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TCM Physicians Clinic

Facts about Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Is acupuncture considered alternative or experimental treatment in the United States?

Unaware or misinformed, some people mistakenly think of acupuncture as an unapproved or experimental treatment. The truth is that acupuncture is a medically approved procedure recommended by the National Institute of Health (NIH), and many prestigious health care institutions and medical authorities in the United States.


Since 1996, the FDA has approved acupuncture needles as "safe medical device", and the National Institute of Health (NIH) promotes the use of acupuncture for various medical conditions, including low back pain and inflammation, postoperative dental pain, inflammatory diseases, and for nausea due to chemotherapy. Furthermore, the National Institute of Health (NIH)'s Consensus on Acupuncture (1997), states the following:

"While it is often thought that there is substantial research evidence to support conventional medical practice, this is frequently not the case. This does not mean that these treatments are ineffective. The data in support of acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies. 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 conditions. As an example, musculoskeletal conditions, such as fibromyalgia, myofacial pain, and tennis elbow, or epicondylitis, are conditions for which acupuncture may be beneficial. These painful conditions are often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) or with steroids injections. Both medical interventions have a potential for deleterious side effects but are still widely used and are considered acceptable treatments. The evidence supporting these therapies is not better than that for acupuncture".

Millions of Americans receive acupuncture treatments every year. The number of people seeking acupuncture is increasing. Acupuncture is not experimental; it's main stream health care.

Does acupuncture hurt?

No, it does not hurt. If the needles are stimulated by hand manipulation vs. electrical stimulation, some times the patient can feel a burning or light sore sensation on the needle spot, but no pain. Acupuncture does not hurt. On the contrary, acupuncture is used to control pain.

Are the needles sterilized?

Yes, the needles are sterilized and labeled disposable (for a single use only).

Is there medicine in the needles?

No, there is no medicine in the needles. Acupuncture needles are surgical instruments that acupuncture physicians insert and manipulate in points along the body's meridians (precise anatomical locations in the body) used to induce a particular biological response or to stimulate a physiological function.

Is acupuncture always used when treating a patient with Oriental Medicine? 

No, acupuncture is only one form of therapy among many other procedures that an acupuncturist may use in clinic. Herbal remedies are traditionally used in the forms of infusion, pills, tablets, capsules, intramuscular injections, granules, oral liquids, enemas, suppositories, poultices, plasters, creams, and skin solutions. Other typical TCM procedures are moxibustion, thermotherapy, hydrotherapy, massage, joint manipulations, therapeutic diet, lifestyle counseling, etc.

Presently, Oriental Medicine is one of the health care fields growing faster in the United States, and along with herbal medicine, acupuncture is one of the most requested TCM therapies.

Herbal remedies are often used along with acupuncture. Is herbal therapy experimental medicine?


Herbal medicine is a wide spectrum of botanical remedies: some may be clasified as experimental while others are proven safe and effective. 

Herbal medicine is an integral part of Oriental Medicine —the backbone of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Herbal medicine in particular is very well accepted in the West, and a large number of Western pharmaceutical drugs (i.e. aspirin, coumadin, ephedrine, digitalis, levodopa, irinothecan, etoposide, vincristine, taxol, etc.)  derive directly from herbs or were first discovered in herbs and are now made synthetically or mass produced.

Herbal remedies are often used as alternative for conditions that don't respond well to conventional treatments or as complimentary to enhance the effectiveness of Western medicine. Many herbs have been extensively researched and proven safe and beneficial, while others 
are being used since ancient times by millions of people, but still lack modern clinical studies. Besides using time-tested traditional herbal remedies, one should strive to use evidence-based herbal products, especially for the more serious health conditions, such as cancer, rheumatoid, lupus, Crohn's, etc. 

If a person is diagnosed with an incurable illness, can he or she still be treated successfully using Traditional Chinese Medicine? 

Yes, usually the patient has received a diagnosis by Western medicine and if the doctor has said that the illness is incurable, he most likely means that the condition is not treatable successfully with conventional medicine. Sometimes better results can be obtained with Traditional Chinese Medicine or with an integrated approach of therapies from both systems.

Why some conventional doctors do not recommend acupuncture and or herbal medicine? 

In the West, doctors who understand the benefits of acupuncture and herbal medicine, refer patients to Oriental Medicine. However it must be understood that conventional doctors themselves, are a product of Western culture, which for the most part have not been aware of Oriental Medicine until recently. 

In the West, conventional doctors are trained exclusively in Western medicine, and unless they have traveled to China, Japan, South Korea, and other countries where Oriental Medicine is commonly used, unfamiliarity with that healing system is most likely. I believe that lack of information is the major factor on why some doctors still do not refer patients to Oriental Medicine. And misinformation or disinformation about a legitimate health care procedure and its benefits can be detrimental to the person’s health. I believe that physicians, in general, are good, honest, and dedicated professionals. Some of them simply do not have the training and information for referring patients to Oriental Medicine. 

Do health insurance companies pay for acupuncture?

Most health insurance plans with free access policy (PPO) and some worker's compensations cover medical examinations and acupuncture treatment by a licensed acupuncturist. Health insurance coverage for acupuncture varies according to State Laws, insurance company, and type of policy. 

My health insurance plan pays for acupuncture, but the agent says that only if it is provided by a doctor of Western Medicine. Is that true? 

Again, insurance coverage for acupuncture varies according to State laws, insurance company, and type of policy or group policy. In Florida, it is illegal to deny payment for acupuncture to an acupuncturist, if the insurer would pay for the procedure when performed by another health care provider (Law Reference: Florida Statute 627.6403). Bear in mind that the insurance agent, adjuster, or representative, may not be familiar with Florida law on acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Therefore, your explanation in this regard may be necessary. 

If there is no insurance coverage for acupuncture, what is the usual fee to visit an acupuncturist?

The cost varies among acupuncturists, but usually it is in line with consulting fees for other health care providers. The fee is slightly higher for the initial visit than for the follow-ups.

How can I know if a provider is qualified to perform acupuncture and to prescribe herbal medicine?  

In the United States, the practice of health care is strictly regulated by State Laws. In Florida, the practice of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is regulated under Florida Statute Chapter 457. 

In the same manner that a cardiologist is the best choice to treat heart diseases, a licensed acupuncturist is the most qualified person to perform acupuncture procedures. It is wise to verify that the provider is licensed by the State Board of Acupuncture (Florida Statutes Chapter 457). Florida law also strictly prohibits identifying oneself as acupuncturist or Doctor of Oriental Medicine (DOM or OMD), or any other professional title denoting the use of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, unless the practitioner is an acupuncture physician licensed under Florida Chapter 457. These means that if other health care providers use acupuncture, they cannot identify themselves as acupuncturists or doctors of Oriental Medicine. 

In terms of using TCM herbal medicine: 
Since ancient times, people have used and continue to use herbal remedies to improve their health. One should understand however, that misusing herbal remedies can be harmful in many ways: not only because it may not be effective, it can interfere (reduce or augment) with the actions of pharmaceutical drugs or even with other herbal medicines. On the other hand, not using beneficial herbal therapies can also be detrimental to the person’s health. Herbal medicine can be of great benefits and even crucial for patients battling chronic illnesses such as lupus, Crohn’s disease, cancer, etc. Herbal medicine can be used alone or in combination with conventional medicine, but it is highly recommended to consult a licensed health care provider knowledgeable in the use of herbal medicine, before using any herbal product for health care. When using traditional Chinese herbal therapy for a serious health condition,  avoid anyone playing Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Make sure that the practitioner is really a licensed health care provider in Oriental Medicine; it is also wise to inquire about the reason for and fundamentals of the treatment being recommended.

In any case, if you do not live in Florida, perhaps you can check the laws controlling the practice of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in your jurisdiction, and inquire about the education, knowledge, and experience of the practitioner.


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