Your knee shudders with a jolt of electricity every time you go down stairs, or your shoulder is tied up in knots again. You start thinking about seeing an acupuncturist. Before you do, however, let your doctor know what you’re up to. Most physicians will want to first rule out conditions that can’t be helped by acupuncture, such as acute infections, cancer, and heart disease.
After that, here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing an acupuncturist:
A state license doesn’t guarantee competency, but it helps, particularly if you live in one of the 25 states that set rigorous training standards:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- District of Columbia
In states that don’t require a license, choose an acupuncturist certified by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists. Its 3,100 members have a minimum of two years training at an accredited acupuncture school, or have worked as an apprentice acupuncturist for at least four years, and have passed both a written and practical exam. For details about the licensing laws in your state or to find out whether a particular acupuncturist is certified, call the NCCA at (202) 232-1404.
Acupuncture licensing requirements for doctors are generally more lenient than for non-M.D.s. For any acupuncture treatments beyond the most rudimentary, it’s best to choose a physician who is a member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA); they require a minimum 200 hours of training for membership. Call the AAMA at (800) 521-2262 to find out if your physician is a member.
Insist on disposable needles.
Most acupuncturists now use them. Although proper sterilization should kill bacteria and the viruses that cause hepatitis or AIDS, reusable needles always carry a small risk of infection.
Ask about treatment styles.
Acupuncture encompasses several distinctive styles. Japanese acupuncture, for example, calls for fewer and finer needles inserted at shallower depths, requiring more precision in needle placement. There’s no evidence that one particular style is more effective than another, but you should know what style your acupuncturist uses.
Check out the cost.
A first visit to a non-physician acupuncturist can cost as little as $40 or as much as $100. Follow-up visits usually range from $30 to $70. Physician acupuncturists generally charge a little more. Only a handful of insurance companies cover acupuncture for now, so be sure to check your policy ahead of time.
Decide in advance what your goals are and discuss them with your acupuncturist. If you’re not happy with your progress after a few weeks, think about changing acupuncturists or check back with your doctor for advice about other treatment options.