Something we commonly hear from new patients is that they’ve considered trying acupuncture for a long time, but they weren’t completely sure if it could help them. Or, they didn’t know how to find a qualified practitioner (or even what the qualifications were). We’ve put together some steps to help you find a qualified practitioner and start your journey towards better health.
Acupuncture is part of a complete system of medicine that evolved more than 3000 years ago in China, making it is one of the oldest and most commonly used medical procedures in the world. People discovered that inserting fine needles into specific points on the body stimulated the body's innate ability to heal itself. It continues to grow in popularity as it becomes more widely integrated into medical clinics and hospitals.
Acupuncture is more widely known for its ability to treat pain of all kinds. For example, joint pain, spinal pain, headaches, and migraines are among the most commonly treated conditions. But many aren’t aware that acupuncture developed as a complete medical system and is effective in treating a wide range of conditions, including:
- Women’s health issues such as infertility, PMS, painful periods, irregular cycles, endometriosis, and peri-menopausal concerns such as hot flashes and brain fog.
- Mental Health concerns such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction.
- Digestive complaints including bloating, nausea, heartburn/GERD, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Neurological issues such as neuropathy, tinnitus, facial pain and paralysis. It can also help manage symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
- Pain issues such as joint pain, fibromyalgia, TMJ, headaches, migraines, arthritic pain,
- Treatment of acute injury, or chronic pain from an old injury.
- Reduces symptoms and increases recover time of the common cold and flu.
- Reduces allergy symptoms and increases immunity to prevent future irritation.
- General health & wellness, stress reduction, insomnia.
And while acupuncture may not provide a cure for chronic conditions or serious issues such as cancer, it can be a supportive treatment as it decreases the severity of the symptoms or the side effects of treatment. For example, acupuncture is highly effective in treating the nausea and fatigue which often accompanies chemotherapy.
Even when you are ready to try acupuncture, it can be hard to know what to look for if you don’t have a direct referral from a friend or a trusted medical professional.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that some states use different titles or designations to signify that their practitioners are licensed. The most common is Licensed Acupuncturist, abbreviated L.Ac., but many other designations can be used.
In order to become a Licensed Acupuncturist, the practitioner must generally meet three criteria:
- Earn a Master’s Degree in Acupuncture or Oriental/Chinese Medicine, usually a 3-4 year full-time program of study.
- Earn certification through the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This involves a series of 3 or 4 in-depth board exams.
- Apply for licensure through the state’s medical board.
Once you establish that they are licensed, it can often be a matter of finding the right “fit” with a person. Check out their website, read their bios. Many acupuncturists offer a complimentary consultation in person or over the phone to discuss your particular concerns and give you a chance to visit the clinic before your initial visit. This is a great way to meet them and see if you feel they will be a good fit for you.
Yes. Acupuncture, when practiced by a licensed professional, is generally safe and free of any side effects. All acupuncture needles are sterile, single use, disposable. The FDA as well as state laws require that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and that they be labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only. The needles are used only once, then safely discarded. Significantly few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the FDA in light of the millions of people treated each year.
Acupuncture needles are solid and hair-thin, unlike the much larger gauge, hollow hypodermic needles typically used for shots and injections. People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel nothing at all or a small pricking sensation similar to a mosquito bite as the needles are inserted. The needles are inserted swiftly and can be quickly adjusted if the you feel any discomfort.
Acupuncture is becoming more commonly covered by insurance. However, you should check with your insurer before you start treatment to see whether acupuncture will be covered for your condition and, if so, to what extent. Some insurance plans require preauthorization for acupuncture.
We recommend calling your insurance provider prior to your first appointment to verify your benefits. Make sure to ask the following questions:
- Do I have acupuncture benefits as part of my plan?
- Are there any limitations on the types of symptoms and illnesses that are covered for treatment?
- Is there a limit on the number of visits each year?
- Is the acupuncturist I want to see in my network?
In addition, most HSA and FSA plans cover acupuncture if your insurance does not.
Yes! We always recommend sharing the details of any holistic treatments to your primary care or other physician. In addition, acupuncturists are usually happy to talk to your health care provider directly regarding the treatments we offer, as well as share details on your progress if you wish.
Sara Erdman is a Minneapolis based acupuncturist. On behalf of Twin City Acupuncture Center, Sara practices acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine on-site at Park Nicollet Women's Center and Tria Orthopedic, offering patients an integrative holistic approach to treatment. She also practices with Olson Acupuncture Group, where she coaches patients on lifestyle changes to enhance success.