Curious About Acupuncture? Here’s a Budget-Friendly Way to Try It Out

community acupuncture
Jen Smith treats Gerard Waters at St. Pete Community Acupuncture on April 14, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Fla. The clinic offers acupuncture on a sliding scale of $15-$35 per treatment. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

What do you think of when I say “acupuncture”?

Probably something on the spectrum between reiki chakra clearing and the comic-book character Pinhead.

But, as an acupuncturist myself, I’m excited that people are realizing how much the discipline is more like science-based medicine than voodoo.

Acupuncture is rooted in immunology and neuroscience and has become increasingly popular over the last several decades. (This 2016 article from Time summarizes acupuncture’s clinical trials and how it works on a physiological level).

But misconceptions surrounding the practice and the price tag keep some people from seeing it as a healthcare option.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Community Acupuncture is Making Alternative Healthcare Affordable

Jen Smith inserts needles during a treatment at St. Pete Community Acupuncture on April 14, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Studies suggest acupuncture can help relieve chronic pain, headaches and some of the symptoms of cancer treatments, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Acupuncture needles elicit immune responses in your body to send appropriate proteins or chemicals to the places they need to go to solve problems.

Say you have a sprained ankle. Acupuncture would be effective in reducing inflammation, blocking pain signals to the brain and speeding up the healing process.

Treatments are cumulative, so depending on how long your issue has been going on, it usually takes a course of eight to 12 treatments to see the full magnitude of results.

How Much Does Acupuncture Cost?

Community Acupuncture is Making Alternative Healthcare Affordable

Jen Smith treats Cathy Stroman at St. Pete Community Acupuncture on April 14, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

The initial visit will typically run you $75 to $95, with follow-up visits costing $50 to $70, according to CostHelper, a consumer information website. When you consider you will need multiple treatments to see a difference, it’s easy to see why people often don’t get the number of acupuncture treatments they need to fix a problem.

On the flip side, acupuncture in China is pretty inexpensive, around $5 per treatment. It’s a high-volume, low-cost model where you’re treated in a clinic with lots of chairs and many people being treated around you.

Which led a few acupuncturists in the U.S. to ask, “Can we use the same model to solve the problem of expensive acupuncture in America?” That’s how community acupuncture came to be.

What is Community Acupuncture?

Community Acupuncture is Making Alternative Healthcare Affordable

A mannequin showing meridians, or rivers of energy in Chinese medicine, is pictured St. Pete Community Acupuncture in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Community acupuncture brings treatments back to basics, the way it’s practiced in China. It’s a worldwide movement that takes the cost barrier out of the healing equation.

Treatments take place in recliners in a shared space instead of private treatment rooms, and clinics see a high volume of patients. This model makes the price more affordable at $15-$40 per treatment.

What’s even more unique than the low price point is that patients decide what they want to pay on the $15-$40 scale — no proof of income or signed agreements required.

The idea is to pay what you can afford to get the number of treatments you need.

Community Acupuncture is Making Alternative Healthcare Affordable

St. Pete Community Acupuncture is pictured in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

The Oregon-based People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA) was formed in 2002 to help the general public learn about community acupuncture and to help acupuncturists set up their own practices.

It’s the only organization of its kind, and its most recent innovation has been an affordable acupuncture school in response to the overinflation of acupuncture education.

You can visit POCA’s site to find a clinic near you or do a Google search for “community acupuncture near me.” New clinics are starting all the time.

Your Turn: Have you tried acupuncture? What do you think about the model of community acupuncture?

Jen Smith is a licensed acupuncturist in the state of Florida and writing intern at The Penny Hoarder. She writes about personal finance after paying off $53,000 worth of student loans for her acupuncture degree.

Did this article help put money in your pocket?