What can acupuncture help with?
The goal of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is to restore the body to a balanced state of health, in which it can self-regulate efficiently and effectively fight off disease or the effects of trauma. Therefore, to varying degrees, this medicine can help with virtually any health problem.
Of course, some health problems are easier to treat than others. Evidence suggests that acupuncture is particularly effective in the treatment of health disorders involving the respiratory, digestive, endocrine, and reproductive systems, and of course, for musculo-skeletal problems (i.e. pains and strains, arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc.) In addition, a growing body of evidence supports the use of acupuncture for emotional issues, stress management, and various mental health problems.
Does it hurt?
Not really. It would be a lie to say that no one ever says “ouch,” or “Ooo, I felt that one,” when an acupuncture needle is inserted, but most of the time, if the needles produce any sensation at all, it barely qualifies as what most people would refer to as pain.
The notion that being stuck with a needle is painful is one that most of us have learned not to question, based on our experiences with injections (“shots”), IVs, blood draws (and maybe even sewing accidents!) But acupuncture has little in common with any of those experiences, other than the inclusion of the word “needle.” In fact, an acupuncture needle is roughly the thickness of a human hair, and because nothing is being injected through it, and because acupuncturists are very adept at NOT putting needles into blood vessels (or nerves), often you won’t even feel them go in. Sometimes various sensations may be felt near the needles, such as a subtle sensation of warmth or heaviness, but most people who have had acupuncture will tell you that it is not a “painful” experience.
What exactly do the needles do?
The answer to this question varies depending on what the condition is that’s being treated. But broadly speaking, the function of the needles is to regulate the circulation of energy (specifically, the energy we call “Qi”) throughout the body.
In some cases, the purpose of the needles is to unblock the flow of Qi through an area where it has become stuck or stagnant. In other cases, their job is to encourage more Qi to flow to the area where they are inserted, in order to facilitate healing of damaged tissues. And because most acupuncture points are found along energy channels (or “meridians”) that connect to the internal organs, points are often chosen according to the need to regulate the Qi flowing to and from the organs to which the meridians connect.
To fully understand the answer to this question, one must keep in mind that one of the most fundamental principles in Traditional Chinese Medicine is that the body always has the capability to heal itself. Acupuncture needles are inserted into the body only to help or encourage the body to do what it is supposed to be doing on its own. Qi is not injected into the body through the needles; they merely help to direct its movement.
What is Qi?
Qi is not easily defined. It cannot be seen under a microscope, and it cannot be easily measured. Sometimes Qi is translated as “life force,” because where there is no Qi, there is no life. Some interpret Qi to be synonymous with “energy,” and perhaps it is. But it is important to remember that, like energy, Qi can take many forms. There is a lot of Qi in a fierce thunderstorm, but there is also much Qi in a quiet breeze.
Qi is what empowers us, what moves us, what inspires us, what animates us. It exists in our heads and our hearts, and it flows all throughout our bodies. And just as oxygen is delivered to every cell in our bodies through large blood vessels that then branch into smaller and smaller blood vessels, Qi is delivered to every cell through the meridians, which then branch into smaller and smaller pathways throughout the body.
Will my insurance pay for acupuncture?
The vast majority of insurance plans now include acupuncture benefits. The most notable exceptions are Medicare and Medicaid, which currently will not cover acupuncture. In most cases, insurance will pay most or all of the cost for a number of sessions (which will vary from plan to plan), but will usually not cover the cost of herbs. However, the cost of herbs, if you need them, is generally low – typically about $15 for a 2-week supply.
Insurance plans, of course, vary tremendously. Call your insurance carrier or go online to their website to find out exactly what your acupuncture coverage will be.
How does a person become an acupuncturist?
In the United States, licensing regulations for acupuncturists are determined by individual states, so requirements vary somewhat. In the state of Washington, a Licensed Acupuncturist must first graduate from an accredited acupuncture college, and then pass a lengthy exam administered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine(NCCAOM), which consists of both a written and a practical exam. Licenses must be renewed yearly through the Washington State Department of Health.
Generally, the road to graduation from an acupuncture college involves a minimum of six years of study. Acupuncture programs themselves are typically either three or four years, depending on the school. At least three years of study at an outside university is required to obtain all the necessary prerequisites for acceptance into an accredited acupuncture college.
In order to be eligible to accept health insurance, acupuncturists must also be certified by the NCCAOM. Certification must be renewed every four years, and requires demonstration of an ongoing commitment to responsible and ethical standards of practice, and a minimum of 60 credits every 4 years of continuing education.