One question patients often have when getting an acupuncture treatment is “How long am I supposed to have the needles in?” An important question when it comes to working on health and your own personal time. Some acupuncturists will cite classic texts that say qi circulates so many times a day in the body and therefore you need a minimum of about 30 minutes with needles to at least let the qi circulate once. Some current research indicates that it takes about 10-20 minutes to get the nervous system into gear. So generally we recommend that range of 20-30 minutes as a good minimum.
There is a kick to the nervous system (which we'll explore in future blogs) via the prick of the acupuncture needles and the amount of time it takes to register is probably fairly consistent from person to person, but what comes after that is hard to tell (i.e., everyone has a different experience with acupuncture, and often has a different one each time they come). So we wouldn't want to disturb that process by coming in and removing the needles while you are in mid-acupuncture stream.
Many acupuncturists are restricted by table space and that oftentimes determines how long your acupuncture treatment will last. They schedule appointments every 60-90 minutes in a private room and so when that time is up and the next patient is arriving, they need to be wrapping up your time. But that space-time restriction is not normally a concern for a community acupuncture clinic, which leads even acupuncture veterans perplexed when we ask them if they are done with their acupuncture session.
But I have just seen the individual response during an acupuncture treatment vary so much that I hesitate to apply a definitive end time. Some folks can only sit still for 20 minutes and that’s it. They keep a relaxed eye on the clock and know when those 20 minutes are up. Others can stay in a chair for 2 hours and you can count the tree rings grow while they are in their recliner. Sometimes patients want to be out after 45 minutes or so just to keep time from slipping away.
Oftentimes patients are coming to de-stress or get a “tune-up” or embark upon a mystical journey of rejuvenation. Far be it from me to know exactly how long that should take. I have had acupuncture treatments that last 20 minutes, but feel like 90; and other times I have been in a chair with needles for 90 minutes and it feels like 20. That may be all in my head, but we have obviously entered a world where we realize that what happens in our heads is no longer so separate from what is happening in our bodies.