To find a qualified practitioner in your area, contact the American Association of Oriental Medicine (AAOM) at 888-500-7999. You can also contact the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (800-521-2262) to find out which medical doctors in your community integrate acupuncture into their practice.
To that end, medical doctors in the US may perform acupuncture without regulations. However, regulations for non-doctors and for the need for a referral to see an acupuncturist, vary from state to state.
The AAOM recommends that all physicians who practice acupuncture have a minimum of 200 hours training at a recognized acupuncture school, and that non-physicians be licensed or registered by the state in which they practice, or be certified by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists.
The First Visit
Like the first visit to a traditional medical doctor, going to an acupuncturist for the first time will generally require filling out a questionnaire regarding health and family history as well as lifestyle issues. Additional questions may involve:
• Digestion and stomach problems
• Temperature or light sensitivity
• Urine color
• Eating habits
• Sleeping habits
• Stress levels in one’s daily life
Based on this information, the acupuncturist will make a diagnosis and initiate treatment (keep in mind that depending on the diagnosis, there will be variables from one practitioner to the next, including the number of needles used, their length, and the depth of insertion). In general, around a dozen needles are inserted as deep as an inch into the acupoints after rubbing alcohol has been applied to the tips.
Expect the needles to stay in place for anywhere from a quarter of an hour to an hour. During this time, the practitioner may stimulate the needles using: his hands, heat, massage, or they may be connected to a low-voltage electrical source.
Patients have reported a range of experiences, from not feeling anything to feeling tingling, a very mild electric-like shock, a brief tugging, or an aching sensation. It isn’t uncommon for the patient to experience a heaviness in the muscles or limbs. Finally, bleeding at the acupoints is not uncommon.
Questions and Considerations
The following presents some questions to ask yourself, your physician, and your acupuncturist.
• Would you prefer a licensed physician who also does acupuncture, or an acupuncturist without traditional medical training? Each has his strengths and weaknesses: a physician is trained in Western medicine as well as acupuncture, while an acupuncturist without medical training may have a better understanding of acupuncture and how it—along with the body—can achieve healing.
• Is the acupuncturist properly trained and certified? Call the AAOM at 888-500-7999 or visit the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists at nccaom.org.
• Does the acupuncturist use disposable, surgical steel needles? If they say no, find another practitioner. Ask the AAOM how, once in the practitioner’s office, you can be sure he’s using the right needles.
• Will your medical insurance cover the visit? Check with your provider. It may be necessary to ask your regular physician to prescribe acupuncture.
• Should you inform your regular physician? The answer is actually yes, since many experts consider alternative medicine like acupuncture a compliment to traditional medicine. However, if your acupuncturist suggests you leave your doctor or suggests you give up conventional drugs including prescribed medications, this is going too far.
• When will you see an improvement in your symptoms? All of your expectations should be discussed prior to treatment with the acupuncturist, and you should start to question the treatment and practitioner if after four to six treatments you see no improvement.
Treating Substance Abuse
For many years now acupuncture has been regarded as an effective tool in addiction medicine. The model for this can be found at Lincoln Hospital in New York City, whose decades-long treatment program involving both acupuncture and traditional counseling has shown to be more effective at keeping patients sober than many other programs across the nation. Currently that model has been adopted by hundreds of detox programs both in the US and Europe.
Acupuncture is also becoming part of court-approved treatment for drug offenders. Courts across the US are offering the option of going to trial for their offenses or attending treatment programs, often ones which feature acupuncture. Rates for re-offenders in many cities where acupuncture is part of the program are significantly lower than in cities where it is not.
Additionally, in the state of Oregon, law dictates that an addict may not be admitted to methadone maintenance programs without first having tried acupuncture and counseling for one year.
Nonetheless, acupuncture as a complimentary treatment for addiction continues to have its critics, despite some preliminary studies such as a 1989 paper published in the British medical journal The Lancet, which showed scientific support for treating alcoholics with acupuncture, as well as a more recent study out of Yale University which suggests that cocaine addicts can benefit from acupuncture treatment.
Proponents of acupuncture’s use in addiction medicine are quick to point out that acupuncture can be an effective complimentary part of the recovery process, not the whole show, and that it is most effective as a means of quelling the patient’s withdrawals and cravings, thereby permitting them to focus on counseling and on their overall recovery.