Acupuncture is a non-drug, non-invasive therapy that may produce a variety of benefits—from pain management to helping with nausea associated with chemotherapy. According to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, an estimated 8.2 million Americans have been to an acupuncturist, and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults used acupuncture in the previous year. Since the use of acupuncture has spread widely in the U.S. in the past 20 years, researchers are studying the benefits of acupuncture for many conditions, including low-back pain, headaches, and osteoarthritis of the knee.
Acupuncture may be useful as an independent treatment for some conditions, but it can also be used as a complement to other healthcare therapies.
Before your visit
• Ask your doctor of chiropractic or another health care provider for a referral. Some doctors of chiropractic practice acupuncture, too.
• Ask people you trust for recommendations.
• Check online referral listings of national acupuncture organizations.
• Check the acupuncturist’s credentials. A license is required to practice acupuncture; however, education and training standards, as well as license-obtaining requirements, vary among states. Most states require non-physician acupuncturists to pass an exam through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
• Interview the provider. Ask what the treatment involves, how likely it is to be effective for your condition, and how much it will cost.
• Check with your insurance company to find out if the treatment is covered by your insurance.
During your visit
During your first office visit, the acupuncture practitioner may ask you for details related to your health condition, lifestyle, and behavior. Be sure to tell the provider about all treatments or medications you are taking and all conditions you have. Ask how many visits the treatment will take approximately.
While acupuncture providers may have different styles, a typical visit—which usually lasts about 30 minutes—includes an exam and assessment of your condition, insertion of needles, and advice on home care. Before the needles are placed, you will lie down on a comfortable surface face down, face up, or on your side, depending on where the needles will be inserted. Usually the procedure isn’t painful; however, you may feel a brief, sharp sensation when the needle is inserted and when it reaches the correct depth. Sometimes, the needles are gently moved or stimulated with electricity or heat. Each treatment may require the insertion of as many as 12 needles, which stay in place for 5 to 20 minutes.
• Has few side effects
• Can be a useful complement to other therapies
• Is becoming widely available
• Helps control certain types of pain