The theory and practice of acupuncture is based on Asian medicine (also
known as traditional Chinese or Oriental medicine), a comprehensive
natural health care system that has been used in Asian countries for
thousands of years to preserve health and diagnose, treat, and prevent
Acupuncture treats health conditions by stimulating "acu-points"
found at specific locations on the surface of the body. Acupuncturists
stimulate the acu-points by inserting very thin needles through the skin
to produce physiological effects. Other methods are also used to stimulate
acu-points, such as heat or finger pressure.
The general theory of acupuncture is that proper physiological function
and health depend on the circulation of nutrients, substances, and energy
called Qi (pronounced "chee") through a network of
"channels" or "meridians." This network connects every
organ and part of the body, providing balance, regulation, and
coordination of physiological processes.
Pain and ill health result when the flow of Qi through the body is
disrupted or blocked. This can be caused by many things, including
disease, pathogens, trauma/injuries, and medication (side effects), as
well as lifestyle factors such as overwork, poor diet, emotions, lack of
rest, and stress.
The following is a list of health conditions commonly treated by licensed
¡P arthritis/joint problems
¡P back pain
¡P bladder/kidney problems
¡P gastrointestinal disorders
¡P gynecological disorders
¡P heart problems/palpitations
¡P high blood pressure
¡P immune system deficiency
¡P knee pain
¡P menopausal discomfort
¡P musculoskeletal injuries
¡P pre-menstrual syndrome
¡P sexual dysfunction
¡P side effects of chemotherapy
¡P skin problems
¡P stroke rehabilitation
Stimulation of the appropriate acu-points through acupuncture treatments
helps to restore sufficient, continuous, and even flow of Qi and other
nutrients throughout the body, restoring health and balance to the body
while relieving pain and other symptoms. The acupuncturist uses a
sophisticated and complex system of diagnostic methods that take into
consideration the person as a whole, discerning the body's pattern of
disharmony rather than isolated symptoms. The aim is not only to eliminate
or alleviate symptoms, but more importantly to treat the underlying cause,
increase the ability to function, and improve the quality of life.
Acupuncture and Asian medicine is one of the newest primary health care
professions in California. The potential benefits of acupuncture are
widely recognized, and it is steadily being integrated with mainstream
health care. More than 15 million Americans have tried acupuncture and
Asian medicine since it was introduced in the United States in the 1970s.
The risk of side effects from acupuncture is low and the potential
benefits are high. Knowing what to expect from acupuncture will help
patients get the most benefit from their treatments. The purpose of this
booklet is to help consumers approach acupuncture treatment from an
Endorsement by the National Institutes of Health
In November 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) convened a panel
of 12 distinguished physicians and scientists to review the history,
licensing, practice, and current status of clinical research on the
effectiveness of acupuncture.
The first formal endorsement of acupuncture by NIH stated, "There is
sufficient evidence of acupuncture's value to expand its use into
conventional medicine and to encourage further studies of its physiology
and clinical value."
The panel found clear evidence that needle acupuncture is effective for
relief of post-operative chemotherapy, pregnancy-related nausea and
vomiting, and post-operative dental pain. Other benefits from acupuncture
which are still under consideration include relief of post-operative pain,
addiction, stroke rehabilitation, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis,
headache, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, menstrual cramps, and asthma. The
panel noted that the World Health Organization identified more than 40
conditions for which acupuncture may be helpful. The panel found that one
of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects
is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical
procedures used for the same condition.
Licensed Acupuncturists in California
The State of California began licensing acupuncturists in 1976, and in
1979 was the first state in the nation to recognize qualified
practitioners as primary health care professionals. To qualify for
licensing in California, individuals must meet specified educational
requirements and pass a comprehensive State licensing examination. Once
licensed, acupuncturists are required to renew their license every two
years and complete continuing education as a condition of renewal.
Licensed acupuncturists are required to post their license in a
conspicuous location in their place of business.
What to Expect From Acupuncture Treatment
Knowing what to expect from an acupuncture treatment will make you feel
more comfortable about the experience.
Determine Your Goals
Are you looking for a primary health care practitioner, or someone to work
with your current physician? Are you seeking short-term treatment for a
specific complaint, or do you want the prevention oriented, holistic
approach to the health of mind, body, and spirit that acupuncture and
Asian medicine can provide? Knowing what you're expectations are ¡V and
communicating them to your practitioner –will help you get the
most from your treatment.
Select a Practitioner
Ask your friends, relatives, doctor, or your health plan for a referral to
a reputable practitioner. You can access a list of professional
associations or verify a license through the California Acupuncture
Board's Web site at www.acupuncture.ca.gov.
Once you have a list of names, call the practitioners' offices and ask
questions. Find out about their training, length of practice, which
aspects of acupuncture and Asian medicine they employ, any
specializations, and their experience in treating your ailment. You may
also want to ask about the cost of treatment.
An acupuncturist's diagnosis is determined in part by using methods
similar to other health care practitioners: Asking patients for a thorough
history of their health, diet, exercise patterns, and chief complaints;
performing a physical exam, ordering laboratory tests, X-rays or MRIs, and
making a referral to a specialist, if necessary. The acupuncturist also
uses unique diagnostic techniques, for example, taking the patient's pulse
on both wrists and observing the tongue and complexion. The three pulses
felt on each wrist are believed to correspond to certain organs and
functions. Following the diagnosis, the practitioner should explain to you
the nature of your problem, recommend a treatment plan, and give you an
anticipated prognosis (outcome).
Modern acupuncture needles are stainless steel, and are between one-half
and three inches long, ultra-fine, and quite flexible. They are
pre-sterilized, non-toxic, and disposable (single-use). When the needles
are tapped into the skin, there may not be any sensation. Much depends on
the location (hands and feet tend to be more sensitive), the condition
being treated, and the acupuncturist's technique. Needles are typically
placed in several acu-points and are usually left in about 20 to 40
minutes. The goal is to normalize the circulation of Qi and blood by
stimulating the energy point, which encourages the body's natural healing
process. Stimulation can be done by rotating the needles manually or
attaching electrodes to send a weak electric current through the needles (electroacupuncture).
The number of treatments needed depends upon the duration, severity, and
nature of your health condition. Two or three treatments may be sufficient
for an acute condition, while a series of five to 15 treatments may be
needed to resolve chronic conditions. Some degenerative conditions may
require ongoing treatments over a long period of time.
Other techniques may include moxibustion (burning herbs to heat acu-points),
cupping (suction), auricular therapy (ear acupuncture), tui na (Asian
massage), and acupressure.
Patients should evaluate their progress after each session. Some relief
should be apparent in two or three sessions, or six to eight sessions for
more pervasive conditions. If you see encouraging signs, stick with it.
Ask your practitioner questions about your treatment and improvement. If
your response to treatment is not satisfactory, the practitioner may
consider further diagnostic exams, modify the treatment plan, or refer to
an appropriate practitioner, if necessary.
Having an acupuncture treatment if you are very hungry or tired is not
recommended. Occasionally, some bruising may occur after treatment. If you
have a bleeding disorder or are on blood thinning medications, you should
inform your acupuncturist before undergoing treatment. If you are pregnant
or have a pacemaker, tell the acupuncturist so that the appropriate herbs
and acu-points will be chosen.
In the course of your treatment Chinese herbal remedies may be prescribed.
They may be dispensed as raw herbs or in pills, capsules, granules, or
tinctures which make them easier to ingest. Most herbal formulas can treat
a wide variety of symptoms while stimulating the body's natural healing
Acupuncturists are the only licensed health care professionals in
California who are required to be trained and tested for competency in
prescribing herbal medicine. Chinese herbal medicine has been practiced
safely and effectively for centuries and has the greatest potential for
beneficial results when prescribed by a trained professional who
recognizes both the benefits and risks.
In recent years, herbs have become very popular to self-treat many
conditions. They are available in health food stores, supermarkets, and on
the Internet. While herbs are promoted as safe, gentle, inexpensive,
"natural" alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs, many health care
professionals have concerns about safety, effectiveness, and potential
misuse of herbal products, especially when self-prescribed. There are also
questions of purity, strength, and standardization of herbs.
The California Acupuncture Board strongly recommends consulting an
acupuncturist before beginning any herbal therapy. It is also very
important to inform both your physician and acupuncturist of all the
products you are currently taking (drugs, herbs, other supplements) so
they can monitor effectiveness, ensure safety from adverse reactions, and
watch for possible interactions. If you have an allergic reaction to any
herbs, let you acupuncturist know.
How effective the treatment is depends on the severity and nature of the
condition being treated. Acupuncturists are trained to identify conditions
that may require referral to a specialist, so it is important for you to
provide detailed information about your condition so that important
medical problems are not overlooked.
If you are under the simultaneous care of different health practitioners,
it is important to keep all of them informed about your treatments to
ensure there are no adverse interactions.
Who Can Benefit From Treatment?
Patients of acupuncture range from infants to senior citizens. They may be
seeking an alternative to Western medicine or it may be their last hope
for relief, having exhausted other methods of treatment for a chronic
condition. Or, an acupuncturist may be their first choice of health care
practitioner for a low-risk form of treatment with few side effects.
What About Insurance Coverage?
Some California insurance plans include acupuncture treatment in their
policies. Ask your insurer about coverage or reimbursement. Some plans
that do not routinely cover acupuncture may pay for treatments if they are
recommended by a physician. Many acupuncturists are providers for
traditional PPO and HMO plans. Acupuncturists are currently covered under
California State Medi-Cal and Worker's Compensation (Note: Subsequent laws
passed by the California Legislature may affect this coverage.)
California Acupuncture Board
The California Acupuncture Board (Board) licenses and regulates the
profession according to the Acupuncture Licensure Act, which identifies
acupuncture as a primary health care profession. The Board is an
autonomous body within the Department of Consumer Affairs. The primary
responsibility of the Board is to protect consumers from incompetent,
unprofessional, and fraudulent practitioners.
The Board establishes standards for the approval of educational programs,
oversees the administration of the licensing examination, issues new and
renewal licenses, and handles enforcement issues when complaints are
received. The Board strives to promote safe practice through the
improvement of educational training standards.
For complete information on the responsibilities of the California
Acupuncture Board, please visit the Board's Web site at