February 17

Pros and Cons of Acupuncture: Is it worth it?

Much of what medicine deals with relate to flesh and blood. For example, when someone complains of leg pain, doctors begin by physically examining the leg to determine the presence of injury or infection.  But, more and more, the medical world realizes that there is more to illness than the physical findings we can see and touch. 

And this realization has prompted more of a focus on the relevance of energy fields in healthcare and how energy impacts our health.  But this perspective in medicine is a concept that has been around for thousands of years.  Many cultures, through the years, have believed that energy dramatically impacts our health significantly when energy flow is disrupted by trauma or injury.  

Acupuncture, which has gained popularity in the United States over the last 50 years, seeks to balance and clear energy to support and improve health.  However, while many people have at least heard of acupuncture, they may have yet to learn the potential benefits of this therapy. So, in this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about acupuncture– from what it is and who it is for to the pros and cons of this increasingly popular therapy.

Doctor uses acupuncture needles for treatment of the patient
Doctor uses needles for treatment of the patient

What is acupuncture, and where does it come from?

Acupuncture involves placing needles of various sizes on acupuncture points, or meridians, just under the skin to promote healing and relaxation. Practitioners of ancient Chinese medicine believe that energy, Qi, should flow freely through these acupuncture points, but when energy becomes blocked, health issues arise.  While the exact mechanism of how acupuncture works is not fully understood, the placement of needles prompts the body to increase blood flow to the area and naturally balance its energy. (1)

A look back on the history of acupuncture

As part of traditional Chinese medicine, it’s probably no surprise that acupuncture predates recorded history; however, historians believe that acupuncture started sometime during the Stone Age.  The historical practice of acupuncture involved using sharp tools to open abscesses (or fluid-filled masses). 

Early modern acupuncture practices began during the Ming dynasty in China and were later introduced to Japan via travelers.  Acupuncture later made its way to the Western world via Europe during the 1800s. Still, it wasn’t until 1972 that acupuncture made it here to the United States after President Nixon visited China. 

And then it wasn’t until 1995 and 1997 that acupuncture was recognized as an effective therapy, and the FDA officially classified acupuncture needles as medical devices. (2

What does acupuncture treat?

Since acupuncture promotes healing and relaxation, it effectively treats many health issues.  Some of these include (1)

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Migraines
  • Infertility
  • Stress
  • Nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy or pregnancy
  • Sinus congestion

Acupuncture is also now a popular treatment, cosmetic acupuncture, used to improve facial elasticity and fight the signs of aging. (1)

Acupuncture for Your Seasonal Allergies

What are the different types of acupuncture?

While the concept behind acupuncture has remained the same, advances in the practice have brought along other options that are available to us today.  So when you see an acupuncturist, you may receive other techniques of acupuncture, such as: (1)

  • Moxibustion: This is the practice of lighting dried herb sticks to warm the acupuncture needle and stimulate blood flow to the meridian point.
  • Electroacupuncture: With this technique, a small electric current is connected to the acupuncture needles to deliver gentle stimulation and encourage blood flow to the area.
  • Cupping: This technique uses small suction cups rather than needles; however, the effect is the same.

While all three of these techniques are similar, the acupuncturist may feel that one technique is more appropriate when assessing a patient.

What to expect during an acupuncture session?

You can expect to sit with the acupuncturist during an initial visit to discuss your full health history.  From there, the acupuncturist decides which technique is most appropriate and discusses a treatment plan.

During the session, you may wear normal clothes or change into a gown to allow the therapist to access the area where they will insert needles.  While needles are sometimes placed in an area where you’re experiencing pain or feel symptoms of stress, other times, they may be placed in a seemingly unrelated part of the body, which is because acupuncture points are related to certain body areas. 

Sessions typically last more or less 20-30 minutes, during which acupuncture needles are placed.  This process takes a few minutes, and while it should be relatively pain-free, you may experience an achy sensation when the needles reach the acupuncture point. 

Next, the acupuncturist may adjust the needles by rotating or warming them to increase the effect of the treatment.  The needles generally remain in place for 10-15 minutes, during which you can relax quietly, and then the acupuncturist will remove them, which should not be painful.  The needle sites may bleed a little after, but this is normal. (3)

Acupuncture needles inserted into the back of Shakthi Health and Wellness patient
Woman getting an acupuncture treatment in a spa

How much does acupuncture cost?

If you’re like many Americans dealing with chronic pain, migraines, or anxiety, the opportunity to finally get some relief probably sounds wonderful, but you’re wondering how much acupuncture costs. 

According to Goodrx (4), one study showed that the average cost for acupuncture without insurance is about $110 for an initial visit, and follow-up appointments cost about $80.  However, the costs can range anywhere from as little as $40 to $400 for the first appointment, then $15 to $300 for following visits, depending on where you live, the provider, and your health concerns.

Fortunately, most private insurance companies (i.e., Aetna, Blue Cross, and Kaiser, to name a few) cover acupuncture services. And in 2020, Medicare and Medicaid joined them, and they now cover it under certain policies (5).  So, if you’re interested in acupuncture but are unsure if your insurance will cover services, the best way to find out is by calling your insurer to find out the coverage details. 

Some policies only cover acupuncture services to address certain health concerns, while others only pay for a certain number of visits.  Once you’ve determined what insurance covers, you can find a reputable provider by searching for an acupuncturist near you who takes insurance and then researching their credentials and experience to find one that works for you.

How many treatment sessions are needed?

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to this question.  Some people only need one visit, whereas others need ongoing therapy.  The acupuncturist makes this determination once the nature of your health concern is reviewed, so this question is something to discuss with your provider during the first visit or consultation.

What are the pros and cons of acupuncture?

So, we’ve covered the whats and hows of acupuncture; let’s examine the pros and cons.  As we’ve said, any medical procedure or treatment has risks and benefits.  For some treatments, the benefits far outweigh the risks; for others, it’s a balance between the two.  In the case of acupuncture, we will let you be the judge of that.

Pros of acupuncture

  1. Efficient for treating chronic pain.  A 2016 literature review (6) found that acupuncture helped reduce pain caused by several health concerns, such as migraines, lower back pain, and osteoarthritis, more significantly than other therapies, such as spinal manipulation and massage.
  2. Minimally invasive. While traditional acupuncture involves thin needles to alleviate pain and increase relaxation, this is less invasive than surgeries and other more intensive procedures.  Moreover, options such as cupping are only applied on the skin rather than puncturing it, making this option even less invasive.  
  3. Performed by professionals. Acupuncturists must pass boards before practicing, and acupuncture education takes about three to four years to complete (2).
  4. Minimal side effects. While some post-treatment bleeding and possibly soreness are normal, acupuncture has minimal side effects.
  5. A lot of insurance companies pay for acupuncture. Having only to worry about a co-pay for acupuncture treatments makes this option more accessible.

Cons of acupuncture

On the flip side, there are also some cons to acupuncture.

  1. Risk for infection or injury. With any break in the skin, there is a risk for infection, and since tiny needles are placed during acupuncture, there is a small risk.  Also, injuries can occur if the acupuncturist inadvertently places the needles, making it essential to seek care from an experienced, appropriately trained acupuncturist.
  2. No guarantee of success. Like many treatments, acupuncture is not 100% guaranteed to work. While most people have great results with acupuncture, some do not notice any difference. The same could be true for any treatment or therapy.
  3. Takes time to work. As mentioned earlier, most people need several sessions to feel the effects of acupuncture. This delay can be frustrating to some who just want relief.    
  4. Acupuncture may cause fatigue. Whether it is from finally getting some relief from chronic pain and anxiety or something else, many people feel relaxed during their sessions. Still, fatigue can also last after the session, which may be overwhelming for some.
  5. It may cause life-disrupting changes. Even after one visit, you may experience changes, such as changes in appetite or increased urination, which are part of your body’s healing process but may be disruptive as you adjust. 

Acupuncture Clinic Maryland

While the benefits of acupuncture outweigh the potential cons for many, this therapy may not be for everyone.  As highlighted, acupuncture has many benefits- from reduced stress to relief from chronic issues, such as pain and depression. Still, there are also potential cons, as is the case for many medical treatments.

If your looking for the best acupuncture near me you must find someone who is well-trained and experienced in various acupuncture techniques.  And be sure to discuss any questions and concerns you may have. 

At Shakthi Health and Wellness, we offer acupuncture as one of the many therapies aimed at helping our patients in their health journeys.  Having received a certificate in medical acupuncture from UCLA, Dr. Rao-Mahadevia is well-versed in assessing and treating illness through acupuncture.  If you’d like to learn more about the acupuncture program here at Shakthi Health and Wellness, call us or visit www.raowellness.com

References

  1. Acupuncture: The Benefits, How It Works, and Side Effects (verywellhealth.com)
  2. A Look Back at the History of Acupuncture (amcollege.edu)
  3. Acupuncture – Mayo Clinic
  4. How Much Does Acupuncture Cost? Insurance Coverage and Price – GoodRx
  5. Does Insurance cover Acupuncture? | SmartFinancial
  6. Evidence-based Evaluation of Complementary Health Approaches for Pain Management in the United States – PMC (nih.gov)
  7. 12 Pros and Cons of Acupuncture Therapy – Essex Acupuncture
  8. 18 Pros and Cons of Acupuncture – HRF (healthresearchfunding.org)

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Acupuncture


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