What is Community Acupuncture?

Community Acupuncture (CA) is a delivery model of acupuncture treatment involving many people getting acupuncture at the same time in a single large treatment room. Usually, people lie on lounge chairs clothed and receive points on the scalp, ears below the knees and below the elbows. CA is often a quarter of the price and is growing in popularity as a social movement across North America.  I am continually amazed by CA . I continue to observe that the results people get in CA clinics are often more potent and effective than in a private treatment room.

Acupuncturists agree: Community Acupuncture is better!

I will often ask other CA practitioners I come across if they have the same experience I have of seemingly better results than in private sessions. Overwhelmingly they agree and they often claim better outcomes because of the frequency and time available to be in a treatment.

Being the skeptic that I am I still wonder as an experienced acupuncturist if we might have a confirmation bias towards CA . How can a quick five-minute assessment and an often basic microsystem or meridian balance treatment have better results? Or even more surprisingly, how can CA practitioners claim to have better results than all the other traditional techniques we like to employ in our private practice?

If this is the case why doesn’t everyone just visit community acupuncture rather than the more common single room treatment? You may ask yourself this question as a future or current acupuncture patient why might you want to choose a community style treatment over a private session.

More is better when it comes to acupuncture.

All acupuncture schools tend to harp on the idea of time in treatment and frequency of treatments as important for best results. CA allows for more of both. I see often that time in treatment and frequency can be seen to trump all other forms of acupuncture treatment including cupping, moxibustion, and gua sha. Often in a private one-hour session by the time one is assessed and treated only a short 40 minutes is left for a person’s body to do its magic in response to treatment.

Looking closer White et al., (2008) completed a narrative review of treatment protocols in a number of acupuncture studies and concluded that to predict a good outcome from acupuncture therapy one has to pay attention to four components. These were

  1. the number of needles used;
  2. the needling technique;
  3. the number of treatment sessions;
  4. the experience of the acupuncturist.

In a community setting all of these are  usually addressed as well as one other factor I would add and that is the length of time in treatment.

For chronic pain, Community Acupuncture is a science-based approach.

In CA one can stay for a longer treatment time than in traditional treatments where a schedule must be more strictly adhered to. This can be as long as two hours in treatment or when they feel they are ready to end treatment. In my opinion, the duration of treatment can be important for chronic issues and it gives some control and awareness of how a person feels.

In a study of the various characteristics of acupuncture treatment associated with outcome for relieving chronic pain frequency of treatment and number of needles were seen as the only significant factors (McPherson et al., (2013)). In this study, they looked at over 17000 individual treatments and compared all the above factors and further included the style of acupuncture used and the interaction of the acupuncturist with the patients.

Based on this large study one can see perhaps CA is a better way to do acupuncture as it allows for more frequent treatment sessions which both of the above studies concluded are the only real important factors for good outcomes.

More treatments, more affordable, better outcomes!

One can, of course, see any acupuncturist more frequently but this can be expensive and difficult to schedule. CA clinics allow for an increase in frequency of treatments in two ways. One way is the convenience by a drop in style that does not require appointments. Secondly, the more obvious one is the affordability of the treatments which allow people to come to many more treatments as compared to the price of a single private session.

The number of needles is another factor to consider and is often high as ear needles are added and the experience of the acupuncturist usually allows for more confidence to use more needles and a well-practiced needling technique. the added treatment time and the increased number of treatments, the experience of the acupuncturist in CA one can expect better results at a much better price. The best of all worlds is available in CA.

Community Acupuncture can change the world!

Community Acupuncture is more than a better way of delivering acupuncture it is an example of social medicine and how when people work together it can be better for everyone. CA is often referred to as Working Class Acupuncture and it refers to the first clinic founded in 2002 in Portland, Oregon.

They asked the question “What are the barriers to people getting acupuncture? How can Acupuncturists make a sustainable income treating more people?”  Since then this model has spread to around 300 clinics in US and Canada. Vancouver alone has as many as seven in a quick google search. One US study states that the popularity of CA is mainly due to the low­ cost treatments and because so many people do not have health insurance (Chao, Tippens, & Connelly, 2012).

Looking Closer at the data the demographics tend to be a younger people who are of non-ethnic and born in Canada or the US. CA appeals to educated working class people who are aware of the health benefits and the normally high cost of alternative medicine. These community-minded people help drive the popularity of CA clinics that rely heavily on word of mouth to continue and require larger numbers of clients because of the lower price. It is a responsibility of the clients to give back in some way to the clinic to help support the community and continue the practice.

But what about one on one sessions?

I have started asking clients if they still love one on one sessions and they say they do but the community acupuncture seems to be more enjoyable and they feel less apprehensive with other people around. If it is quiet and they make an appointment often special extras like gua sha and moxibustion are added. If needed, clients will be placed on a private table for back points or cupping if need be.

It does not follow common sense that a community treatment should be better, but surprisingly they often are, and now we know the evidence as to why.

I hope this convinces anyone of the validity and economic and social value of Community Acupuncture. As an acupuncturist, I am so proud to be able to offer the highest quality service in a way that is barrier-free and available to all. Please come and come often and bring your friends I will do my best to help you feel your best!


Chao, M. T., Tippens, K. M., & Connelly, E. (2012). Utilization of Group­Based, Community Acupuncture Clinics: A Comparative Study with a Nationally Representative Sample of Acupuncture Users. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 18 (6), 561­566.

MacPherson H, Maschino AC, Lewith G, et al.(2013) Characteristics of Acupuncture Treatment Associated with Outcome: An Individual Patient Meta­Analysis of 17,922 Patients with Chronic Pain in Randomised Controlled Trials . Eldabe S, ed. PLoS ONE. 8(10):e77438.

White, A., Cummings, M., Barlas, P., Cardini, F., Filshie, J., Foster, N. E., . . . Witt, C. (2008). Defining an adequate dose of acupuncture using a neurophysiological approach ­ a narrative review of the literature. Acupuncture in Medicine, 26 (2), 111­120.