I recently opened a community acupuncture clinic in New Westminster, British Columbia. This style of acupuncture is relatively new in New Westminster, so understandably, people have come to us with a lot of questions.
The more I get to know my fellow community acupuncturists across Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, however, I hear that many of these questions come up even in regions where community acupuncture is more established. It seems that a lot of people have similar curiosities and concerns about community acupuncture and how it differs from the private approach to acupuncture to which we’re more accustomed in the West.
Here are the questions about community acupuncture that I get asked most frequently.
Does community acupuncture work as well as one-on-one acupuncture?
One form of acupuncture is not necessarily more or less effective than another. Community and private acupuncture are just different. Some people are weirded out by being treated in an open space with other people while others report significant benefits from the collective healing energy.
A variety of factors can influence outcomes from acupuncture. Previous experiences with or preconceived notions about acupuncture, the practitioner’s bedside manner and needling technique, music volume, room temperature, and post-treatment self-care can all make a difference. These things will play a role in how effective your treatment is regardless of whether it takes place in a room with one or 10 other people.
One advantage of community acupuncture is that it’s affordable. This means that you can probably get treated more often than you could in a private setting. Most acupuncturists agree that the more frequently you get acupuncture, the more likely—and quickly—you are to see results.
Do I have to take off my pants?
Many people, when they think about acupuncture, imagine the private variety: Acupuncturist greets patient, ushers her to a small treatment room with a single massage table, patient privately disrobes before acupuncturist returns to perform treatment, acupuncturist leaves the room to let patient relax.
Community acupuncture is a much different experience. In a community acupuncture clinic, usually there is one large open room with multiple recliner or anti-gravity chairs, or massage tables. In addition to enabling a more affordable approach to acupuncture, this group setting can be very comforting because people feel supported in their journeys toward better health. There is a “we’re-in-this-together” vibe that fills the space, which is healing in its own right.
Patients help themselves to their favorite chair or table, where they begin rolling up pant legs to knees and sleeves to elbows. The acupuncturist concentrates on placing needles in the hands and forearms, feet and lower legs, scalp and ears. (In clinics that utilize massage tables instead of chairs, you might also receive some needles in your lower back, if it’s called for.)
So, the answer is no: You do not have to take off your pants. Patients stay fully clothed during community acupuncture treatments.
My shoulder hurts. Why are you putting needles in my wrist?
This question comes up in private acupuncture settings as well, but because community acupuncturists concentrate on needling the extremities and head—oftentimes never going anywhere near the body part that hurts—we hear it a lot.
Some of the most popular and powerful acupuncture points are located on the hands and forearms, feet and lower legs, and head. These points are used to treat a wide range of conditions, from insomnia to digestive issues to allergies. They are also used to treat pain, which is where people tend to get stumped. “How can you possibly be helping my low back pain while I’m sitting in a recliner?”
There are numerous acupuncture approaches to treating low back and other types of pain that do not involve touching the affected area. One that’s used commonly in community acupuncture clinics is called the Balance Method, developed by Dr. Richard Tan. The system involves connecting pain symptoms with acupuncture meridians, and needling acupuncture points on the affected meridians that are distal to (far from) the site of pain.
There are also hundreds of empirical acupuncture points located on the extremities, many of which have been used for centuries to effectively relieve pain. For example, a point on the lower leg, Stomach 38, is a go-to point for frozen shoulder. One that’s located on the hand, between the thumb and index finger, can work wonders for low back pain.
How much should I pay?
Most community acupuncture clinics operate on a sliding-scale payment model, typically offering treatments for $15-50. You decide what you want to pay.
The sliding scale makes some people uneasy. We’re used to being told exactly how much something costs, so it can be discomforting to have to decide how much a service is worth to you.
The sliding-scale system is offered to make acupuncture affordable, but it’s also about encouraging people to take ownership for their health. How much you pay is entirely up to you, which allows you to budget according to how often you want to get treatments. No one is going to judge you or think you are being cheap if you pay on the lower end.
The sliding scale is in place to lessen, not add to, the emotional stress that so many of us have around financing our healthcare. So let it go and pay what you will! Embrace the freedom and flexibility of this unfamiliar and empowering payment system.