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'I Got Cheapo Acupuncture—Here’s What Happened’
I was lying back in one of four living room recliners arranged in a circle, with strangers relaxing in the other chairs, all of us with our sleeves and pants rolled up and shoes and socks off. I was staring at the Donald Duck bed sheets draped over my neighbor's chair when Rebecca Rizzetta, co-owner of San Francisco Community Acupuncture, sat down to review the symptoms that had brought me here: an irregular period, anxiety, and dizzy spells. (Acupuncturists might be able to recognize symptoms of an imminent cold or flu before you do: read7 Things an Acupuncturist Knows About You After Just One Appointment).
Group acupuncture is a new twist on a very old practice. The ancient Chinese practice dates back 2,000 years, and aims to stimulate and balance energy (called qi) to help the body heal itself through the application of needles along energy channels called meridians. It's a movement that started to establish itself in the United States in the 1970s, when people began using it to help treat postoperative pain and nausea, as well as depression, back pain, and digestive issues. In the 1980s, the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine was established to offer certification of the practice. But though some insurance plans are beginning to cover all or part of the treatments, there are a lot of restrictions, so it can be costly—especially if you’re just seeking a tune-up. Community acupuncture is a way for practitioners to make treatments, which can cost up to 0, more affordable and accessible. The fee at the 130 or so such clinics in the country ranges from to —a boon for patients whose chronic conditions respond best to weekly treatments.
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Though I wasn’t sure what it would be like to make like a pincushion with a roomful of strangers, I decided to give it a try. It was much more peaceful than I’d expected. The only sounds were the soft whispers of Rizzetta, making her rounds to each patient—and the occasional snore. When it was my turn, Rizzetta began placing short, sterile needles all over my body: on my wrists, a few on the tops of my feet, several along my bare arms, and one in the center of my forehead.
Each needle Rizzetta applied offered a different sensation—some were warm, others almost pulsating. By the time she was done applying the set, I felt a deep heaviness take over my body. For the next 30 minutes, it was nap time. Meanwhile, Rizzetta moved on to the next person.
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"Acupuncture works best when people come in regularly, and we wanted to offer a scale that allowed more people to be treated with the frequency needed to truly heal," says Rizzetta, who opened the clinic in San Francisco's Mission District in 2007. "Some chronic conditions respond best to weekly treatments, while some acute injuries heal best with three treatments in one week. We realized we couldn't ask our patients to come in weekly or multiple times in a week if we were charging 0-plus for a treatment."
According to the People's Organization of Community Acupuncture, there are more than 130 community clinics in the U.S. Rizzetta sees a wide variety of people come through her door: college students with PMS, retirees with knee pain, grocery clerks, software engineers, skateboarders, and housecleaners. By the time my session was up, a day laborer had come in for his time in the chair.
Related: 9 Surprising Things An Acupuncturist Can Help You With
Did community acupuncture do anything for me? After a dozen weekly sessions—something I’d be hard-pressed to pay for if the sessions were private— my menstrual cycle became more regular, and my dizzy spells and anxiety had quieted down, so I’d say yes.
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