The practice of acupuncture: Who are the providers and what do they do?

Karen J. Sherman, Daniel C. Cherkin, David M. Eisenberg, Janet Erro, Andrea Hrbek, Richard A. Deyo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: This study provides basic information about the training and practices of licensed acupuncturists. METHODS: Randomly selected licensed acupuncturists in Massachusetts and Washington state were interviewed and asked to record information on 20 consecutive patient visits. RESULTS: Most acupuncturists in both states had 3 or 4 years of academic acupuncture training and had received additional "postgraduate" training as well. Acupuncturists treated a wide range of conditions, including musculoskeletal problems (usually back, neck, and shoulder) (33% in Massachusetts and 47% in Washington), general body symptoms (12% and 9%, respectively) such as fatigue, neurological problems (10% and 12%, respectively) (eg, headaches), and psychological complaints (10% and 8%, respectively) (especially anxiety and depression). Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was the predominant style of acupuncture used in both states (79% and 86%, respectively). Most visits included a traditional diagnostic assessment (more than 99%), regular body acupuncture (95% and 93%, respectively), and additional treatment modalities (79% and 77%, respectively). These included heat and lifestyle advice (66% and 65%, respectively), most commonly dietary advice and exercise recommendations. Chinese herbs were used in about one third of visits. Although most patients self-referred to acupuncture, about one half received concomitant care from a physician. Acupuncturists rarely communicated with the physicians of their patients who were providing care for the same problem. CONCLUSIONS: This study contributes new information about acupuncturists and the care they provide that should be useful to clinicians interested in becoming more knowledgeable about complementary or alternative medical therapies available to their patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-158
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of family medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Acupuncture
  • Alternative medicine
  • Office visits
  • Professional practice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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