The Importance of Maintaining Consistency with Acupuncture

The body of literature around acupuncture research shows that maintaining consistency with treatment is critical.

The body of literature around acupuncture research shows that maintaining consistency with treatment – regardless of one’s goals – is critical. Acupuncture has shown in numerous studies that it functions optimally when performed routinely regardless of whether you’re combating a sports injury, chronic pain, or seeking to simply enhance your well-being and maintain a healthier lifestyle. In fact, against chronic pain, one of the most common and complicated conditions to effectively treat, routine acupuncture has shown to be particularly effective.(8,9) It also serves as a prime example which exemplifies the biological processes that cause routine acupuncture to excel over infrequent treatment.

A single session of acupuncture induces an analgesic effect by triggering the body’s intrinsic healing capabilities, leading to a flood of pain-reducing natural opioids, mood-boosting serotonin, and inflammation-reducing cytokines. Routine acupuncture, however, can alter how the brain processes and experiences pain, providing lasting relief that addresses not only symptoms but also root causes.(14) One way acupuncture achieves this is by altering the hypothalamus and amygdala response to pain through neuroplasticity.(1) Routine treatment also induces a habituation effect in the amygdala and hypothalamus which further enhances acupuncture’s impact on neuroplasticity, thereby encouraging continued relief.(6) Moreover, these effects had no significant decrease in effectiveness after a year of routine treatment!(10)

Neuroplasticity & Acupuncture

The amygdala, responsible for turning physical sensations into emotional experiences, reacts to pain by becoming more active. This response can become exaggerated in chronic pain patients because chronic pain alters the neuroplasticity of the brain, making the amygdala overly sensitive to sensory input.(1) Acupuncture helps to reduce perceived pain and the emotional distress associated with chronic pain, allowing the amygdala to return to a natural baseline. Overtime this effect can restore normal function to the amygdala, which in turn reduces the intensity of chronic pain.(1)

The hypothalamus, which receives both direct and indirect sensory inputs, balances the body’s internal functions, produces hormones and is functionally linked to the amygdala, was found to have a stronger response to acupuncture the more one’s brain had adapted to chronic pain. The hypothalamus, in response to acupuncture, physically reduces pain and inflammation by balancing the hormones and chemicals our body uses to heal itself, adjusting the levels of cytokines, opioids and other beneficial substances present in the body. Under a consistent acupuncture routine, the hypothalamus became more reactive and efficient at altering the body’s internal chemistry to physically reduce pain and inflammation.(1) When treatment was not consistent, patients found their pain returned much quicker.(8) This shows that routine acupuncture is extra effective for chronic pain patients as the connection between their amygdala and hypothalamus will be exaggerated by their condition, and acupuncture can mend the neuroplasticity of both simultaneously.(1) In a study performed in 2022, routine acupuncture treatment was shown to be more effective than opiate-based painkillers in treating chronic pain over long periods of time – reducing both symptoms and need for additional medication or treatment.(17)

Studies have also shown that consistent acupuncture treatment excels at combating nagging injuries, such as Carpal Tunnel and Tennis Elbow, as well as muscular strains and sprains. Additionally, it is useful for patients seeking to improve sports performance or simply enhance their general well-being. There is also new research developing which shows acupuncture’s cumulative benefits may be useful for treating addiction.

Consistent Acupuncture for Injuries

When treating an injury with acupuncture the goal is to help the body’s systems return to a natural baseline. Acupuncture achieves this by engaging the body’s intrinsic healing mechanisms through the cardiovascular, muscular-skeletal and immune systems, helping to balance endogenous chemicals which cause stress, pain and inflammation with those that suppress and remove them. Similar to treating chronic pain, treating an injury with inconsistent acupuncture will provide only temporary relief from symptoms and will not address root causes. However, with consistent treatment the body can better treat these root causes, and even return to a pre-injury state where patients can reengage in the activities and lifestyle they had before their injury.

For example, routine acupuncture excels at treating muscular strains because it both relaxes and decreases tension in muscle fibers while engaging the intrinsic healing systems of our body – the combination of which reduces pain and inflammation while also helping the muscle return to its natural, limber state. By contrast, an over the counter painkiller may reduce pain and inflammation, but it will not return the injured muscle to a state where it functions as it would have before being damaged. For this reason, many professional athletes seek acupuncture to treat their injuries and to help maintain their well-being against the rigorous demands on their body.

Routine Acupuncture for Athletes

Many athletes have been turning to acupuncture in recent years in lieu of western medicine. As mentioned, acupuncture both treats injuries and helps maintain overall health and well-being, and does so simultaneously. This helps athletes prevent the spread of muscular injuries to nearby areas that may be compensating as a result of an injury. Acupuncture also helps athletes quickly return to a state where they can compete without risk of regression or further complication. In the case of Tennis Elbow, for example, acupuncture is able to reduce symptoms, prevent their return and get players back on the court faster than surgery or medication, all with no side effects or risk.

The Efficacy of Consistent Acupuncture Treatment

When it comes to the importance and efficacy of consistent acupuncture treatment, there are two patients that come to mind as particularly successful examples.

The first is a patient who I have been treating for Trigeminal Neuralgia since 2018. Trigeminal Neuralgia is a debilitating condition characterized by symptoms of intense shooting nerve pain in the face that can occur randomly and are triggered by touch, speaking, chewing, brushing teeth or even the weather. This patient has a chronic case of Trigeminal Neuralgia that dates back over twenty years when he was diagnosed via an MRI. When he first came to us at Synergy, he was on a high dose of Tegretol and plagued by its side effects, notably dizziness, loss of balance, brain fog and nausea. The treatment plan I developed was to administer acupuncture twice a week for four to eight weeks, followed by acupuncture once a week and maintenance as needed. After the first two months, the patient was able to lower his dosage of Tegretol by half, and after the following month, this patient was completely off Tegretol. Since then, acupuncture treatment has become a part of his lifestyle and he comes in for maintenance every other week. I applaud this patient in particular because he is committed not only to managing his Trigeminal Neuralgia but also to staying off medication that he was told he would be required to take for the rest of his life.

 

The next patient who has demonstrated exceptional commitment to acupuncture and seen many benefits as a result is also my very first patient out of acupuncture school. We began treatment in 2017 when he came to me seeking treatment for Peripheral Neuropathy. This type of neuropathy is characterized by a burning sensation in the hands or feet and is typical in diabetics. If left unaddressed, neuropathy can result in paralysis, infections, gangrene and even amputation. Acupuncture to the affected areas promotes circulation and proper nerve function, which can alleviate the discomfort and pain associated with Peripheral Neuropathy. This patient has been coming in on a weekly basis for all seven years that I have worked as an acupuncturist. The symptoms of his Peripheral Neuropathy have been maintained and have shown improvement, despite having diabetes all these years. What’s notable is the worsening of his symptoms if he skips a week or two, which shows how important it is to be consistent with your acupuncture therapy, or any treatments which you ultimately choose to pursue for health and wellness.

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Sources

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