four or five sessions, sometimes a few more, and discussed with a patient how well things are going. Even where the main condition may not have changed at all, there may be changes to diagnostic signs which indicate that there will be progress. If there aren't then the practitioner should acknowledge that there are some people for who acupuncture doesn't work, and work with you to see what other alternatives there may be which suit you better.


There are no set rules. The majority of practitioners in the BAcC see patients once a week, occasionally twice a week, but it is not unknown in China for someone to have a course of ten treatments on a daily basis. This is particularly the case with acute conditions, and there are occasions where a patient will be advised to attend the clinic two or three days in a row to bring more acute problems under control.
Just as there is a problem with treating too infrequently, over-treating can be an issue. Most practitioners use the analogy of cleaning out a pond. If you take all the rubbish off the bottom the water becomes cloudy for a few days, and you need to let it settle before you can properly assess what change you have achieved.

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