Choosing Acupuncture

Ta-Ya Lee, DNP, acupuncturist, Johns Hopkins Community Physicians
Acupuncture, the Chinese medical practice that treats illness through the insertion of needles at specific points in the body, has been shown to be as effective today as it was when it was introduced 5,000 years ago. But some patients are still leery about its effectiveness when compared with traditional Western medicine. Ta-Ya Lee, nurse practitioner at Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, shares her expertise about why acupuncture should be considered as an option for treatment.

How does acupuncture work when treating a patient?

By stimulating specific points on the body, most often by inserting thin metal needles through the skin, a practitioner seeks to remove blockage in the flow of qi, the Chinese medical term for a vital energy or life force. Qi circulates in the body through a system of pathways called meridians. Health is an ongoing process of maintaining balance and harmony in the circulation of qi.

 Who can perform acupuncture?

For the most part, only licensed acupuncturists can perform acupuncture. A few doctors with additional training in acupuncture can also provide acupuncture treatments. You can become a licensed acupuncturist by going to an acupuncture school and passing a national exam; however, Maryland is one of the few states without the requirement to pass a national exam. You just need to graduate from an accredited acupuncture school from Maryland.

 What are some common illnesses that acupuncture can help treat?

A few include back pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea, neck pain, headaches, menstrual cramps and osteoarthritis.

 Where do you place the needles?

I usually use a one-inch needle for the body, a half-inch needle for the face and ears, and a one- and-a half-inch needle for the abdominal area and for overweight patients. Where I place the needles may not have a direct relationship to where it hurts. I practice meridian-style acupuncture therapy, which means I follow the meridian pathway to place needles. For instance, I place needles on the feet or hands to treat migraine headaches, because those meridians flow up to head. Acupuncture treatments can therefore help the body's internal organs to correct imbalances in their digestion, absorption, energy production activities and in the circulation of their energy, through the meridians. 

 Are there any negative side effects to choosing acupuncture?

Sometimes it may cause bruising or bleeding.

 Does acupuncture hurt?

Not really. Most patients do not feel any discomfort, except on the points that are close to the bones.

 When should patients consider using it over “traditional medicine”?

Acupuncture treatments are minimally invasive and do not interfere with “traditional medicine” practices. Patients who have multiple physical discomforts and are unable to be relieved by traditional medicine are great candidates for acupuncture, especially when their conventional test results are normal but they still don’t feel well. It is also effective for patients who have acute or chronic pain and are unable to tolerate conventional pain medication.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }


Karen Oliva August 9, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Taya was my classmate in Acupuncture school. She is a very excellent practitioner and dedicated to bringing complementary medicine together with conventional western medicine.
Congratulations Taya!


Betty Gilman August 7, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I had acupuncture with Ta-Ya 4 years ago. It helped me manage the discomfort during the months leading up to my surgery for kyphoscoliosis. Ta-Ya was helpful, pleasant and very professional. I would recomment her service to anyone considering this alternative treatment.


Jeff Gould August 7, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Hi all,

In response to one of the questions, Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center ALSO offers Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, as does Ta-Ya Lee. Our office is at Green Spring Station. We do accept EHP.

I will not waste anyone's time responding to the point that acupuncture is dangerous and offers no benefit, but I will say that our office is currently involved in research on the effects of acupuncture in the treatment of gastroparesis as well as a second study on acupuncture to treat retinitis pigmentosa, which is being coordinated by a researcher at Wilmer Eye Institute. The findings of our preliminary investigation on retinitis pigmentosa are currently in press, but we are still collecting data on the gastroparesis study.

If you have questions regarding our services or research, we can be reached at 410-828-3585.


Latanya Brooks August 7, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Our Office is located at
1501 S. Clinton St. Suite 200
Baltimore, MD 21224
Office Hours are M, Tu, Th and Fri 8-5pm and Wed 11-7:30pm.
(First Mariner Bank Building)
2 hours of Free Parking is available on the Clinton Street Lot (ask our office for a parking voucher)


Aaron Keil August 7, 2013 at 11:29 am

To clarify, some physical therapists practice what is called Intramuscular Therapy or Dry Needling. This is not accupuncture. There is a growing body of literature on it's effectiveness (by altering the local chemical milieu: concentrations of bradykinin, substance P, tumor necrosis factor, interleukin-1, serotonin and norepinephrine)


Cristiana Camardella August 7, 2013 at 9:39 am

While I realize that there are still a lot of skeptics about acupuncture, there are also studies that show its usefulness (Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Individual Patient Data Meta-analysis, Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(19):1444-1453. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3654.)
Regarding the placebo effect: how would one explain its success on animals?
In China, acupuncturists go through 9 years of training, and, if I'm remembering correctly, are continuously going through re-certification. Acupuncture, as western medicine, is based on the skill of the practitioner, which is why it is important to find acupuncturists that have had extensive training and proper certification.


Steven Salzberg August 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm

I've seen the claims that acupuncture works on animals, and they are simply wrong. The only affect was on the pet owners, who believed that their animals benefitted. I've seen no evidence that animals benefit.
Pointing out that acupuncturists go through 9 years of training is a non-sequitur. So what if they spend many years learning pseudoscience? That doesn't make it science. E.g., you can memorize all the meridians you like, but that doesn't constitute evidence that they exist.
I have seen the Vickers meta-analysis you linked to, and it is a highly-biased, poorly done study. See this detailed critique for more about Vickers et al:
which shows that the studies they reviewed completely failed to use adequate blinding, making them methodologically unsound. (There are multiple other problems too.)
-Steven Salzberg


Sally Adams August 7, 2013 at 9:33 am

Hi, where do you practice? How do I reach your office?


Ta-Ya Lee August 7, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Our Office is located at
1501 S. Clinton St. Suite 200
Baltimore, MD 21224
Office Hours are M, Tu, Th and Fri 8-5pm and Wed 11-7:30pm.
(First Mariner Bank Building)
2 hours of Free Parking is available on the Clinton Street Lot (ask our office for a parking voucher)


Anna August 7, 2013 at 8:39 am

Where does Ta-Ya practice?


Ta-Ya Lee August 7, 2013 at 2:04 pm

JHCP at Canton Crossing
tel 410-522-9940
fax 410-522-9954


Steven Salzberg August 7, 2013 at 8:27 am

I'm very disappointed to see an uncritical piece like this appear on the JHU Medicine site. Acupuncture has failed every serious scientific test of its effectiveness. It is based on pre-scientific beliefs ("qi" and "meridians") that have no basis in biology or physiology, and that objective analysis shows do not even exist. It is not an effective treatment: the many studies comparing it to placebo consistently show that the entire effect is equivalent to placebo, at best. A treatment that fails to work better than placebo is no treatment at all. Many scientists (including me) have written extensively about acupuncture, explaining the lack of scientific evidence, but its proponents continue to make claims such as those here, which are not supported by evidence.

In addition, acupuncture carries a small risk of harm, primarily through infection. Offering a treatment with no benefit and some harm should be considered malpractice. I hope that no one at Hopkins reads this and decides that acupuncture is a worthwhile treatment.
Steven Salzberg, Ph.D.
Professor of Medicine, Biostatistics, and Computer Science


Morris Vatz August 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm

There are some health problems and syndromes that defy scientific explanation and some remedies that medicine cannot verify. Alternative treatments can be a life changing solution to a patient who suffers. Statistically acupuncture may not work but all that matters to the patient is if it works for them. Mark Twain had a perspective about statistics which is the same as your view of acupuncture.


Lauren M King August 7, 2013 at 7:54 am

How can I refer my patients to your service? Are you affiliated w/ Dr Lee's group at intergrative medicine?


Ta-Ya Lee August 7, 2013 at 2:03 pm

You can write a referral and fax to our office 410-522-9954. Our staff will verify your patients' benefit before making appointments.


Susan Reed August 7, 2013 at 7:25 am

How do I make an appointment for a treatment and how much does it cost if I have EHP insurance?


Ta-Ya Lee August 7, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Please call our office to make an appointment, 410-522-9940. We have to verify different types of EHP plans and provide detail information for you.


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