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Examining the finer points of acupuncture

By Jane Glenn Haas

Orange County (Calif.) Register

Acupuncture works for me.

The treatment in which a trained and licensed practitioner sticks needles about my body has been practiced for centuries in Asia. It is used to treat most pain conditions, including lower back pain, shingles and other nerve pain, hand and knee pain, headaches, fibromyalgia and menstrual pain.

Official research on the effectiveness of acupuncture produces mixed results, according to the Harvard Healthbeat newsletter.

But my experience has been positive, although I would caution that results might take as many as 12 treatments.

Traditional Chinese acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely fine needles into the skin at specific "acupoints" along the body's meridians. This action can result in pain relief by releasing endorphins, the body's natural painkilling chemicals, and might affect the part of the brain that governs serotonin levels, the brain transmitter involved with mood, the Harvard newsletter says.

Edward Lamadrid, a doctor of acupuncture and founder of Integrative Health Studio in Chicago, has spent three decades studying alternative and complementary medicine. He is more direct.

The first thing to know about acupuncture is that it is not painful, he says. "The needle is so fine and thin, it parts but does not puncture like a shot needle does," he says. "Acupuncture can actually be very relaxing." Here Lamadrid answers some commonly asked questions.

When I have a treatment, the practitioner attaches electrical stimulation to the needles and leaves me for half an hour. I usually sleep deeply. Why is that?

That indicates the treatment is working. The rationale behind acupuncture is that stagnation creates the pain — through a slowdown of the chi or energy.

First the doctor overlays a meridian system on the body and primarily uses that system as the highway. There's a light out, a traffic jam if you will, and you may be asked to point to where the pain exists.

An acupuncturist typically inserts four to 10 needles and leaves them in place about 30 minutes.

Chinese or Oriental medicine is known for pain relief, but there's actually more to it. We are working on the core energy system. Western medicine just treats the physical system.

What do your patients tell you about their treatment?

Many say it is good for more than pain. A lot of them say they feel like they have had an hour's massage. I want your entire body to feel better. That's the point of holistic medicine.

To me, it is all related — from shoulder pain to digestion, for example. Western medicine is very compartmentalized by comparison.

This is an out-of-pocket treatment for most patients, right?

Some insurance plans cover acupuncture. Medicare does not.

What's the best way to locate a good practitioner?

Same as for any health professional: word of mouth. You can't learn acupuncture in a weekend. It is a four-year study program before state board licensing.

Examining the finer points of acupuncture 05/18/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 18, 2012 5:30am]

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