The 5 Minute Guide to Acupuncture
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a healthcare practice that involves inserting thin, disposable needles a few millimeters deep into a patient’s skin to relieve pain and treat a variety of physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Needles are pricked at strategic points on the body that have been mapped out by Traditional Chinese Medicine . An acupuncturist is a licensed healthcare practitioner who holds either a Master’s or PhD in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Many people think of “acupuncture” as only the insertion of needles, however, the practice includes many other modalities, such as cupping, Chinese Herbs, medical massage, and more.
Does acupuncture hurt? (Needles 101)
Acupuncture needles are only the thickness of a few hairs, and are inserted just a few millimeters into the skin. They’re solid metal, disposable, less than an inch long, and so thin that they are flexible and bendy. They’re regulated by the FDA in the same way that medical devices are, so they are always brand new and sterile. Needles generally cause no bleeding upon entry or removal, however, slight bruising can occasionally occur. Patients have also reported occasionally feeling a “tingle” when they’re inserted. Often patients do not feel them at all.
What’s the science behind acupuncture? How does it work?
Acupuncture activates several different biological systems: nervous, endocrine, musculoskeletal, circulatory, and lymphatic. When a needle is inserted, the immune system recognizes it as a foreign object and sends red and white blood cells to that area. This improves circulation to that body part and can activate healing.
At the same time, neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin (endorphins) are released in the brain, which are your “happy hormones” that improve mood and hormone regulation. This is why someone going in for neck pain will potentially overall feel less stressed and relaxed, potentially reducing anxiety and promoting better sleep!
There have been various studies linking acupuncture points and meridians to trigger points and important musculoskeletal junctions.
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine? (TCM)
Traditional Chinese Medicine dates back over 2500 years, to ancient Taoist philosophy.
TCM believes that the human body is made of over 2000 acupuncture points connected by meridians, or energetic pathways. Flowing through these pathways is energy flow, called Qi (pronounced “chee”). This energy flow is responsible for overall health, and when it’s disrupted we get sick. Inserting needles into certain points improves Qi flow, thus restoring balance and improving wellbeing.
Modalities of TCM include cupping, prescribing herbs or dietary supplements, oriental massage, acupressure, moxibustion, breathing techniques, exercise and diet & nutrition counseling.
What type and how much education is required to become and acupuncturist in the US?
Acupuncturists are recognized as licensed healthcare practitioners in the US. Becoming an acupuncturist consists of a rigorous 4-year master’s program in Traditional Chinese Medicine, a clinical internship, and passing a board exam. Acupuncturists also have to renew their license every two years and complete 50 hours of board-approved continuing education courses.
How much does an acupuncture session cost? Will insurance cover it?
Depending on your practitioner, an acupuncture session can range from $20 (community acupuncture in a group setting) to several hundred dollars, depending on the specific treatment you’re getting. The national average cost is around $75 for an hour-long session. Keep in mind you might have insurance coverage!
All insurance plans in California are required to have some kind of acupuncture benefit. The exact amount and type depends entirely on your health needs, insurance company and plan. You can also pay using an HSA or FSA account if you have one. You should call your insurance company or check their website for exact acupuncture coverage under your insurance plan.
How do I find a good acupuncturist?
Our goal here at Rupa Health is to make it seamless for you to find a trusted, credible acupuncturist that specifically fits your needs. We thoroughly vet all our acupuncturists using a process developed in conjunction with some of the top industry experts form institutions like Stanford, Johns Hopkins, etc.
We’ve found that it’s important to find someone with expertise in your specific condition, which is why we categorize & organize practitioners by specialty. We also note which insurance companies practitioners are in network with.
What can acupuncture help with?
Acupuncture is most commonly used for pain and treating chronic conditions such as insomnia, infertility, and chronic stress. However, acupuncture can also be helpful across a range of conditions - for acute issues (e.g. pain or sciatica) or chronic conditions - both optimization and prevention. Acupuncturists assess and address the whole person (for example, nutrition, symptoms of pain, sleep quality, etc.) and tend to treat patients holistically.
What happens during a session?
An acupuncture session is similar in feel to a massage therapy session. It involves the patient lying down on a table similar to a massage table, in a one-on-one setting with the practitioner (except for community acupuncture).
The acupuncturist will typically start with a 10-15 minute check-in and diagnostic. Then he/she will perform acupuncture (needling) and sometimes a mix of other modalities such as cupping, massage (tui na), moxibustion, or acupressure massage based on your needs and preferences. The practitioner will generally insert the needles and leave you in the room to relax for around 20 minutes. Some acupuncturists also can offer nutrition or health counseling during the session.
The first visit with an acupuncturist is usually longer (90 mins instead of 60) and involves the practitioner taking an in-depth look at your health history and lifestyle to get to know you better.