Why Won’t My Primary Care Physician Prescribe Acupuncture?

In short? Because it’s not something most physicians are familiar with. Plus, most insurance plans won’t cover the cost.

But let’s step back for a minute and talk about acupuncture itself. In the world of alternative medicine, acupuncture reigns supreme in terms of legitimacy. That means it has a lot of practitioners, people like it, and science actually backs it up – most of the time. Here’s a brief overview and what you should know about your physician and acupuncture.

What is it?

According to the Mayo Clinic, acupuncture involves the “insertion of very thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body.” It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, and it is used commonly to treat pain. However, acupuncture is increasingly used for overall wellness, which includes stress management.

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is known as a technique used for balancing qi, the flow of energy or life force. By inserting needles into specific points along the body’s key meridians, practitioners believe that the energy flow will rebalance. By contrast, in Western medicine, practitioners see key acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue. Some think that this stimulation boosts the body’s natural painkillers.

Does it work?

According to several studies, yes, it does. A meta-analysis of 29 peer-reviewed studies, which involved nearly 18,000 patients, found that acupuncture is effective for treating chronic pain. It is therefore a reasonable referral option. Though the differences between acupuncture and the placebo were modest, they were enough to inform the findings of this massive study.

Why won’t my doctor prescribe it?

Most doctors unfamiliar with alternative medicine are not convinced that acupuncture can treat anything.

If you really think acupuncture is the answer for your chronic pain or other ailment, there are steps you can take to get the treatment. You can pursue an acupuncturist on your own and ask for a consultation. However, most health insurance plans do not cover the common practice, and so finding an in-network practitioner may be difficult.

If seeking a practitioner on your own isn’t ideal, there are strategies for talking with your doctor. Acupuncture is a complementary medical practice, which means it should be done alongside other treatment methods. When approaching the conversation, begin with this idea – that acupuncture is best practiced alongside other treatments is ideal. This is a great way to strike a compromise between yourself and your primary care physician.

That said, I don’t recommend pointing your doctor to individual studies; if they’re a good doctor, they’ll do the research on their own. No physician likes to be lectured by a patient, especially if it seems as though the patient’s research is cherry-picked. However, if your doctor is extremely stubborn, this study, published in Primary Care (a well-respected journal), is informative, comprehensive, and polite.

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