Acupuncture & Chronic Pain Part 2: The community acupuncture experience

Armonia Health LLC’s Community Room

by Li-Lan Hsiang Weiss L.Ac

Shortly after I graduated from my Masters in Oriental Medicine in New Mexico in 2005, I moved back to Durham and felt this was a good area for me to start my private practice.  Two things were clear to me from the beginning:  I wanted to work with the Spanish speaking community and I had to get good at treating pain.

It was quite a challenge to start a practice on my own, back then there weren’t many practices that hired acupuncturists.  I had to consult my teachers with a lot of cases, I had poor boundaries for my work schedule and how much I charged, I had to create my own marketing material and strategies, and above all this I was getting this strange skin reaction on my fingers whenever someone cried out in pain from my needling technique! How could I help others when I was causing them pain!  I had to get over it, which I did, after much self-healing. I would cry out in despair over dinner to my husband “Other acupuncturists know so much more!”  He assured me not to worry, that over a few years I’d get better.

So to get better at treating pain, I studied scalp acupuncture, Dr. Tan’s Pain balancing method, got better at pulse taking for Chinese medicine diagnosis, the Arvigo mayan technique of assessing the hips, sacrum, and tailbone and treated hundreds of pain cases.   A month ago, Austin and I studied a form of classical Chinese acupuncture called Yuan Qi acupuncture and I have not been this excited about an acupuncture technique EVER! This technique, by finding the exact point location, I have gotten an instant decrease in pain intensity with increased mobility 90% of the time. I have been pretty excited at how quick this Yuan Qi technique affects change and so is our acupuncturist Austin Dixon.  What we are assessing now is which conditions and with whom this technique works best and how long the effects last from week to week.

Rewinding a bit back to my original wish to help the Spanish speaking population and those with limited resources, which included me, I asked myself: How can I create a model of acupuncture where I can afford it too?  An article from my Chinese medicine school described community acupuncture and that led me to find specific details on how to start a community-supported acupuncture clinic which charged $20-40. That was in 2007.  I gave thousands of acupuncture treatments just one day per week setting up 4-5 massage tables at Health Touch NC LLC and also saw clients privately 3-4 days per week.  I stopped the community acupuncture in 2014 mainly because I got burnt out from setting up and breaking down the massage tables and room every week, but by 2016 the demand was back and thus I moved out of Health Touch into the space we are now.

With having Austin at Armonia Health LLC, who has worked in community acupuncture settings for close to 9 years, we have the possibility of helping more people than I could do alone.  Community acupuncture is 1/2 the price of individual acupuncture and we can now see about 35 people per week over 1.5 days.  Our receptionist streamlines the scheduling process, we have an online appointment system that we’re still learning from, and we try to create a relaxed atmosphere where most importantly, we as acupuncturists are fully present with each and every one of our clients during their session and we help them feel as comfortable as possible in a group setting.  Some people choose the community acupuncture because it is more affordable, some people feel comfortable in a group where everyone is there for a common cause, some people enjoy receiving acupuncture in the same room as their family member and can carpool, some people enjoy incorporating regular acupuncture into their self care routine and the community model makes this accessible.

In the original research article by Kligler B, Nielsen A, Kohrrer C, et al.  Acupuncture Therapy in a Group Setting for Chronic Pain. Pain Medicine. 2017(0):1-11:

Weekly group acupuncture for the treatment of chronic neck, back, shoulder, and osteoarthritis pain of at least three months on 113 participants in NYC over eight weeks was found to statistically and clinically decrease pain severity, pain interference, and depression even 16 weeks after the completion of the course of treatment. 

I feel strongly that acupuncture should be known as an option to pain medications, especially opioids. Acupuncture is not covered by most insurance plans in NC and a lot of people don’t have insurance.  Don’t let people’s pain wait for insurance coverage or for pain to get so bad that acupuncture is used as a last resort before considering surgery.  It’s not necessary to “tough it out” when it comes to pain, pain is such a good messenger to us that something needs to change or be adjusted.

Part 3 of this series on acupuncture and chronic pain will focus on how we at Armonia Health LLC are building an integrative approach to care within our practice for more complex pain conditions, be sure to check out our What’s new list of courses and events that support our therapies and teach life long tools that enhance well-being.

Comments are closed.