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.
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
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.
The positive effects of acupuncture may vary in length. Relief may be permanent, effects may be immediate but require regular sessions to maintain, or effects can occur cumulatively over a number of treatments. The health issue you’re having treated, your overall health, and the measures you take to care for yourself after treatment can all have an effect on the duration of the effects. If you’re in a lot of pain, healing from an injury or suffering from a chronic health condition, you may need more visits to see lasting results. For acute conditions you may need from one to three treatments to experience results, while chronic health issues may take six sessions or more.
You don’t need to be sick or have something wrong to get acupuncture. Acupuncture also helps with stress management, relaxation and keeping your body in good working order. Acupuncture cost will be affected by the number of sessions needed. Sometimes people will feel a little tired after a session, and sometimes the main symptom can be slightly aggravated for a temporary period — but that’s the body’s natural healing response and you’ll see improvement after that. An additional advantage is that acupuncture does not cause adverse effects as prescription drugs can.
Many naturopathic doctors accept insurance, but a separate question is whether your insurance covers alternative and naturopathic services. There are several steps you can take to find out:
- Verify whether you live in one of the 20 states that currently licenses naturopathic physicians:
- Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington.
- Confirm whether your insurance will cover naturopathic medical services. Read your insurance plan’s fine print, verify whether naturopathic doctors fall into your insurance carrier’s definition of a doctor, and confirm that the care you are receiving is considered medically necessary. Questions to ask your insurance provider could include:
- Am I covered for this treatment by a naturopathic physician?
- Do I need a referral?
- Is there a list of approved naturopathic doctors in my network?
- What will the co-pay be?
- Are there limits to my naturopathic coverage?
- Before seeking medical care, it’s key to understand the difference between a naturopathic doctor and a naturopath. Anyone may advertise themselves as a naturopath, while to be a licensed naturopathic doctor, a person must complete academic and clinical training.
Reiki is a form of bodywork that involves the “laying on of hands” to heal. In Reiki, a client lies down, clothed, and allows the energy worker to pass their hands slowly over their body, sometimes physically touching the body and sometimes hovering above it, to help create healing movement in their energy. This movement of energy is said to help the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
According to the International Association of Reiki Professionals, the practice of Reiki was developed by Dr. Mikao Usui in the early 1900s. The doctor sought to create a healing practice that wasn’t attached to any religion or religious belief so that all people could use it. The healing power of Reiki is said to come from a universal life force, and the Reiki practitioner is like a channel or conduit for the healing energy that is present in all living organisms. The Reiki practitioner can sense energy blockages and help restore flow, which in turn can help create emotional, physical, spiritual or mental wellness.