Acupuncture experts share health benefits
Who we talked to
Claire Alice McManus
West Roxbury, Mass.
Why should people consider acupuncture?
Kelly Luby: The combination of [acupuncture] and Western medicine generates better results than either can provide independently. Acupuncture allows energy to freely flow throughout the body, thus restoring and maintaining overall health.
Marcia Mueller: Most of my patients come in because of an ache, pain or little thing they figure doctors won't be able to help, or because they've done everything else — they've gone to the doctors and done tests, but the doctors say nothing's wrong.
Claire Alice McManus: Acupuncture is based on the idea that there are numerous energy pathways — or chi — throughout the body. When the pathways are blocked, the body experiences imbalance, causing pain, depression or poor sleep. My job is to find out where those blockages are and manipulate the pathways to re-energize the body's natural defenses.
When is acupuncture a good choice of treatment?
Luby: The World Health Organization lists several health conditions that respond favorably to acupuncture, including migraines, hypertension, anxiety and the common cold. Acupuncture can help just about anyone, from those suffering from conditions to those without specific problems. But precautions should be taken when patients are experiencing extreme frailty, skin infections, pregnancy, a bleeding disorder or the use of cardiac pacemakers. For those with extreme frailty, fewer needles are generally used with very shallow insertions, and they're closely monitored during treatments. In patients with skin infections, needles aren't placed directly on the affected area, and for patients with bleeding disorders, it's a lot easier for them to bruise. In pregnancy, certain points of the body are avoided because they can induce labor early, and for those who use cardiac pacemakers, I avoid electroacupuncture.
Electroacupuncture is a form of acupuncture where the needles are attached to a device that generates electronic pulses.
Mueller: For the most part, anything muscular, skeletal or pain-related [may be treatable with] acupuncture. Women's health issues, insomnia or stress may be treatable, too.
How does the process work?
Luby: During your first office visit, the practitioner might ask about your health history. During treatment, we insert sterile and hair-thin needles into the body at various depths, but most people feel no or minimal pain. When the acupuncture points are stimulated, you may feel a heaviness, numbness, tingling or mild soreness. The number of sessions needed depends on the condition being treated — two to three visits over two weeks for acute disorders and one visit per week for three to six months for chronic diseases. Individual sessions usually last 45 to 60 minutes, and we typically use six to 20 needles during a treatment.
Mueller: The patient fills out a form answering standard questions about medical history, diet, sleep patterns and the reason they're here. We discuss it, and I formulate a treatment plan. I usually do the treatment first on their back and then on their front side. I leave the needles in about 10 or 20 minutes [on each side] — sometimes for 30, depending on [the issue]. The typical treatment could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half. For more acute conditions, like a car accident, I like to see [patients] at least twice a week. If they have chronic, longstanding issues, I might see them less often but on a regular basis.
McManus: Typically, the first session involves a health history review and a conversation about the main issue they're seeking help with, how they sleep and their mood. I take their pulse, [examine] the area of pain and formulate a treatment plan. There may be anywhere from five to 35 needles in a given treatment. The needles are hair-thin, sterile and usually painless — though occasionally they can feel like a mosquito bite.
How much do you charge?
Luby: Although more insurance companies are beginning to recognize acupuncture in Illinois, it's still not generally covered. The cost of the first treatment and initial consultation is $95 to $115, and it's about $80 for follow-up treatments.
Mueller: My average price for a session is about $70 or $80. The initial consultation can add $60 to $100 to that first visit. The patient can get a substantial discount if they pay at the time of service. If I bill their insurance, it's at a higher rate.
McManus: A typical patient in my office comes for three to six treatments. I charge $125 for the first visit and $80 for follow-ups. The costs are covered by some insurance companies.
Is there anything new in the field?
McManus: I'm working with researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, who are using state-of-the-art imaging to assess the effect acupuncture has on the pain centers of the brain. Although acupuncture is an old form of medicine, current medical technology captures what's actually happening in treatments. The trials are still in progress, but it's been amazing to be part of the process.