Acupuncture for Chronic Pain Under CMS Review

Acupuncture for Chronic Pain Under CMS Review

When the HHS Pain Management Best Practices Interagency Report was released earlier this year, one of the recommendations that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) Services cover additional alternative therapies for chronic pain.

CMS recently announced a proposal that would provide coverage of acupuncture for chronic low back pain to certain Medicare enrollees. Currently, acupuncture is not covered by Medicare in most states. Qualified individuals with chronic low back pain would need to be enrolled either in clinical trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or in CMS-approved studies.

Right now, CMS is soliciting public comment as to whether or not acupuncture for chronic low back pain should be covered by Medicare. You only have until August 14 to provide CMS with your position on its proposal. You can read more about the proposal here, or click here to comment.

(Personal note—I suffer from back pain and have used acupuncture to varying degrees of relief in the past several years.)

The U.S. Pain Foundation calls the initiative by CMS is a commendable first step in assessing the benefits of acupuncture for pain.

In a note to its members, U.S. Pain Foundation gives three tips for commentary.

  1. Remember that your comments will be made public, so you’ll want to be mindful of your tone and word choice, and carefully consider whether you share any private information.
  2. Consider thanking CMS for the proposal and why you support its decision to hear from the chronic pain community.
  3. You may wish to request that coverage for acupuncture be offered to all beneficiaries and for other chronic conditions, not just those participating in studies for low back pain.

Acupuncture, common in Chinese medicine, involves inserting thin, tiny needles into certain points of the body. Traditional Chinese practitioners believe acupuncture balances the flow of energy or life force - known as qi or chi. Western practitioners see it as a way to stimulate nerves and muscles in a way that promotes pain relief and healing.

What are your experiences with acupuncture? Let us know in our commentary section. Are there other alternative therapies you’d like to see covered?

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Authored by: Ed Coghlan

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My resident acupunturist on our are have my chronic backpain reduced and i am so delighted about the result, well based on my experience i am recommending acupuncture as an alternative treatment but it will always depend on other people if they are committed to have a time to go to their nearest acupunturist.

Kathy C

I worked in an acupuncture office and I saw some horrible things. I refused to go into the treatment area. I was afraid of needle sticks, even when the acupuncturist was not there.. One acupuncturist would discard used needles on the floor, or random places around the room. He would leave cotton balls with pus on them too. I really do not know why any patient would see him.

Acupuncture is a theatrical fraud, it only appears to work, because they are nice to people. People with pain are treated like pariahs by physicians, so anyone that appear to be listening or is pleasant might give the appearance they are helping. Physicians don’t have to be nice, they get paid either way.

Even thinking about acupuncture gives me the willies! You know where else they like acupuncture, North Korea, but only because they have nothing else. The death rate there from curable illnesses is really high.

Is acupuncture now classified too as a treatment in the hospitals?


It quite possibly works for some people but as with anything else not for everyone!! For me, acupuncture caused painful sores that took weeks to go away! Whatever a doctor prescribes that works for reducing pain in an individual should be covered!


I’ve tried acupuncture a couple of times with absolutely no positive result, although I’m sure it does work for some people because different methods work differently depending on the individual. I, like Marguerite, have trouble believing that none of our honorable Congress members have needed prescription medication for chronic pain. If they need it, I’m sure they get it without being viewed as potential criminals.

At age 82 I am now required to be drug tested annually (or more frequently if directed by my healthcare provider) and am limited to one approved prescriber no matter what my medical situation may be. Because I cannot deal with an increase in my current pain level, I’m trying to avoid dental surgery that I probably need. I would be denied additional pain medication. If I violate any of the draconian terms of the “pain contract” I was compelled to sign, I face being cut off my low dose of a mild opiate medication completely.

Perhaps those who make and implement the laws should be as subject to them as the rest of us are-along with the dehumanizing, denigrating “treatment” we often receive as their laws and regulations are carried out.


I tried six weeks of acupuncture (3x per week) to relieve my near-daily migraines. After the endorphins wore off (within an hour or less), so did the pain relief.


I have tried Acupuncture for lower back pain. It did give me slight temporary relief. However, I quickly realized that it gave me no more relief than laying down and resting for the same amount of time,

I am convinced that the Acupuncture does not provide any relief but the the ritual of the treatment is what actually provides any relief.

I eventually gave up, the practitioner continued to claim I needed more sessions to get better relief.


I’ve had chronic low back pain after 2 fusions, with screws for 30 years, two different pain pills are the best help I’ve had, I have tried a lot of things that don’t work. It’s just like cbd oil, and smoking pot, for real pain it does not WORK.


I did not have acupuncture for low back pain but for acute cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome located in my pelvis. I was gutted like a fish in my pelvis due to adhesions and ended up in worse shape. I never found that acupuncute helped in any way as far as the pain subsiding. But something else did happen in that i didnt seem to experience huge bouts of anxiety related to my pain. I cant explain it but I would take any crumb I could get. Had to stop due to financial reasons

I have used acupuncture in the past for shoulder pain after healed shoulder surgery & for tennis elbow. After a few visits it helped shoulder. Two visits took away tennis elbow. It unfortunately did nothing for my back. I have stenosis, bulging discs, scoliosis & arthritis in my spine with DJD. If it had worked on my back I would definitely be using it. I have a nerve or nerves being pressed or irritated which is causing majority of pain. Had the injections which did nothing. Dr wanted to do an ablation but considering that it’s an invasive procedure that I would have to continue doing by a dr that thinks anyone who can’t handle pain without opiods should just commit suicide - well, I passed on the ablation.

I have chronic body pain especially in my legs. Multiple Myeloma/Amolydosis survivor so far. Acupuncture helped me bring morphine down from 100 mg 3x a day to 80 mg 3x day
Oxy from 15 mg x 7 times a day to 10 mg x 2 times a day at most. Have not been able to bring meds lower but ACUPUNCTURE did that for me. I use it as all over pain reduction and overall energy flow. Helps sinus headaches immediately. Hope this form of pain relief is further investigated and covered by insurance.
Thanks for starting to look into.

Have gone to American and Chinese Acupuncturists.

I will say the first time I went to acupunterist, my husband said it was the first time I ever came back from a doctor smiling. With that being said, I believe you have to continue going quite frequently to have success. They do know a lot about finding the source of pain. I have had it multiple times along with trigger point injections. You get out of it Whatever You put into it. I felt better but as with trigger point you have to keep going. It is not a one time thing. My doctor did not file insurance, it was a bit pricey. Not sure if insurance covers it.. still ended up having nerve block and spine fusion.

I have had acupuncture numerous times for low back pain, neck pain , shoulder pain and sciatica. It did not work for any of it. A waste of my time & money. All I would get from the acupuncturist is oh but you have to keep doing this up to six times in an area. That just meant six times more income for them. I think CMS is just wasting money. Cupping seem to lighten the pain temporarily for 15-20 minutes. I’d rather CMS pay for cupping, for one you’re not likely to contract a disease, no puncturing of lungs can occur. This too will be a failure and just a delay intractable pain peoples getting the relief they need. They charge absorbent fees $60 for a 15-minute visit for one area. And most of the physical therapist that has a license to do this also want you to go through physical therapy as well. So they get a double the money for their time. It’s not even a placebo it doesn’t work. Cupping or a massage would have better results.


Really? Acupuncture??
Quack, quack quack !

Thomas Wayne Kidd

Just another way to continue our suffering.


In my below post, I forgot to say that not only did the acupuncture help me a lot before I developed my super rare, bad reaction to it, but that before I tried acupuncture, I’d had all types of PT including swimming/water therapy. I also had osteopathy, chiropractic, etc etc — basically everything available at the time — and none of those other treatments worked. Only the acupuncture worked.

I just saw the below comment by Claws and am beyond dismayed by it.

Has Claws ever had acupuncture? How much direct knowledge does Claws have about it?

As I posted below, when I went for my first acupuncture appt, barely able to move my neck at all, and that first needle immediately gave me full range of motion while it was in my neck, it was so incredible. IT DOES WORK.

And as I wrote below, the treatments helped me a lot over time.

Nothing helps everyone. But acupuncture helps a lot of people, and I know some of those people.


Decades ago, I used acupuncture for horrible neck pain caused by a car accident — whiplash.

At first it was a miracle. But then I developed a very, very rare sensitivity to it, so that each needled caused pain and bruising.

The first time I had it and the doctor inserted the first needle into my neck, that needle gave me full range of motion — which disappeared when he removed it. It was surrealistic.

I had a bunch of treatments and my neck pain and functioning got so much better — until I got overconfident and turned my mattress over. My neck went out again and when I went back for treatment, the pain and bruising with each needled started, which I was told is super rare, and that was the end of me and acupuncture.

But it helps tons of people with no side effects and no drugs, and most certainly should be covered by all insurance.

My bad reactions — including super-rare bad reactions — to almost everything, are why I need opioids. I”ve tried so many approaches for my pelvic pain syndrome which I”ve had for a decade, but nothing but opioids work for me. I had a bad reaction to PT and to the only non-opioid med that helped. I also had bad reactions to lots of other meds that didnt’ help my pain, and to an electronic treatment attached to my ear that I dont’ remember the name of. Other treatments either didnt’ help and/or I couldn’t tolerate them.


Acupuncture for Chronic Pain on my jaw had the reverse reaction costing a cat scan and a increase dose in pain meds my face swelled to a softball size just because doctor refused to encrease pain med for jaw pain I sent a comment that while it may work for many Acupuncture Opioids are the only treatment for pain for many like me. in their quest to do away with opioids they are harming too many .
Is the agenda to rid the world of opioids and Chronic pain patients ? that is the how us CCP feel. no my letter was way different than this comment because it does work for some people I just polietly asked them to consider those who these alternative treatments and nerve drugs ,and OTC meds that do NOT work for us.


As someone who benefitted from acupuncture for many ailments, I was so intrigued I went and study it. I studied Traditional Chinese medicine. After graduating, I realized that the TCM was great as a diagnostic skill for herbal medicine, with which I obtained great results. I couldn’t say the same of the acupuncture and felt like a fraud. I sometimes got results, but it wasn’t predictable.

Then I retrained in a different type of acupuncture, which requires quite a lot of studying, and a very good knowledge of this system. It’s not just specific points you can learn like trigger points for a particular condition. So many factors need to taken into account.


Such a well trained, knowledgeable practitioner will seem to be able to perform miracles. Results are instant.

So, if it is to be recognised, recognise the ones that deserve it. These acupuncturists will have studied 5 Elements and Dr Tan/ Master Tung.

It may sound silly, but I trained to learn acupuncture to find I couldn’t do what I had experienced. This was mostly because that this effective method had been kept secret (probably for commercial purposes…)until Dr Tan started spilling the beans. Thanks to his amazing genius ( he was a fantastic teacher) Acupuncture us finally beginning to get the credit it’s due. It can’t help everyone, but it can help an awful lot of people.

Ralph M. Maddox

Well, I gave them my opinion in the matter. What good it will do is yet to be determined. Thanks for the heads up on this N/P !

Karan Smith

I have extensive spine problems, including those that have led to cervical fusion at 3 levels and a lumbar surgery…spondylosis, degenerative discs, facet joint irregularities, stenosis, and many others. I now struggle with chronic pain in all these related areas. ..more degenerated discs and pain that began post-surgery. Seeking many modalities over the years, the only true relief I have had has been through opiod therapy. And, that is partial relief, at best. I went to see the “best” acupuncturist in my area, well-known for helping people with pain and an MD degree with further study of acupuncture. I took my MRIs with me to his office many years ago. Once he examined my films, he explained that he could not offer me any help. He said my problems were too complicated and extensive. I have tried alternative therapies over many years, including physical therapy, cognitive therapy, therapeutic massage, water therapy, and many more by many providers. Had I not had help with pain control, I would never have even been able to try these methodologies. The only help I have found is with pain medication. I would be happy to try stem cells and/or PRP therapy, and would like these modalities covered by insurance. However, my ability to function at all can be attributable to one treatment, that provided by pain management specialists through the use of effective medications.

Autumn Gabriel

Personally I’d rather see them cover massages! 😉

Linda Olds

I have tried many therapies in the hope that they would decrease or eliminate my need for opiates for my back and other pain.
I tried acupuncture, three sessions in a week. My pain decreased a little, but just for a few hours. I don’t know how much of that was due to the placebo effect, or the soothing music and atmosphere.
I don’t think acupuncture is worth the time and money for chronic pain, at least in my experience. Most people cannot drop what they’re doing and go for a session, and I don’t know if controlled experiments have shown acupuncture’s efficacy.

I wonder if Senator Johnny Isakson used acupuncture for pain relief for the 3,4 broken ribs he was treated for recently??? Not.

I tried acupunture at an Asain healing office in Decatur. Several sessions (5-6) later, I continued to have chronic migraine. The acupunturist made a nice profit off of the sessions and for the pricey herbal supplements strongly encouraged. No, acupuncture did absolutely zero for me.


Accupuncture was strongly recommended for me by my Pain Clinic. The provider was strongly recommendes. I was in soo much ppain from RSD on my right foot/leg that i would have tried about anything. BAD decision… Outcome from ONE session was pain locked at an 8 or higher… nothing could get it unstuck. 2nd treatment was strongly strongly recommended to “fix” the first one which, qhiile mild, might have been tooo much for my system. 2nd one caused the pain to cross the encompassses both legs and right hand/foreaem. Ugggh!!

Baaaad decision by me to follow their advice…especiallly a 2nd time, bit as many of you know this pain is sooo intense annd wicked it willl drive you to try some extreme ‘remedies’ just iin case you might get relief. Outcome for me? No more ability to work…lots and lots and lots of time day after week after month in bed. Hige, debilitating loss…so bbeware the accupuncture even if it is offered bby a strongly recommmended professional.

Soooo, what does it mean?? Having had this RSD ~10years, there isn’t much i jave not tried because the ppain is that horriffic. Most meds were qorse than useless due to my metabolism and their side effects. Many nayural and homeopathice things tried too..all at great out of pockket expense, for no real relief and some horrrible damage.

Because so many of these diseases annd condiitions are incurable and pharma is little comfoort, Medicare SHOULD cover alternative pain treatments and NOT jjust under the guise of a ‘study’. Information should be made availabble whenever it exista to hellp the patient make an informed treatment decision bbefore beginning treatment.

People desperate for relief from conditions that do not have a proven treatttment protocol SHOULD be helped by their ins to try many different treatments that could help them. Gather the data from their qilllingness to try diffferent treatments and build an experientialll database to refer to…

Help them.


I had acupuncture twice. Once, it worked to get me out of a very serious pain flare.
The other time, the doc seemed to be afraid of me, not knowing anything about my condition ….THAT didn’t help at all.
It seemed to depend more on the practitioner than the practice


Acupuncture and acupressure have been proven time and time again to be bunk, no better than placebo. The concept of energy meridians is BS. It doesn’t matter where you put the needles or apply pressure, the results are always, at best, the same as placebo. Next we’ll be adopting psychic surgery to treat cancer.


I have multiple painful diagnosis and live with a fault cervicogenic headache/ migraine. Since nothing else worked and I couldn’t get prescribed opioids for them I decided to try acupuncture on my limited income from social security. $75 for an hour using anywhere between 7 to 10 needles my headache might gi from a 8 to a 4 ane week’s only be relieved for less than an hour. It’s not worth it. Not even for free. Though im sure those that do the surveys on whether it really works or not will have it say whatever they want it to say even if we all said it didn’t work. I don’t trust anyone any more who says their looking out for my best interest anymore. Especially the government and the bodies that make up the government.
I sure would like to know how Congress has managed to escape pain. I just find it hard to believe everyone in the government is pain free and don’t require narcotic medication to treat pain. I wish I could demand that they all be randomly drug tested.


Good morning .while in Florida I went to see of accupunture.. They stated it would not work because of a the metal in back are 10 titiaum screws rods and plate s … I would try anything for the pain .. Now I am faced with more problems in Back Area .. Lost .. What can I do now back again L4L5S1 HERNIATED BULGING DISC W ARTHRITIS ALSO UPPER T 11 12C