Ihave been practicing acupuncture for almost 40 years. When I first started out, I was faced with a patient, Claire, who had experienced paralysis of her stomach while serving overseas in the army. I was just fresh off my studies and really had no clue if I could help her. I didn’t even know what acupuncture was capable of, if anything. There was no insurance back then, and I hated to commit her to several hundred dollars’ worth of treatment with no clue if I could help her.
Claire had dropped from a muscular 165 pounds to 95 pounds over the five months. She could not eat anything solid and had resorted to sucking on wet sponges for nourishment. She was scheduled in two weeks for a gastric feeding tube to help keep her alive. My hesitation to take her case, knowing that I had only two weeks to show some type of progress before her surgery, must have shown through. Claire and her husband, grasping each other’s hands as they sat across from me, said that I was their “Obi Wan Kenobi” and I was their only hope.
I began treating her daily, and after five days, her husband reported she was sipping broth. Another five days of treatment and she was cautiously able to handle thicker soup and smoothies. Her physician canceled the surgery, and she progressed from there and, finally, began to reverse her drastic weight loss. From that day on, I’ve been a firm believer in acupuncture’s healing potential.
After practicing acupuncture/acupressure for decades, I can now draw on that experience to give some examples of when it is most effective. Here are six conditions that are worth giving acupuncture a chance to help:
Migraine-type headaches are disabling and can put a patient down for the count until they pass. Many patients suffer several episodes a week or month that drastically cut into their ability to function.
Acupuncture for migraines has a soothing effect. It brings a sense of relaxation and tranquility that allows the spasming blood vessels in the head and neck to relax. Many patients are able to combine acupuncture with their regular medical regimes to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. A good acupuncturist will also recommend nutritional and dietary changes to further facilitate migraine control.
Chronic pain after surgery
Many patients develop chronic pain years after spinal or joint surgery. Many times, this is due to adhesions and scar tissue development in the area. A specialized type of medical acupuncture termed microstim acupuncture places typical acupuncture needles in the area of complaint and then attaches a micro-stimulator device to the needles, which provides a light current. The body is able to use this outside energy to create a healing effect.
Before this technique became widespread, many patients were forced to turn to opioids for chronic pain relief. Even the Veterans Administration has embraced this form of treatment for their chronic pain patients. Veterans are eligible for 100% coverage for acupuncture treatments.
Anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression are tricky conditions to treat. Medications are helpful, but they can take months to become effective. Medications also frequently have side effects, and some patients find them difficult to take long term.
Research has found that acupuncture can be very helpful in treating symptoms of acute anxiety and depression. Indeed, many patients report feeling a state of increased relaxation and tranquility after just a few treatments.
More research is coming out every day. For instance, in a study published online in October 2013 in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, students who underwent a 20-minute acupuncture session were found to have less anxiety and better memory immediately afterward than those who didn't have acupuncture.
With its absence of side effects and its relatively quick action, acupuncture can be a powerful tool in the management of anxiety and depression. It should be noted that even with a good result, patients on medication for anxiety and depression should never abruptly stop taking their medication. Any change should be slow and under the direction of the prescribing physician.
Fibromyalgia or any general pain
Fibromyalgia is generally described as chronic pain all over the body, especially in the larger muscle groups. No definitive cause has been established, and, indeed, until recently the pain was thought to be “all in the patients’ head.”
While we still don’t understand the full underlying mechanism of fibromyalgia, it seems to be related to brain chemistry. For some unknown reason, the pain receptors in the brain lower their triggering threshold and create a chronic feeling of major discomfort.
Interestingly enough, studies have detected changes in the neurotransmitters of the brain following an acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture has been demonstrated to relieve pain symptoms caused by fibromyalgia. In a recent study performed by the Mayo Clinic, fibromyalgia acupuncture treatment was shown to reduce pain and depression. A side benefit was that this same acupuncture treatment also increased the patients energy level and reduced their overall fatigue.
There have been many studies demonstrating acupuncture helping couples conceive. Our office has assisted many couples undergoing IVF procedures with significant positive results. Acupuncture can also help increase the likelihood of natural conception. We manage treatment for both the male and female to bring about a favorable result. Many mechanisms in the body must be in perfect harmony to bring about a healthy pregnancy. Acupuncture can help facilitate this orchestra of events to result in a happy bundle of joy.
Smoking, food cravings, and other addictions
An addiction is an addiction, whether it be to nicotine, food, or some other chemical. Each addiction triggers endorphins in the brain, which brings on a sense of happiness. Acupuncture treatments have also been shown to release brain endorphins and mimic this effect. Acupuncture treatments may slowly allow the withdrawal of the addictive substance and dependence on it.
It should be noted that as powerful as acupuncture treatments are, they are not a magic wand. They are another tool in the toolbox for pain control. Acupuncture is a safe and effective tool.
Many different types of doctors practice acupuncture today, from Chiropractors to medical physicians. If interested, find one near you and ask for a free consultation. Many will happily discuss your health needs and provide guidance as to what your expectations should be.
Dr. Schwan is available to speak to your group on a wide variety of alternative medicine topics, including chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, vitamins, etc. He is a graduate of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture & Palmer College of Chiropractic and president of Schwan Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic in Toledo, Ohio. He is an author, lecturer, and one-time stand-up comedian. For more information on alternative medicine, please visit his website at www.acupuncturetoledo.com.