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The art of acupuncture
By Sandy McCollum

Acupuncture. It's a Chinese practice dating back at least 2,500 years. In the past 30 years, it has been finding its way into the medical mainstream. Millions of Americans have tried it. In the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, (the latest available), 8.2 million U.S. adults have reported making use of the technique at least once.

"As part of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture aims to restore and maintain health through the stimulation of specific points on the body," according to the National Institutes for Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The treatment most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles (about the diameter of a thick human hair) manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.  

"Many times patients don't even know when the needle is going in," says Lou DiStasio, a licensed chiropractor and acupuncturist, owner of the Acupuncture and Chiropractic Center in Springfield.

No more talk about needles

If you're still reading, if the repeated use of the word "needles" hasn't forced you to turn the page, you're in luck. The rest of the article talks about the benefits of acupuncture treatment, not the actual process.

The first phone call is usually because someone is in pain

The most common reason for someone to call an acupuncture practitioner is pain. Often for the first phone call, the patient has tried everything else.

The theories of acupuncture developed thousands of years ago through observations of conditions. It is compared to the movement of water in a stream. When a blockage occurs, water stops flowing; it overflows the stream banks, and diverges into different channels and makes the ground soggy.

"Acupuncture's goal is to 're-program' areas of the body where the flow of energy is blocked," says Jim Sullivan, licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist on staff at Prairie Heart Institute's Center for Living.

Treatment starts with a thorough patient history including medical history, medications and supplements, diet, exercise - and discussions of social or environmental stresses that could aggravate the symptoms.

Pain itself is a stress on the body that can easily trigger a cascading set of reactions.

Pain causes emotional stress, interferes with movement and sleep. When it's painful to move, it's easy to gain weight because you're not burning the calories you normally would.

So treatment starts with a patient history to discover the physical and social causes of the problem. The physical exam may include checking your tongue and pulse. It's all part of developing an individual treatment plan.

"There is a basic balance that needs to be supported and maintained in the body that helps maintain energy. Emotional stress is a significant contributor to energy imbalance and disease, that's recognized in Oriental medicine," DiStasio says.

"Stress is a foundational issue; it's not just mentioned in passing. It's taken seriously. The effects of stress disrupt the flow of energy circulation in the body and will create issues of stagnation."

Treatment can take longer

if it's not started early

While people most often seek out acupuncture to treat pain after trying everything else has been tried, Sullivan suggests making it the first thing you try rather than the last resort.

"Don't let the disease become more entrenched," he says.

Often chronic pain itself can trigger problems. It can interfere with sleep. Other muscles can be used to avoid triggering the pain in the hurt area. Stress is added, and blood pressure goes up.  

"When a patient comes in, I look at the whole patient," DiStasio says.

"I have to understand what their energy is, what they're doing to support their energy, what stresses have been contributed to the imbalance. If someone has had an injury, 20-30 years ago, abandoned their exercise program and gained weight, it becomes a multi-faceted problem. Issues can become more complicated; the longer the problem exists, the more issues will come into play."  

While acupuncture has been used effectively to treat a wide variety of symptoms, it won't treat everything or everyone.

What does it treat, what can't it treat?

"If I get a call about an unusual request, my receptionist will talk with me and I will find out if I can help the patient," DiStasio says.

"Will I use it to treat cancer? No. Will it regrow limbs? No."

In addition to effectively treating pain, DiStasio has had success treating migraine, symptoms of menopause and infertility.

DiStasio says the study of Oriental medicine has answered many questions for him about how our bodies work and why we get sick.

It offers a different understanding than that taught by Western medical practice and opens up a world of possibility for relieving conditions.

But, like Western medical treatments and medications, acupuncture doesn't work for everyone.

"About a third of the people respond well, a third respond in an average way, and a third respond less well," according to Sullivan. How does he know when someone responds well?

"I have a woman in the top 10 percent of patient responses," Sullivan says.

He treated her for a rash, which disappeared in a day.

Within a day, colds, stomach pain that lingered for a week and numerous other symptoms were treated successfully. The woman asked Sullivan if she could have acupuncture for labor and delivery of her baby. Sullivan was thrilled to be asked. He had read up on the subject, but this was his first time he's been asked to perform it.

It went very well, according to Sullivan. "Her water broke and two hours later, there was a beautiful baby." he says.  

Should you try it?

Is acupuncture for you, for your family? Sullivan says since the day he began work at Prairie Heart's Center for Living, the practice just keeps growing.

He envisions a day when hospitals could have an entire acupuncture department.

For now, he urges patients to consider the benefits of early acupuncture treatment.

"It's about choice and prevention. Choose what works for you. You can say 'I want to be treated in this way because this is my belief system,'" Sullivan says. 



What can acupuncture treat?

The World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture's ability to treat more than 200 clinical disorders. They include:

* Disorders of muscles, joints, bones and nervous system such as arthritis, neuralgia, migraine headaches, insomnia, dizziness, sciatica and back, neck and shoulder pain.

* Gastrointestinal disorders such as food allergies, peptic ulcer, constipation, chronic diarrhea, indigestion, anorexia, gastritis and irritable bowel syndrome.

* Urogenital disorders such as irregular, heavy or painful menstruation, infertility and premenstrual syndrome.

* Respiratory disorders such as emphysema, sinusitis, asthma, allergies and bronchitis.

* Circulatory disorders such as hypertension, angina and arteriosclerosis.

* Psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety.

* Addictions to alcohol, nicotine and drugs.

* Eye, ear, nose and throat disorders.

* Chronic pain disorders.

* Stress-related disorders such as overeating, nervous tension and pain-related problems exacerbated by stress.




Story published Friday, December 5, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 7 )

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