Western medicine addresses many of the needs of patients, but some concerns over problems like the Opioid epidemic have spurred new interest in alternative or holistic treatments. One alternative treatment is acupuncture, a therapy from traditional Chinese medicine. Since acupuncture falls outside the bounds of regular Western medicine, many Medicare recipients are curious as to whether their Medicare benefits might include it.

What Is Acupuncture?

The actual procedure for acupuncture is fairly straightforward. A trained practitioner presses a set of very thin, sterile needles into your skin at pre-determined positions on the body. According to theories of traditional Chinese medicine, these positions align with meridians. Meridians are channels that allow essential life energy (qi) to flow throughout your body. If these channels become obstructed or interrupted in some way, your health suffers. Acupuncture restores the proper flow of life energy in the channels. This alleviates the health problem, typically when combined with other complementary therapies like traditional herbs, teas, or tinctures.

It should be noted that not all acupuncturists share the traditional beliefs regarding qi and meridians. Instead, they view the process as beneficial in its own right.

While not part of modern medical practices, the vast majority of states require acupuncturists to undergo licensure which includes significant training. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offers tests and board certifications used or accepted by most states. Certification from the NCCAOM in acupuncture requires a 3-year, Masters-level degree program.

Acupuncture Uses

The most common use of acupuncture in the United States is pain management for a variety of conditions, such as:

• Lower back pain
• Knee pain
• Osteoarthritis
• Migraines
• Neck pain

The procedure has also been used to treat numerous other conditions ranging from gastric conditions and heavy menstruation to sciatica and high blood pressure.

The effectiveness of acupuncture in treating any specific condition remains debatable. Clinical studies general show conflicting results or that the treatment doesn’t work under laboratory conditions. Current thinking suggests that there may be some kind of neurological response involved that can’t be adequately measured or isolated.

The pain relief effects may also be an example of the placebo effect. In essence, the brain suppresses the pain because it expects the pain to be suppressed by the acupuncture treatment. If treatment does work for this reason, however, it might still prove beneficial for those suffering from chronic pain who find limited relief from other treatment options.

Medicare Coverage for Acupuncture

Medicare provides no coverage for acupuncture treatments. The lack of a solid base of clinical studies to support it as a treatment largely explains why treatments are not covered. Medicare recipients will need to pay all of the costs for every acupuncture treatment.

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