Are acupuncture and Chinese herbs safe?

Acupuncture & herbs used for thousands of years

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been used for thousands of years by billions of people throughout Asia. Today, acupuncture and Chinese herbology remains a primary form of health care, along side Western Medicine, in China. As Oriental Medicine gains popularity in the United States, more and more people have found that acupuncture and Chinese herbology provide safe and natural remedies for numerous conditions, as well as health maintenance and disease prevention. In fact, in the 1997 Consensus Conference on Acupuncture Statement, the NIH estimated that more than 1 million Americans receive acupuncture each year.

The risks involved in acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are extremely low, if performed by a practitioner who has the necessary and appropriate credentials. According to the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCAOM), only ten incidents of injury resulting from acupuncture have been reported since 1965, when records began being kept in the United States.

As for Chinese Herbal Medicine, the quality of Chinese herbs varies greatly, thus, the safety for the end user varies. As a result, the herbs I use have been carefully and meticulously chosen from reputable herbal companies who grow their herbs without pesticides or GMO’s, are tested for micro-levels of mold and heavy metals, and are then formulated into pills, tablets, capsules, or granules. I want you to feel comfortable in knowing that the herbs you ingest are safe and pure.

*Note: If you have or are taking herbal medicines in a pill, capsule, or tablet form, only use herbs from manufacturers who are cited as having Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) to ensure that the herbs you are taking are of the highest potency, quality and safety.


Can children have acupuncture?

It depends on the child's age. The younger the child, the more applicable acupressure is over acupuncture. Since the True Acupuncture practitioner will typically use only one needle on a younger person, and depending on their condition, True Acupuncture is very applicable for children. With that in mind, each child is assessed as to whether or not acupuncture, acupressure, or herbs would be the most appropriate form of treatment.


How do I choose an acupuncturist or herbalist?

More and more medical professionals, including Medical Doctors, Chiropractors, Physical Therapists, Nurses, Physician’s Assistants, Dentists and Naturopaths, are practicing acupuncture without the equivalent training as an acupuncturist. Before seeing an acupuncturist, make sure that he/she is licensed in the state (Colorado) and has extensive training. There are many types of licenses and credentials in this field.

Before you dive into the technical qualifications of an acupuncturist, don't forget that when choosing a practitioner, you want to make sure that you feel comfortable with him/her, your questions are answered thoroughly and the time is taken to address your specific needs. Do take advantage of free consultations as this gives you a chance to "interview" the practitioner before you make your decision.

Here’s some information to decipher the “Alphabet Soup” of acronyms related to the field of Oriental Medicine and details on the credentials an Oriental Medical professional should have.

L.Ac. = Licensed Acupuncturist

This is a common designation for a practitioner who provides Acupuncture and/or Chinese Herbal Medicine as part of the Oriental Medical practice. L.Ac. is a title given by the state upon fulfilling certain requirements – i.e. completing a program from an accredited school, passing the National board exams, etc. Each state has its own regulations and it is important to familiarize yourself with your state’s requirement of practitioners. (also see FAQ: "Are acupuncture & herbal medicine subject to any state or federal regulations?")

Instead of L.Ac., some states may issue equivalent titles such as Registered Acupuncturist (R.Ac.) or Certified Acupuncturist.

Go here for state laws regarding the practice of acupuncture.

Note:
Most Licensed Acupuncturists have graduated from an accredited training program in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Oriental Medicine (OM) and have passed the necessary exams. There are a number of states that do not regulate the practice of or who can perform acupuncture, and thus, practitioners who may not have the proper credentials may still practice acupuncture. Please visit this link for more information.

Dipl. Ac. = Diplomate in Acupuncture and Dipl. C.H. = Diplomate in Chinese Herbal Medicine

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) administers certification tests specifically for practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Oriental Medicine. Prior to 2005, practitioners received the Dipl. Ac. and/or Dipl. C.H. titles separately upon passing the respective sections of this exam.

As of 2005, the exam offers 5 modules: Foundational Theory, Acupuncture, Point Location, Chinese Herbology and Biomedicine. If practitioners choose to only practice Acupuncture (and not Chinese Herbology), the 3 modules specific to Acupuncture (Foundational Theory, Acupuncture, and Point Location), as well as the Biomedicine module, must be passed in order to receive the title of “Diplomate in Acupuncture (Dipl. Ac.).”

If practitioners choose to only practice Chinese Herbology, or to practice this in conjunction with Aacupuncture, the single Chinese Herbology module must be passed.

As mentioned above, some states do not regulate the practice of or who can perform acupuncture, and thus, practitioners who may not have the proper credentials may still practice acupuncture in these states. Further, Herbal Medicine is an integral part of TCM training programs in most states. Here, state regulations also vary: some states require a practitioner to only have a Dipl. Ac. (and not the Dipl. C.H.) and still be able to practice both Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology.

Dipl. OM = Diplomate in Oriental Medicine

The Diplomate in Oriental Medicine is the newest title issued by the NCCAOM. As mentioned above, in 2005 the NCCAOM began issuing the title of “Diplomate in Oriental Medicine” to those who passed all 5 modules: Foundational Theory, Acupuncture, Point Location, Chinese Herbology, and Biomedicine.

Prior to 2005, this title was not offered to practitioners and separate titles of Dipl. Ac. and Dipl. C.H. were given. One particular title is not necessarily better than the other. As always, it is important to do the proper research in choosing a practitioner and to ensure that one’s credentials parallel the services provided.

M.A.O.M (or M.Ac.O.M) = Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

Becoming an acupuncturist entails completing a typically 4 year graduate program from a school accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). Upon completion, there are various versions of the same “Master” title that is issued, such as MAOM (Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), MSOM (Master of Science of Oriental Medicine), or MTCM (Master of Traditional Chinese Medicine), to name a few.

Some accredited schools will issue a graduate level Diploma of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine instead of a Masters Degree following the completion of a similar program.

*Please note that there are some organizations that will offer a Diploma to current medical professionals (Physicians, Chiropractors, Nurses, Dentists, etc) after only completing 100 hours of acupuncture training. These “courses,” or sometimes called “weekend courses,” allow a medical professional to include Acupuncture in their practice. Obviously, one hundred hours is not comparable to the training an individual receives from a 4-year (approximately 3000 hours) program from an accredited school!

NCCAOM = The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

This is the primary National certifying entity for Acupuncturists, Chinese Herbalists, and Asian Body-worker therapists in the United States. NCCAOM certification signifies that the practitioner has met nationally recognized standards of competence and safety. The NCCAOM not only gives Board exams, which must be passed in order to receive certification, but also requires practitioners to acquire 60 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) [also known as Professional Development Activity (PDAs)] for recertification every four years.

CCAOM = Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

This entity was established to advance acupuncture and Oriental Medicine by promoting educational excellence within the field. You may frequently see the CCAOM as awarding Clean Needle Technique (CNT) Certification to practitioners. Typically, a student at a TCM school must pass the CNT exam&mdas;in order to prove understanding and proficiency of safety standards in the application, storage, and disposal of acupuncture needles—before practicing as an intern in the Student Clinic. This exam is required in order to receive NCCAOM Diplomate Certification. Go here for more information.

AOBTA® = Americal Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia™

This is a professional membership organization representing instructors, practitioners, schools & programs, and students of Asian Bodywork Therapy (ABT). In order to become a member, one must complete the necessary coursework in a particular style of Asian bodywork, as well as foundational Oriental Medical training.

Did these definitions help or confuse matters? This is only a general list of the common terms used in the field, but hopefully this helps you to feel more comfortable when reading about acupuncture, herbs and practitioners


Does Health insurance cover acupuncture in Colorado?

Many insurance companies will either partially or fully cover the cost of acupuncture treatment – it depends on the company and the policy that you have. It is best to contact your insurance carrier to learn the coverage limitations of your policy. The Roots Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine Clinic does not bill insurance companies directly. We will provide you with a receipt listing the standardized diagnostic and treatment codes, as well as a record of the fee that you have paid (similar to a Super bill).

You are responsible for paying all fees at the time of service for each appointment. You are also responsible for checking with your insurance carrier to see if they accept Super bills, and if they do, you can submit your invoice to them directly so that they may reimburse you for the cost of treatment.

Health Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Accounts and other similar programs include acupuncture as a "medically necessary" expense, and we will be happy to provide you a receipt for your records.

Please note that herbal remedies are not typically reimbursed by Insurance companies, nor eligible for HSA or FSA accounts


Do I need both acupuncture and herbs?

It is common, even standard, for TCM practitioners to prescribe an herbal formula in conjunction with an acupuncture treatment. There is, however, a time and place for Herbal Medicine.

In the classical philosophy of True Acupuncture, acupuncture outweighs herbal therapy as a treatment method—yet, there are instances where herbal therapy may precede or supplement acupuncture. Rarely will you be given both Acupuncture and Herbal Therapy together from the very beginning, for this blurs the boundaries in distinguishing which treatment method yielded which effects.

When I do acupuncture, I want to know exactly what the acupuncture treatment did for you; when I give herbs, I want to know exactly which formula treats the whole of you and then what that particular herbal formula did for you. Otherwise, how could I accurately adjust subsequent treatments for a patient if I am not clear about whether the acupuncture or the herbs led to a particular outcome? True Acupuncture & Chinese Herbal Medicine is a step-by-step approach to understand the whole person more quickly and completely.


How Does Acupuncture Work?

According to Western physiology, there are numerous theories as to how and why acupuncture works; however, conclusive proof has not yet been found. This is why acupuncture is still thought of as quite mysterious to the general public. During his time, George Soulie de Morant researched True Acupuncture in a medical facility for many years and provided much research. Even with this body of research on True Acupuncture, Western anatomy and physiology studies still remain vague when it comes to understanding how and why acupuncture works. Chinese classical texts provide many theories behind acupuncture's ability to work, but as these theories rely on “energetics” for their explanation, for which Western science has had great difficulty in accepting.

What is certain is that there is a true effect from acupuncture. With True Acupuncture as presented by Soulie de Morant, responses are felt in the radial pulse from the needling of true acu-points, as opposed to needling other areas of the body. All explanations as to how and why effects take place during and after needling, however, remain purely theoretical. The clinical reality with True Acupuncture is that it is verifiable via the instant physiological changes that take place and reflect in the radial pulses.


How long do Acupuncture treatments take?

The initial treatment often takes approximately one hour, as we will discuss your health history and health concerns in detail. There is a detailed Health History Questionnaire that you must fill out prior to your first visit. You may also arrive 20 minutes prior to your initial visit and fill out the forms at the office, although we encourage you to fill them out before hand to save some time at the office.

Please allot one hour for subsequent treatment sessions. If during a follow up treatment, and upon taking the diagnostic pulses, it feels that you do not need to be needled at that time, your evaluation may take no more than 20 minutes. Please read FAQ: “How often do I need treatments?” to understand the philosophy behind this type of treatment process.


How often do I need acupuncture treatments?

This is a very common question. Americans have become accustomed to taking drugs and having a set duration in which the treatment is to take place. Acupuncture, however, is a functional medicine. This means that it directly affects the functions of the systems, thus restoring hyper and hypo-functions to normalcy. Depending on the condition and each unique individual, a resolution can come about very quickly or slowly. It is because of this unique nature of acupuncture that you will often be asked to return for an evaluation to see how you are responding to the treatment.

It is often the case that a few days after a treatment, the body systems will still be responding to the treatment and a second treatment within a week's time would be detrimental. This is quite different from many of the current treatment practices in which acupuncture is required three or more times per week in order to achieve results. With this classical system, this frequency is unnecessary.

With True Acupuncture, progressive results are seen after treatments—effects increase over a week to a month's time, instead of the "typical" pattern where the effects may decrease soon after the treatment. Numerous needles used in other styles of acupuncture often move a large amount of energy in a short period of time and can mimic a "feeling good" response, but this effect may not last. It is for these reasons that a True Acupuncturist needs to re-evaluate patients on a regular basis, especially when treatments first begin. Your progress and how your body responds is carefully monitored; the goal is to do the fewest number of treatments and maximize the effects of each treatment, while giving the body the appropriate time to respond. From experience, a week between treatments is often the minimum time required for the body to respond appropriately to the needle; needling sooner is rarely beneficial and usually patients progress to being treated only every few weeks to monthly, or with even less frequency.

As there will always be life's stresses, getting acupuncture treatments monthly or every other month can be a good preventative-medicine plan. At the very least, having an acupuncture "tune-up" every three months, seasonally, can be helpful in ensuring that our bodies 'go with the flow' of the seasons with ease (when there is dis-ease in the qi flow, we experience allergies, colds, flu, etc. with the change of seasons).

True Acupuncture is not about getting a patient to return as often as possible—it is about maximizing therapeutic effects with the patient's best interest in mind.


How painful is acupuncture, really?

Acupuncture utilizes very thin solid needles (filiform needles), as compared to hypodermic needles (those found in syringes). While hypodermic needles are slanted and hollow, thus enabling the needle to pierce & cut through the skin to draw blood or inject substances, filiform needles will slide into place and are not meant to cut the skin, and little to no blood is found after removing an acupuncture needle.

Nonetheless, acupuncture needles can cause a great deal of pain if inserted haphazardly, or if a vein is hit. The goal is not to aim for veins, arteries or nerves, but rather, to slide the needle into the muscle tissue. Furthermore, with this classical style of acupuncture, few needles are utilized during a treatment.


How quickly should I expect results with acupuncture and herbs?

You should expect results with nearly every treatment. While each individual responds uniquely and there may be times when treatments could cause symptoms to flare, you should expect to see some effects with each treatment and a noticeable benefit within several treatments. Sometimes, if you are not seeing results, the possibility of a more complicated or serious problem unknown to you and your acupuncturist may exist, which acupuncture may not be able to treat. Or, you may need to try a different acupuncturist. Furthermore, a sign of an ethical acupuncturist is to acknowledge his/her limitations, inform the patient when the case is beyond his/her realm of expertise, and refer the patient to another practitioner. It does not benefit anyone to continue care when results are not obtained.


How should I prepare for treatment sessions and what should I wear?

It is recommended that you eat a moderate amount of food one to one and a half hours before your acupuncture appointment.

Please dress comfortably or wear loose clothing so that your arms and legs may be accessible. If access to your back or other areas are needed that require the removal of clothes, you will be draped appropriately with a sheet.

Whenever possible, please arrange your schedule so that you do not have to rush to or away from the clinic.

Feel free to ask any questions that may arise during your treatment. It is important that you feel informed and understand your own health.


Isn't all acupuncture the same?

No! Unfortunately all acupuncture is not created equal. Simply sticking a needle into the skin is not acupuncture, yet many practitioners of acupuncture (or other medical professionals who claim to do acupuncture) do exactly that—they spend little to no time locating true acupoints. Quickly “slapping” in needles cannot be considered acupuncture. Please be aware of how your acupuncturist practices. If the same points are needled over and over in every treatment, quickly "pop" in needles with little to no regard to the pulses and acupoint location, and are out of the room in under 10 minutes, then please re-evaluate your relationship with that practitioner. Unfortunately, in many states acupuncture can be practiced by other health care practitioners with little to no training, as in Colorado. Please be aware of this and choose your acupuncturist wisely.


Colorado Acupuncture State Federal Regulations.

National Certification

At the national level, The National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is the only certifying entity for Acupuncturists, Chinese Herbalists and Asian Bodywork therapists in the United States. NCCAOM certification signifies that the practitioner has met nationally recognized standards of competence and safety. The completion of NCCAOM Board exams results in a Diplomate status in Acupuncture (Dipl.Ac.), Chinese Herbology (Dipl.C.H.), Oriental Medicine (Dipl.O.M.), or Bodywork Therapy (Dipl.A.B.T.)

State Licensing

Currently, state regulations for Acupuncturists and Chinese Herbologists vary from state to state. In order for an individual to receive the “Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.)” title in Colorado, the individual must be certified by the NCCAOM in 4 out of the 5 exam modules (the Chinese Herbology module is not required to practice acupuncture and herbology in the state of Colorado). NCCAOM certification includes having graduated from an accredited Oriental Medical institution and passing the Clean Needle Technique (CNT) exam. More information on the Colorado Acupuncture Laws can be found here


Licensing requirements for Acupuncturists (L.Ac.) in Colorado.

Licensed Acupuncturists (L.Ac.) have extensive training, more than what most people realize. Most private institutions in the United States offer 3-4 year programs that result in a Masters Degree in Oriental Medicine (there are numerous designations for this type of degree). This training includes thousands of hours of combined theory, practicums, and clinical internship.

At this time, licensing for acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists vary from state to state, so make sure you're familiar with your state's regulations when you're choosing an acupuncturist. We don't expect you to figure all this out on your own, so visit "How do I choose an acupuncturist and herbalist?" to guide you through this process. After all, we want you to make an educated and informed choice about the practitioner who will help you in your health care


What Are The Different Styles Of Acupuncture?

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of “styles” of acupuncture: Japanese Meridian acupuncture, Worsley 5-Element acupuncture, Japanese Hari and ToyoHari acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Master Tong's acupuncture, Richard Tan's Balancing system, I-Ching acupuncture, “Classical” acupuncture, Korean Hand Therapy, etc. . . yet, the “style” practiced is of no consequence if the practitioner does not fully understand the true foundation of acupuncture.

This causes great contention amongst practitioners, for each “style” believes that they hold all the secrets and, therefore, are the best or only “true” form of acupuncture. What is necessary to be a True Acupuncture practitioner, however, is not some general arcane theory; instead, what is required is the clear understanding of pulse diagnosis, how true acupuncture points reflect in the radial pulses, and the understanding of the clinical reality of the relationships of the different systems and parts of the human body.

In the end, however, finding the style of acupuncture that fits a person the best is paramount. The end goal of any and all acupuncture styles should be the same: to help the patient achieve homeostasis and feel healthier. The process of acupuncture may depend on the style and this is ultimately a patient's choice.


What should I do after a acupuncture treatment?

Many acupuncturist warn patients that after an acupuncture, treatment they may feel what's called an “acupuncture high.” This is often a sensation that can be similar to an alcohol buzz, feeling light-headed, or groggy. With True Acupuncture, this is rarely seen.

After your session with this classical style of acupuncture, you should be clear headed, feel more balanced and have good focus. What actually takes place when patients get an “acupuncture high” is a sedation of the cerebral cortex or the result of moving so much energy very quickly (often, a scattering the energy), although this is rarely understood. In fact, many patients and practitioners have come to expect this as a normal or even beneficial outcome. After True Acupuncture sessions, there is generally no need to worry about what you should or should not do after a treatment and you should be fine to go about your day as planned.

Having said this, it is best to avoid getting intoxicated straightaway after an acupuncture session, or depleting yourself through a fast, for example. Our bodies need fuel and hydration to help build and move qi, blood, and fluids; thus, fueling after a treatment helps, but immediately embarking on a fast does not.


What should I expect during an acupuncture treatment?

Initial Acupuncture & Herbal Treatment

The initial treatment often takes approximately one hour, as we will discuss your health history and health concerns in detail. There is a detailed Health History Questionnaire that you must fill out prior to your first visit. Please arrive 20 minutes prior to your initial visit in order to fill out the necessary forms at the office if you have not downloaded and done so beforehand.

Once an understanding of your health history is obtained, a detailed evaluation of your systems via the radial pulses will be performed in order to understand the energetic imbalances that are contributing to your current state of health. “Feeling the radial pulses” in True Acupuncture is quite different from pulse taking in Western Medicine, TCM, and other styles of acupuncture, for it is the primary diagnostic tool.

In order to find the appropriate points to needle, the practitioner will palpate points on your body while feeling the radial pulses at the same time. While this takes some time, it ensures that every point used “counts” and elicits a beneficial energetic response in your system. Again, only a few points will be needled.

After the needles have been inserted, you will continue to relax on the massage table for 15-30 minutes, depending on the individual. The practitioner will continue to check your pulses and remove the needles accordingly.

If you require an herbal formulation, it will be filled for you during session.

Please still allot one hour for subsequent treatment sessions. If during a follow up treatment, a True Acupuncture practitioner feels that you do not need to be needled at that time, your evaluation may take no more than 20 minutes. Please read FAQ: “How often do I need treatments?” to understand the philosophy behind this type of treatment process