Naturopathic medicine is classified as an alternative healing method, but licensed naturopathic doctors share some of the same academic background as conventional medical doctors and can often prescribe some medications. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), naturopathic medicine is holistic care that addresses a wide range of problems including (but not limited to) allergies, chronic pain, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, obesity, respiratory conditions, heart disease, fertility problems, menopause, adrenal fatigue, cancer, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Naturopathic medicine aims to strengthen and empower the body and its organs to heal itself through low-force interventions. Here are some examples of the type of medical services often provided by naturopathic doctors, as cited by the AANP:
- Clinical and laboratory diagnostic testing
- Nutritional medicine
- Botanical medicine
- Naturopathic physical medicine (including naturopathic manipulative therapy)
- Minor surgery
- Intravenous and injection therapy
- Naturopathic obstetrics (natural childbirth)
Acupuncture can be helpful for treating a wide variety of conditions ranging from cancer to headaches to sciatic nerve pain. It may also be useful for:
- Back pain, neck pain, knee pain, hand and foot pain, wrist and ankle pain, sciatic pain, nerve pain, arthritis, sports injuries, work-related injuries, TMJ, and carpal tunnel
- Whiplash and injuries from automobile accidents
- Migraine and tension headaches
- Menstrual cramping
- Herniated discs
- Emotional issues: Anxiety, depression, stress and insomnia
- Women’s health: Prenatal and postpartum care, menstrual cramps, premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis, symptoms of menopause and infertility
- Pediatric problems such as bedwetting, digestive upset, ear infection, allergies, hyperactivity and injury treatment
- Digestive disorders such as heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and constipation
- Respiratory problems such as asthma, acute and chronic cough, allergies, and chronic sinus problems
- Men’s health problems such as erectile dysfunction, impotence, male infertility, urination difficulties and prostate problems
- Miscellaneous conditions such as fatigue, adrenal fatigue, vertigo and dizziness, eye and vision problems, and tooth, jaw and dental issues
There are many proven health benefits of acupuncture, whether you’re seeking short-term relief or need help with a chronic health condition. This alternative healing is likely why millions of adults nationwide get acupuncture treatments each year. Acupuncture provides pain relief, can help speed the body’s natural healing process, and has also been proved to have positive outcomes on mental health concerns such as depression. Acupuncture can also help relieve discomfort associated with chronic and terminal illnesses. For example, acupuncture has been proved to be effective in helping cancer patients manage pain, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, hot flashes, xerostomia (dry mouth), neuropathy (nervous system problems), anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances, according to Cancer.gov. Acupuncture is a safe and effective alternative to opioids and other pain medications, which not only are hard on the body but also present the risk of addiction. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services found that people had less pain or were better able to manage pain when they received acupuncture as part of their health treatment.
Acupuncture works by restoring the body’s natural healing powers. Acupuncture involves placing very thin needles into specific points on the body to influence the body’s energy flow and help the body heal itself in a natural way. In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is linked to the belief that disease is caused by disruptions to the flow of energy (called qi in Chinese) in the body. The acupuncturist places whisper-thin needles into the arms, back, neck and other areas where the chi (or energy flow) has been blocked. The acupuncture needles stimulate points on or under the skin called acupuncture points or acupressure points, releasing this qi. These pathways — called “meridians” — become re-stimulated by the needles to bring blood and healing to the body. In Western medicine, acupuncture has been proved to relieve pain and help provide healing and relief from painful symptoms associated with everything from headaches to asthma to cancer. Western medicine sees the use of the needles as a way to stimulate the body’s nervous system, thereby prompting healing.
Reiki is a type of wellness bodywork, often referred to as energy work, that originated in Japan. Reiki practitioners offer this traditional healing technique with the intent of manipulating the flow of energy through the client’s body. Unlike massage, Reiki uses minimal — if any — pressure, focusing on stimulating energy flow rather than working the soft tissue and muscles. This movement of energy is done to improve mental, emotional and physical health. Reiki is touted for its stress relief and ability to ease tension. It can also improve mental clarity, release stress and tension, manage pain, or help with spiritual growth. It is said that Reiki practitioners act as a channel for a universal life force to help support a client’s natural ability to heal. Reiki sessions often last 30 to 90 minutes, with prices varying based on session length, background and experience of the provider, and where you live. Nationally, the average price range for a Reiki session is $60-$80.
Like conventional physicians, naturopathic doctors undergo rigorous academic and clinical training prior to practice. Typically naturopathic doctors go to school for eight years. There are currently 20 states in the U.S. that provide licensing for naturopathic doctors. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, a naturopathic doctor must complete a bachelor’s degree and an accredited four-year residential naturopathic medical program, and pass an extensive postdoctoral board examination, the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX), in order to receive a license or registration to practice medicine.
The first two years of the residential naturopathic medical program cover many of the same areas of study as conventional medical schools. Naturopathic doctors provide primary patient holistic care. The goal of naturopathic medicine is preventative care and a focus on low force intervention healing methods. This can include natural medicines, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, homeopathy and much more. Naturopathic doctors often work in tandem with conventional medical doctors, as the two practices complement one another.
It’s important not to get misled by the title “naturopath” when searching for a naturopathic doctor. A naturopathic doctor is a licensed professional, while anyone who so desires can call themselves a naturopath. A naturopathic doctor has completed eight years of schooling and is licensed to provide high-quality medical care. When searching for a naturopathic doctor, a good place to start is by researching your state’s licensing and regulatory body for that profession.
Currently, 20 U.S. states license the practice of naturopathic medicine. For those seeking holistic, body-centered healing solutions, a naturopathic doctor can be a good fit. They use natural medicines as well as treatments such as electrotherapy and ayurvedic medicine to encourage the body to heal. Once you have determined a list of naturopathic physicians who are licensed in your state, look for reviews, ask for referrals, and interview the physician in person or by phone to find the right care provider for your health needs.
The general consensus from doctors, researchers and government health organizations is that yes, it is safe to have acupuncture. As with all things, there can be some risks associated with acupuncture, but with proper attention to a few key details, your health should be in good hands when you receive treatments.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (a branch of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) states that “relatively few complications from using acupuncture have been reported. Still, complications have resulted from use of non-sterile needles and improper delivery of treatments.” Thus, the health risks associated with acupuncture are generally a result of human error (non-sterile needles and improper placement) as opposed to how acupuncture works in your body. Research your acupuncture provider to make sure they meet state regulations, and inquire about the use of FDA-regulated acupuncture needles. These are classified as medical devices for use by licensed practitioners, and the NCCIH states they are required to be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards (sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use only).
Acupuncture takes place inside a practitioner's office, much like an exam in a private room in a traditional doctor’s office. At the beginning of an acupuncture session, your acupuncturist will discuss your overall health and ask what’s bothering you. Often acupuncture is used for pain relief, prevention of illness, and the treatment of chronic health concerns. If it’s your first visit to the acupuncturist, they’ll ask comprehensive questions about your lifestyle, emotional health, diet, and family health to map out your health history. In addition to the information you share verbally, the acupuncturist may take your pulse from various positions at your wrist, may perform a standard physical exam, and may inspect your reflexes, tongue and inner ears. This physical information provides the acupuncturist with additional insights about your overall health and helps guide your treatment.
As you lie on the treatment table, the acupuncturist will tap very thin needles into your skin at different points to stimulate various areas of your body. The American Academy of Acupuncture explains that the needles encourage the body to promote natural healing and improve functioning. Heat or electrical stimulation may also be applied at precise acupuncture points — although frequently, treatment is solely done using needles. During an acupuncture session, patients lie in a relaxed position with the needles in place for five to 30 minutes or more. In general, acupuncture is a relaxing experience and the offices are designed to help you feel at ease. The needles used in acupuncture are very thin and sterile, and insertion is not typically a painful experience. Most people feel no discomfort; patients often fall asleep during the treatment. In subsequent sessions, the acupuncturist builds on the patient’s existing plan and changes the treatment (or placement of needles) based on current health.
Acupuncture cost may be paid out of pocket by the individual, may be partially covered by an insurance plan, or in some cases may be entirely covered by a health insurance provider. Depending on the health concern you are having treated, the policies of your insurance provider, and whether you have received referrals from a physician, you may receive coverage for your acupuncture costs. If you currently have health insurance, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends that you ask these questions to confirm who will cover the acupuncture cost:
- Is acupuncture covered for my health condition?
- Does acupuncture need to be:
- Pre-authorized or pre-approved? If so, by whom?
- Ordered by prescription?
- Does acupuncture require a referral?
- Do I need to see an in-network practitioner to have acupuncture costs covered?
- Do I have any coverage if I choose an out-of-network provider?
- What, if any, are the limits and requirements of acupuncture cost coverage?
- How much do I have to pay out-of-pocket?
HHS recommends that you keep copies of all communications you have with your insurance company, as well as keeping copies of letters, bills and claims. If you’re in the process of selecting a new health insurance provider, HHS suggests you ask about coverage of complementary or integrative health approaches, and whether the provider offers any discount programs for acupuncture and other integrative health modalities.