Most of the general public is unaware of the importance of choosing a licensed acupuncturist when it comes to treatment of their condition. Since this is an important issue, this writer is compelled to talk about this topic.
If you are seriously considering receiving acupuncture treatment, you need to know the person who will be performing the procedure. Questions like where did this person get his/her training and whether he/she is licensed to practice acupuncture in your state need to be asked. If a practitioner claims that he/she is a licensed acupuncturist, you need to ask him/her the school the practitioner attended, what is his/her acupuncture license number and if the practitioner is certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). If all of these questions have been answered affirmatively, you need to verify them before deciding on whether to move forward with the treatment.
It’s important to seek treatment only from a licensed acupuncturist. Obviously, you would want a person who knows what he/she is doing since it is your health that’s on the line. One useful analogy of the importance of getting treatment only from a licensed practitioner is if you have a broken leg and seek treatment from an optometrist. The optometrist may have some basic and very limited knowledge in repairing a broken leg and may provide some medical assistance. But why seek treatment from a person who isn’t really qualified to address the specific condition you’re suffering from?
An acupuncturist who has undergone thorough education and training and who is certified by the NCCAOM is trained in using specific information gained during consultation and physical evaluation of the patient examination to come up with a proper plan of treatment. Apart from querying the patient with a series of questions pertaining to the patient’s condition, the acupuncturist also needs to check the patient’s pulse and observe his/her tongue. These diagnostic examinations are important in the kind of treatment the patient needs. If the acupuncturist does not check your pulse or examined your tongue, then it is quite possible that he/she is not a licensed practitioner.
There are other medical professionals who claim to be licensed to practice acupuncture but actually are not. These may include doctors, physical therapists and chiropractors. They may have training but oftentimes, the amount of hours and training they have undergone are not as extensive and thorough as those who have graduated from acupuncture schools and have passed national board examinations.
The number of hours that chiropractors need to train to be able to legally perform acupuncture these days is 300 hours, and a lot of them have considerably less. Physical therapists are usually trained in the dry needling technique. This procedure entails the insertion of needles into certain parts of the body. However, these therapists may have as little as 10 hours of training. Compare that to the more than 1,800 training hours that licensed acupuncturists need to undergo to acquire their license. This can even extend to 3,500 hours if the training includes herbal education and clinic internship.
The most important issue when it comes to the selection of a practitioner is the safety of the patient. Acupuncturists who do not have the right amount of training and education have a higher likelihood to injure a patient or infect a patient when they perform acupuncture.
There has been a high incidence of injuries (usually, pneumothorax, the accidental puncturing of the lung that can result in lung collapse) in physical therapists performing “dry needling” on patients. There have also been instances when chiropractors insert acupuncture needles into wrong acupuncture points when treating certain conditions. The depth in which the needle needs to be placed is often incorrect; more often than not, the needles are plunged too deep into the body causing complications and injuries.
Kine Fischler is a licensed acupuncture physician and the clinical director of Willow Tree Wellness Clinic in Portland, OR.