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Frequently Asked Questions

For Patients

What is Chinese medicine?

Chinese Medicine is a comprehensive system of health care with a continuous clinical tradition of over 3,000 years. It is comprised of a variety of traditions originating in China and spreading through several Asian countries and even into Europe. While there are national standards that every acupuncturist must pass to be licensed as a Doctor of Acupuncture (DA) here in Rhode Island, there are many ways to actually practice this healing art depending on the tradition and training of your practitioner.

The predominant treatment style here in the United States is called “Traditional Chinese Medicine” or TCM, but other styles are also popular – Japanese, Five Element, Worsley, and Korean, to name a few. Modalities used include acupuncture and herbal treatment as well as massage, dietary therapy, meditation and exercise. These therapies work with the natural vital energies inherent within all living things to promote the body’s ability to heal itself. Your practitioner might practice herbal medicine, counsel you on dietary therapeutics, recommend special breathing exercises such as qigong, or use a warming herb called moxa as part of your treatment.

How does it work?

​Chinese medicine is based on an energetic model rather than the biochemical model of Western Medicine. The ancient Chinese recognized the vital energy in all life forms and life processes. They called this energy Qi (pronounced “chee” or “kee”). In developing an understanding of the prevention and cure of disease, they discovered a system of cyclic energy flowing in the human body along specific pathways. Each pathway is associated with a particular physiological system.

Chinese Medicine embraces the concept that “dis-ease” results when a person’s vital energy (Qi) is out of healthful balance in the energetic pathways and their associated physiological systems. The pathways, or meridians, of energy communicate with the surface of the body at specific locations called acupuncture points. Each point has a predictable effect upon the vital energy passing through it.

Imbalances may result from external factors such as viruses, trauma, environmental conditions, etc., or could result from emotional, psychological or stressful conditions. The treatment methods of Chinese Medicine work to restore balance in the body so the body may heal itself. It is also used as preventative medicine to improve the body’s overall immunity and condition.

Is acupuncture safe?

Acupuncture is well-known for its safety and lack of side effects. It is a frequent treatment of choice for 1/4 of the world’s population because of its effectiveness. Its long history of use in addition to current standards of training and licensing makes acupuncture very safe.

Acupuncture needles have been recognized by the FDA. Only presterilized needles should be used to perform acupuncture and they are disposed of after a single use.

Does acupuncture hurt?

Acupuncture bears no resemblance to the feeling of a hypodermic needle, since the main source of pain from such needles is the larger diameter, hollow needle and the pressure created by injection or extraction of fluids. Acupuncture needles are solid, very fine and flexible and about the diameter of a thick hair. In most cases, insertion by a skilled practitioner is performed with a minimum of discomfort. After needles are placed you may feel numbness, heat, dull aching or tingling at the needle site or along the corresponding meridian. Often, patients report that the sensation is unfamiliar, but pleasant and relaxing.

What can acupuncture treat?

Some of the many conditions for which acupuncture treatment is considered appropriate are listed by the World Health Organization of the United Nations. Among these are:

Gastrointestinal Disorders Food allergies, peptic ulcer, constipation, chronic diarrhea, indigestion, gastrointestinal weakness, anorexia and gastritis.
Urogenital and Reproductive Disorders Stress incontinence; urinary tract infections; sexual dysfunction; irregular, heavy or painful menstruation; infertility in women and men, and premenstrual syndrome.
Respiratory Disorders Emphysema, sinusitis, asthma, allergies and bronchitis.
Disorders of the Bones, Muscles, Joints and Nervous System Arthritis, neuralgia, Bell’s Palsy; migraine headaches, insomnia, dizziness and low back, neck and shoulder pain; cerebral palsy, polio, trigeminal neuralgia, torticollis; sciatica; bursitis; sprains.
Circulatory Disorders Hypertension, hypotension, angina pectoris, arteriosclerosis and anemia, stroke sequela.
Emotional and Psychological Disorders Stress, insomnia, depression and anxiety.
Addictions Sugar, coffee, alcohol, tobacco and narcotics.
Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders Earaches, deafness, tinnitis, blurred vision, chronic sinus infections, hay fever, sore throat

Acupuncture can also provide supportive therapy for many other chronic and painful debilitating disorders.

How many treatments will I need?

Treatment will be determined by a thorough diagnostic procedure. Practitioners evaluate a person’s condition by feeling the pulsations at each wrist and by observing the color and form of the face, tongue and body. This information is interpreted in the context of a patient’s present and past complaints, work and living habits, physical environment, family and health history, and emotional life.

Since each person is unique, the number of treatments needed will vary. Many conditions may be alleviated very rapidly by acupuncture and/or herbs and the patient will feel progressively better after each treatment; however, some conditions which have arisen over a course of months or years will be relieved only with slow, steady progress. Your acupuncturist will be able to give you an estimate of treatment length after reviewing your medical history and completing a thorough examination.

No medical system, technique or material is 100% effective. The patient’s attitude, diet, determination and lifestyle will affect the outcome of treatment, but even when all factors are optimal, some conditions will resist treatment.

Is oriental medicine compatible with western medical treatment?

The two systems of medicine are highly compatible and can enhance each other’s effects. Acupuncture is compatible with virtually all modern medical techniques. Chinese herbs may make it possible to lower the dosage of some modern medicines, to reduce their side effects, and/or obtain a better overall effect. Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine should be seen as complementary to Western medicine.

How is the profession regulated by the law?

The regulation of acupuncture differs from state to state. Safe and effective practice standards have been established by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). The state of Rhode Island requires all licensed Doctors of Acupuncture to graduate from an accredited college of acupuncture’s graduate level degree program of 2500+ hours and to pass the NCCAOM exam. Doctors of Acupuncture are also required by the state to complete 20 hours of continuing education each year in order to retain their licenses.

Medical Doctors may practice acupuncture in Rhode Island with 300 hours of training. They are not required to take the NCCAOM exam, nor are they required to do continuing education in Oriental Medicine once they have received the initial 300 hours. They are required to make written disclosure to all patients whom they treat with acupuncture that their training is not equivalent with that of Doctors of Acupuncture.

No other persons are allowed by law to practice acupuncture in the state of Rhode Island. Please report any person not complying with the above regulations to the Department of Health or to the Rhode Island Society of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Please see our membership roster for a listing of licensed doctors of acupuncture in your area.

For Practitioners

How do I become an NCCAOM diplomate?

To become an NCCAOM Diplomate, applicants must pass the NCCAOM Examinations. There are 4 exams: Acupuncture with Point Location, Biomedicine, the Foundations of Chinese Medicine and Chinese Herbology. There are 3 certifications available.  For acupuncture certification, applicants must pass the Acupuncture with Point Location, Biomedicine and Foundation of Chinese Medicine examinations. For Chinese herbology certification, applicants must pass the Biomedicine, Foundations of Chinese Medicine, and Chinese Herbology examinations.   For those seeking a certification in Oriental Medicine, all four examinations must be passed. Study guides are available.

There are several routes possible to be eligible to sit for the NCCAOM examinations.  The most common route is with formal education in the United States, at a school that is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). ACAOM is a specialized accreditation agency recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE). International students may also apply; however, the programs must meet requirements and are subject to third party review. Other than the formal education route, students who have completed apprenticeship educations may also apply. However, this route will be terminated in December 31, 2021. Education should follow ACAOM standards and have to be approved by the NCCAOM. Finally, a combination of apprenticeship and formal education may be submitted for NCCAOM approval for examination eligibility. 

How Do I Renew My NCCAOM diplomate?

Those who were previously NCCAOM Diplomats, but have lapsed in their renewal, may be able to apply for reinstatement.

NCCAOM diplomats are responsible for renewing their certification every four years and are expected to maintain their status by participating in Professional Development Activities (PDA). Diplomats must earn a minimum of 60 PDA points during the four-year period immediately preceding the expiration of their certification. The NCCAOM renewal process is completed online. Diplomats can renew up to 6 months prior to the expiration date of their certification.

Active Status diplomates must complete the online form, complete a minimum of 60 PDA points and submit payment. Diplomates are required to complete a CPR course plus a minimum of 30 PDA points/ CEU credits in Core Competency coursework in the following areas. All 60 points may be earned in the Core Competency section. One can also choose to have up to 30 points in the Professional Enhancement category. Please review the NCCAOM® Recertification Handbook for more information.

For lapsed or terminated diplomats, additional requirements will be applied. Please visit NCCAOM.org for more information.



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What is the ASA?

The American Society of Acupuncturists (ASA) is your primary national level professional association.  It coordinates activities at the national level, including working with a lobbyist in Washington D.C. to represent the profession, holding national conventions, and offering national level opportunities for student and licensed practitioner involvement.  http://www.asacu.org/.

What is CCAOM?

The Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCAOM) is a 501(c)(6) voluntary membership association for acupuncture schools and programs in the U.S. Established in 1982, the Council’s primary mission is to advance AOM by promoting educational excellence in the field. Currently the Council consists of 53 acupuncture schools. As a requirement of membership, all of the Council’s member schools have obtained either full accreditation or accreditation candidacy status with the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), the national organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit AOM schools and programs in the U.S.  The Council administers a national needle safety course known as the Clean Needle Technique Course.  http://www.ccaom.org/  

Recommended reading:  http://www.ccaom.org/downloads/PaperOfLixinHuang.pdf

What is ACAOM?

The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) is the national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit Master’s-level programs in the acupuncture and Oriental medicine profession.  As an independent body, ACAOM accredits first professional Master’s degree and professional Master’s level certificate and diploma programs in acupuncture and first professional Master’s degree and professional Master’s level certificate and diploma programs in Oriental medicine with a concentration in both acupuncture and herbal therapies. The Commission fosters excellence in acupuncture and Oriental medicine education by establishing policies and standards that govern the accreditation process for acupuncture and Oriental medicine programs.  Currently, ACAOM has over 60 schools and colleges with accredited or candidacy status with the Commission.   http://www.acaom.org

Recommended reading:  http://www.ccaom.org/downloads/PaperOfLixinHuang.pdf

What is NCCAOM?

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), was established in 1982 as a non-profit organization currently operating under Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code. The mission of the NCCAOM is to establish, assess, and promote recognized standards of competence and safety in acupuncture and Oriental medicine for the protection and benefit of the public. There are currently over 14,000 active Diplomates practicing under NCCAOM certifications in Acupuncture, Oriental Medicine, Chinese Herbology and Asian Bodywork Therapy. In year 2017, NCCAOM celebrated its 35th anniversary.  http://www.nccaom.org/about/about.html