According to wiktionary.org the word ‘dosage’ is defined as the administration of a medication etc, in a measured amount. So what might the measured amount be in an acupuncture treatment?
To help answer this question I went to the checklist at STRICTA.info (which offers reporting guidelines for acupuncture researchers). According to this some of the factors that can affect treatment strength are:-
- Number of treatment points used
- Depth of insertion
- Amount of stimulation applied to the needle
- Needle retention time
- Needle thickness
- Total number of treatment sessions
- Frequency of sessions
- Style of acupuncture (eg Western medical, Chinese, Japanese, Korean)
- Any additional interventions offered (eg cupping, moxibustion)
In my experience, one treatment is usually insufficient – a larger dose is often needed. After all, you don’t expect to take just one tablet after a visit to your GP.
In a 2008 paper, Dr. Adrian White also argued that ‘the dose may be affected by the state of the patient (eg nervous, immune and endocrine systems); different doses may be required for different conditions’. It has been argued by others that where trials have shown little or no effect over placebo, this is due to an insufficient dose of acupuncture being given.
So how do we establish the correct dose? In clinical practice, this is usually determined by experience. I would generally give a smaller dose of treatment on the first visit, and also if you have a weaker constitution. Whilst it is normal to experience a little drowsiness after an acupuncture session, extended periods of drowsiness or sleeplessness may indicate too high a treatment dose. Over treatment is usually self-resolving in a few days at most and is not generally considered a safety issue. If you experience side-effects please discuss these with your acupuncturist.
As a patient you should always ask your practitioner how many sessions are anticipated and he/she should agree one or two treatment goals at the outset (eg significantly reduce PMS symptoms). In establishing a correct dosage I usually combine clinical experience with information gained from studies.
Martin Dean B. Eng Lic. Ac MBAcC has over 23 years clinical experience as an acupuncturist, with over 10 years teaching experience.