You may as well go to a certified acupuncturist. Although there are competent acupuncturists who are not certified, there are plenty of certified ones, so take advantage of this quality check.

If the acupuncturist is a physician, look for certification by the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (ABMA), which means he or she is a medical school graduate, completed at least 300 hours of acupuncture education in an ABMA-approved education program, passed an exam, and completed at least two years of medical acupuncture clinical experience with a case history of not less than 500 medical acupuncture treatments. Alternatively, consider a physician who is a member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, which means he or she completed at least 220 hours of formal acupuncture training (there’s no exam).

If the acupuncturist is not a physician, check for certification by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), which means he or she earned a three-year master’s degree or a combination of an apprenticeship with at least two academic years of formal education. The apprenticeship route requires at least 500 treatments within the past five years or 5,000 for a career. There’s also an exam. NCCAOM-certified acupuncturists can add “Dipl. Ac.” after their names.

Talk with friends about their acupuncture experiences. Checkbook.org offers reviews from area patients (we primarily survey Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers).

You might also get recommendations from your primary care doctor or specialist. Some physicians have nothing but disdain for acupuncture, but many consider it an effective treatment for certain types of cases and have experience with, or patient feedback on, local practitioners.

Contact acupuncturists you are considering and ask:

  • Who at the practice performs acupuncture? If you are talking with the office of a physician or chiropractor, don’t simply assume that your acupuncture treatment will be performed by the physician or chiropractor.
  • How long has the acupuncturist been in practice?
  • What training, licensing, and certifications does the acupuncturist have?
  • Does the acupuncturist have experience treating your type of condition or problem?
  • What techniques does the acupuncturist use? Some acupuncturists use a wide range of complementary techniques like tu nai massage, moxibustion and cupping; others use just one approach.
  • Is the treatment covered by your health insurance plan? Do you need a referral from your physician?
  • For your condition, what is the typical course of treatment? How many treatments are needed, and how often? For comparison, among the dozens of acupuncturists we surveyed for treatment of an arthritic knee, most said we could expect improvement within one to five treatment sessions.
  • How much will it cost?

Since there are many qualified acupuncturists, and since other consumers tend to be especially satisfied with them, pay attention to prices. Checkbook’s undercover shoppers called a sample of area acupuncturists for their fees for private treatment of arthritic knee pain. The prices we were quoted are listed on the table below. As you can see, our shoppers were quoted prices ranging from $70 to $390 for an initial private session. There was a lot of variation in how long the acupuncturists said this initial visit would last, though most estimated between 45 minutes and 90 minutes.

We also asked about prices for community acupuncture. Prices quoted to our undercover shoppers were far lower than those for private sessions, ranging from $15 to $95 per session among acupuncturists who offered it.

Keep in mind that because the IRS considers acupuncture a qualifying medical expense, you can pay fees through a pre-tax health savings account.

Illustrative Acupuncture Prices

Prices were quoted to Checkbook's undercover shoppers who called inquiring about costs to treat arthritic knee pain

Private acupuncture session Community acupuncture
Initial treatment Follow-up treatments Initial treatment Follow-up treatments
Albany Acupuncture
1009 Solano Ave, Albany, 510-559-8700
$190 $100    
American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine
455 Arkansas St, San Francisco, 415-282-7600
$90-$130 $45-$65    
Barbara Wilt
4158 Park Blvd, Oakland, 510-531-4135
$110 $80    
Berkeley Acupuncture Project
1834 University Ave, Berkeley, 510-845-1100
    $30-$60 $18-$40
California Acupuncture Center
1025 B St, Hayward, 510-733-0288
$70 $70    
Chinese Medicine Works
1201 Noe St, San Francisco, 415-285-0931
$195 $110    
Christopher Macie Acupuncture
4161 El Camino Way #A, Palo Alto, 650-424-8782
$195 $80    
Circle Community Acupuncture
1351 Harrison St, San Francisco, 415-864-1070
    $30-$50 $20-$40
Community Acupuncture Works
2889 24th St, San Francisco, 415-861-0104
    $20-$40 $20-$40
Diablo Acupuncture & Pain Control
2021 Ygnacio Valley Rd #D, Walnut Creek, 925-932-4002
$135 $90    
Doc Mitchell & Associates
222 Oak Meadow Dr #B, Los Gatos, 408-399-7711
$135 $100    
Dorothy Pang
1601 Old Bay Shore Hwy #323, Burlingame, 650-588-0888
$140 $100    
Edward A Weiss
900 Welch Rd #208, Palo Alto, 650-326-6560
$170 $130    
Esther C Su Acupuncturist
3119 Terrywood Ct, San Jose, 408-263-4267
$80 $70    
Family Room Community Acupuncture
980 Linda Mar Blvd, Pacifica, 650-355-3600
$80 $80 $30-$50 $30-$50
Frank D He
500 E Remington Dr #25, Sunnyvale, 408-720-1766
$180 $110    
Grand Acupuncture Center
3931 Grand Ave #2, Oakland, 510-428-9430
$140 $90    
Holistic Health Center
1340 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 650-328-0800
$145 $95    
Karen L Cutler
2929 Summit St, Oakland, 510-654-3873
$155 $85    
Larry Freeman
4161 El Camino Way #A, Palo Alto, 650-493-2022
$390 $135    
Leah Rogers
8 Mariposa Ave, San Anselmo, 415-310-7084
$85 $85    
Menlo Park Accupuncture Clinic
530 Oak Grove Ave #107, Menlo Park, 650-326-9391
$100 $100    
Oakland Acupuncture Project
3576 Laurel Ave, Oakland, 510-842-6350
    $30-$50 $15-$35
Oakland Community Acupuncture
15 Croxton Ave, Oakland, 510-654-6500
$170 $100 $95 $25
Purple Iris Healing Center
1404 Church St, San Francisco, 415-642-7442
$125 $110    
San Francisco Community Acupuncture
220 Valencia St, San Francisco, 415-675-8973
$100 $85 $50-$70 $30-$50
Sarana Community Acupuncture
970 San Pablo Ave, Albany, 510-526-5056
    $20-$40 $20-$40
Seishindo Acupuncture
2301 Camino Ramon #210, San Ramon, 925-867-2861
$125 $80    
Tao to Wellness
809 Hearst Ave, Berkeley, 510-883-0383
$150 $95    
Tiny Needles
1808 McAllister St, San Francisco, 415-409-1506
$75 $75 $40 $30
Wu’s Healing Center
1014 Clement St, San Francisco, 415-750-5050
$150 $125    
Zhu’s Neuro Acupuncture Center
1754 Technology Dr #225, San Jose, 408-885-1288
$210 $120