Updated: Mar 19
The Seattle Times recently published an article looking at local acupuncturists to create a "consumers report." We think it's worth looking a bit deeper at what they have uncovered to get a better understanding of the industry and more clarity on how to find the right acupuncturist for you and your situation.
Below is the article, and in blue, you will see our response.
Originally published November 24, 2017 at 6:00 am
The Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook undercover shoppers called a sample of area acupuncturists for their fees for private treatment of arthritic knee pain and were quoted prices ranging from $35 to $275 for an initial private session. By Kevin Brasler Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook Consumer’s Checkbook
Back pain. Headaches. Allergies. Arthritis. Anxiety. Morning sickness. Acupuncture practitioners claim their centuries-old approach can successfully treat dozens of medical problems — with few side effects or risk of complications. Many health-care providers see acupuncture as a possible tool to battle the U.S. opioid epidemic, which largely was brought about by legal prescriptions of painkillers. Recently, the American College of Physicians released a recommendation to use acupuncture as one of the first treatments for low back pain, and The Joint Commission’s “Pain Management Standards” now includes acupuncture as a non-pharmacological strategy for managing pain. YES! We are so proud that acupuncture for low back pain is recommended as the first line of treatment. Western medicine proposes several theories on how acupuncture works. One premise: It releases the body’s own painkillers, or endorphins. This theory is supported by research that indicates needle insertion prompts the flow of adenosine, a chemical that reduces inflammation. Another hypothesis, the Gate Control Theory of Pain, argues that the body shuts down pain receptors in response to acupuncture’s needling. It gets even more complicated - we have been able to isolate hundreds of different direct functional changes that acupuncture induces, but still, the overall concept of "how it works" isn't settled. We know it reduces inflammation, increases circulation, changes brain wave formation, changes nerve thresholds (both up and down), changes cell permeability, and many more individual functions based on what point or type of point is being stimulated. Although there’s much evidence that acupuncture often alleviates pain and successfully treats a range of symptoms and diseases, there’s no clear answer as to whether acupuncture is a microneedle magic bullet. Clinical studies aimed at measuring its effectiveness are limited. Many skeptics argue that any benefits of getting stuck probably derive from a placebo effect.
That’s because it’s difficult to test the efficacy of acupuncture. In double-blind studies, the gold standard for testing effectiveness of drugs or treatments, neither participants nor experimenters know which group is getting which treatment. Typically, one group receives the conventional drug or treatment while another group receives a placebo. The problem is, there are no good placebo substitutes for acupuncture — even when testers use sham needles, patients typically know they aren’t really being poked. Part of the problem is, yes, difficulty in creating an actual placebo for controlled studies, but also that it is a holistic medicine - we treat the whole body. We don't use the same points for everyone with low back pain, so a controlled study of acupuncture for low back pain is near impossible to make that would replicate how we actually treat patients clinically. So maybe acupuncture’s usually positive results are from a placebo effect. Or maybe all those needles somehow stimulate the body to heal itself or suppress pain. Or maybe getting yourself stuck works due to an as-yet-discovered process. If you’re the patient, since it works and, when properly performed, involves very few risks and virtually no negative side effects, maybe you shouldn’t overthink it. It’s clear that patients who try acupuncture love it. A recent study by American Specialty Health Inc. (ASH) surveyed 89,000 patients who received treatment for chronic pain. It found a vast majority (87 percent) of patients rated their acupuncturists favorably (9 or 10 on a 0-to-10 scale), somewhat more favorably than patients rated conventional health-care providers (76 to 80 percent). Nearly all (99 percent) of the surveyed acupuncture patients rated their providers good or excellent, and almost none reported minor or serious adverse effects.
If you’re looking for an acupuncturist, talk with your friends and physician for recommendations. The nonprofit Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook and Checkbook.org regularly surveys its members and Consumer Reports’ subscribers on their experiences with health-care providers, including acupuncturists. For the next month, Checkbook is offering free access to its ratings of acupuncturists to Seattle Times readers via this link: checkbook.org/SeattleTimes/Acupuncture
If the acupuncturist is a physician, look for certification by the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (ABMA) (dabma.org), which means he or she is a medical-school graduate, completed at least 300 hours of acupuncture education in an ABMA-approved education program, passed an exam, and completed at least two years of medical-acupuncture clinical experience with a case history of not less than 500 medical-acupuncture treatments. Alternatively, consider a physician who is a member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (medicalacupuncture.org), which means he or she completed at least 220 hours of formal acupuncture training (there’s no exam). If the acupuncturist is not a physician, check for certification by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) (nccaom.org), which means he or she earned a three-year master’s degree or a combination of an apprenticeship with at least two academic years of formal education. The apprenticeship route requires at least 500 treatments within the past five years or 5,000 for a career. There’s also an exam. NCCAOM-certified acupuncturists can add “Dipl. Ac.” after their names. NCCAOM requires 660 hours of clinical practice on top of the Chinese Medical and Acupuncture theory, biomedicine, etc. There are definitely some good physicians that practice medical acupuncture, but many of them just haven't had the theory and clinical teaching and experience to produce safe, effective treatments. If you are going to go to a physician that practices medical acupuncture, or a physical therapist that practices dry needling, do your research and be sure that they have the proper training and experience to keep you safe. Although some competent acupuncturists don’t bother seeking certification, there are plenty of certified ones, so take advantage of this quality check. As there are many qualified acupuncturists, and since other consumers tend to be especially satisfied with them, pay attention to prices. Checkbook’s undercover shoppers called a sample of area acupuncturists for their fees for private treatment of arthritic knee pain and were quoted prices ranging from $35 to $275 for an initial private session. There was a lot of variation in how long the acupuncturists said this initial visit would last, though most estimated between 45 minutes and 90 minutes. I would be surprised to see a $35 initial private session unless it was actually a community acupuncture session or was part of a new patient special. $85-$275 would probably be more accurate, and even at an individual clinic this price will vary based on several factors. This is why many of us don't post our prices online - not to hide a big secret, but because it is complicated. Pricing changes based on insurance billed vs private, time in the consultation, time performing the treatment, needle "rounds," other modalities performed, etc. As for timing, 45 minutes sounds pretty short, but is possible - most likely you'll be looking at 60-90 minutes for the first visits, and 45-60 minutes for more follow up appointments. We also asked about prices for community acupuncture, which is a growing trend. (Acupuncturists treat multiple patients in the same room.) Prices quoted to our undercover shoppers for community acupuncture were far lower than those for private sessions, ranging from $15 to $55 per session.
Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of area acupuncturists free of charge until Dec. 31 at checkbook.org/SeattleTimes/Acupuncture
Bottom line - find someone who is in your price range (or who can bill your insurance) that has enough experience to be safe and effective, and who you mesh with. We all practice a little differently - some focus more on "energy" while others focus more on a more bio-medical approach. Some use primarily direct needling (in the location of the pain) while others choose points in other areas of the body that correlate with the area of pain. Some of us use other modalities - massage, cupping, herbs, supplements, etc. You may have to try a few different practitioners before you find one that "fits." So if you've tried acupuncture and it "didn't work" or if it hurt, or you didn't like it, you may consider trying another practitioner - acupuncture is truly incredible at yielding results for functional change in our bodies, sometimes we just need to find the right fit :)
GoodMedizen: Downtown Seattle Acupuncture Clinic
See if we're the right fit for you with a free consultation - you can schedule online or you can call/text our office 206-402-3813.