Acupuncturist FAQs

  • Introduction

    Acupuncture is an alternative medicine technique. It involves the strategic placement of small, fine needles puncturing the skin on various areas of the body to relieve pain or treat other medical conditions. The needles are left in place for about 10 minutes to half an hour while the patient relaxes. The selection of the proper acupoints requires skill and knowledge.

    The practice of acupuncture originated in Asia many centuries ago. Chinese acupuncture may also involve electrical stimulation or heat application for heightened effect. Some Chinese acupuncturists also slowly spin or twirl the needles after insertion. On the other hand, Japanese acupuncture is less invasive, with shallow needle insertion and no needle manipulation. Korean acupuncture focuses on needle placement only in the feet and hands.  

    Though acupuncture was highly controversial in Western medicine for many years, most of the medical community now recognizes its effectiveness for pain management. Only anecdotal evidence exists for treatments beyond pain relief.
  • How does acupuncture work?

    Research hasn’t yet determined exactly how acupuncture works, but there are two main theories. One is that it operates on a neurological level by stimulating muscles, nerves, and connective tissues, triggering natural pain relief effects. Others believe acupuncture balances a person’s energies — chi — creating physical, emotional, and mental harmony, which relieves pain and improves health. 

  • Does Medicare cover acupuncture?

    Medicare Part B covers acupuncture solely to treat low back pain. The condition must have no known cause and have lasted for at least 12 weeks. Only a doctor or properly licensed and trained medical provider may perform the acupuncture. Medicare initially approves up to 12 sessions over 90 days. With demonstrated improvement, up to eight more visits may be allowed.

  • Is acupuncture effective?

    Studies by the National Institute of Health confirm the effectiveness of acupuncture for addiction, nausea, headaches, asthma, some stroke rehabilitation, and pain management for various conditions. The NIH studies support the use of acupuncture alone and combined with traditional treatment methods. Additional research by other scientific and medical organizations demonstrates that acupuncture is typically successful in the treatment of pain.

  • Does acupuncture hurt?

    Acupuncture should not be painful. The unfamiliar sensation may be uncomfortable at first, but that typically goes away after the first session. People with high sensitivity levels or low pain tolerance may experience heightened sensations. However, any discomfort should be minor and brief. Some common feelings at the acupuncture points are warmth, tingling, heaviness, or mild achiness.

  • How much does acupuncture cost?

    Acupuncture prices vary greatly, ranging from $50 to $300 per session. Initial sessions usually cost more than follow-up appointments. Initial sessions on the high end of the pricing scale usually include a consultation and medical exam along with the acupuncture session. Some acupuncturists offer membership price breaks or discounts for prepaid multiple sessions. Shop around before deciding on an acupuncturist.

  • Does insurance cover acupuncture?

    Some health care insurance carriers cover acupuncture for specific medical conditions. But it depends on the location, insurance provider, insurance plan, and reason for the treatments. Aetna, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cigna, United Health Care, Health Net, Banner Health, and Humana are examples of some private insurers that may cover acupuncture with various restrictions. Contact your provider to learn more.

  • What should you wear to an acupuncture appointment?

    Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing to your first acupuncture appointment. Shorts or pants you can pull above your knees are a good idea. Short-sleeve tops are also preferable. Slip-on shoes are helpful. If your treatment involves back or torso needle placement, your acupuncturist likely provides gowns. After your first visit, you have a better idea of suitable clothing.

  • Is acupuncture safe?

    Acupuncture is very safe with a certified, reputable, and capable acupuncturist. When the practitioner follows the law using sterile, disposable, single-use needles, adverse effects are rare. The World Health Organization reported no major side effects and only 671 minor adverse events out of 10,000 treatments. Plus, acupuncture has none of the serious side effects of traditional pain medications. 

  • What is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?

    Dry needling is also called intramuscular stimulation. The procedure involves the insertion of needles to treat muscular pain. Unlike the ancient practice of acupuncture, dry needling is relatively new. It’s not a well-regulated field either, while acupuncture is. Physical therapists and other providers can perform dry needling with no special training, licensing, or certifications.

  • What are some conditions that acupuncture can treat?

    Acupuncture can help relieve pain caused by many medical conditions. Some examples are migraines, menstrual cramps, back pain, arthritis, sciatica, fibromyalgia, tennis elbow, postsurgical dental pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Many patients also experience improvement from acupuncture treatment for conditions, such as asthma, addiction, ADHD, and TMD. Plus, acupuncture may also help relieve nausea, stress, and anxiety.

  • How long does an acupuncture appointment last?

    Initial acupuncture appointments typically last longer than routine sessions. They may include an interview about your health issues and a medical exam. With the acupuncture session, the entire appointment may take one to two hours. Successive sessions typically last about 30 minutes to an hour. The needles will be in place for only about 10 to 30 minutes.

  • How many acupuncture appointments will you need to complete a treatment?

    It’s best to discuss how many sessions you’ll need with your acupuncturist during your initial consultation. Most patients who seek acupuncture to help with a medical condition and related pain need several sessions. They may start treatment with one to three sessions per week for a few weeks. Once they see improvement, treatments may taper off to in-frequent maintenance sessions.

  • What needles are used in acupuncture?

    Metal filiform needles are the type commonly used for acupuncture today. These sterile, stainless-steel thread-like needles are available in varying diameters and lengths. The typical gauges range from 0.12 mm to 0.35 mm. Japanese acupuncture calls for thinner needles than Chinese methods. Acupuncture needles are designed for one use before disposal. Some acupuncturists use gold or silver needles.

  • Do acupuncturists need to be licensed to practice acupuncture?

    Washington D.C. and 47 states require some type of licensing to perform acupuncture. South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Alabama don’t regulate acupuncturists. Elsewhere, credentialing requirements and standards vary. Most states with acupuncture legal oversight require National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) exams or certification in compliance with the Acupuncture Practice Act. California has its own licensing exam.

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