In recent years acupuncture has enjoyed a tremendous surge in popularity and acceptance. Just the other day, my mother called to tell me “Oprah’s talking about acupuncture on her show today!” Despite Oprah’s coverage, the questions I hear over and over again about acupuncture tell me that what I do for a living is still not well-understood by everyone. What follows are my answers to the questions and apprehensions I have heard over and over again during my many years of practice.
1. Acupuncture needles hurt! Compared with the needles used to take blood or deliver medicine, acupuncture needles are many times thinner, solid rather than hollow, flexible rather than rigid and rounded at the tip. An acupuncture needle is inserted quickly through the skin’s surface until you feel tingling, warmth or pressure in the area of the needle. After a few minutes, these sensations fade away and you are left with a feeling of heaviness and deep relaxation.
2. Acupuncture only works if you believe in it. While keeping a positive attitude is likely to help you get well, how and why acupuncture works is not so simple. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry in ways that affect the body’s immune reactions, blood pressure regulation, blood flow and temperature, and it may aid the activity of endorphins (the body’s own painkilling chemicals) and immune cells “at specific sites in the body”. According to traditional Chinese medical theory, acupuncture restores the free flow of Chi (energy) and restores balance to the Yin and Yang forces of the body (blood and energy, hot and cold, estrogen and progesterone, etc.).
3. Acupuncture is only good for treating pain. It is true that pain responds very well to acupuncture. Low back pain, sciatica, neck pain, shoulder pain, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, headaches and other kinds of pain can all be treated successfully with acupuncture. But because the aim of acupuncture is to bring balance and harmony to the whole person, it can also be an excellent treatment for insomnia, fatigue, digestive problems, menopause, menstrual disorders, infertility, MS, Lupus, and can be used as a supportive treatment for patients with cancer, Hepatitis or HIV.
4. Acupuncturists aren’t licensed medical professionals. This may have been true 35 years ago when acupuncture first became available in the U.S., but today acupuncture is a licensed, regulated profession. A Google search of “acupuncture in hospitals” reveals that a number of hospitals, including Children’s, Massachusetts General, Concord and Elliot Hospitals have at least one acupuncturist on staff. To be licensed in the granite state, acupuncturists must complete a 3 to 4-year graduate program in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and pass a series of national certification exams. Like other professionals, to maintain our licensure, we must add to our knowledge with continuing education, maintain national board certification and adhere to a strict code of medical ethics.
5. My insurance won’t cover acupuncture, so I can’t afford to try it. Don’t be so sure about that! We now accept Cigna, Cigna Schoolcare, Harvard Pilgrim and MVP insurance. We offer 25% discounts to a number of other insurance holders and a 20% to everyone else, just for paying out-of-pocket. Most patients start to feel better within the first two visits and feel significantly better by the 6th visit. Once the improvements to your health are stable, you can choose a treatment schedule that maintains wellness and fits your budget. If cost is truly a barrier to treatment, after your first evaluation and treatment you can choose to have shorter, less expensive treatments (35 minutes for $35) in the Express Clinic on Thursday afternoons.