WHILE TRAINING FOR HIS FIRST MARATHON, Carl Arrington of Irvine, California, felt a sudden and excruciating pain in his neck.
A financial advisor and father of four, Arrington suspected that toting around his 9-month-old son might have contributed to the injury.
He saw a doctor, who ruled out a pinched nerve and sent him to a chiropractor. An x-ray showed nothing structurally wrong and the chiropractor made some adjustments. Yet the pain persisted.
At this point, a desperate Arrington turned to acupuncture. And on his fourth visit — after four weeks of unremitting pain — something radical happened. The acupuncturist wiggled a needle in his calf while massaging the painful muscle in his neck. The neck muscle began to relax and 45 seconds later it felt better.
“The next day, the pain was completely gone,” he says. “Literally gone.”
Arrington has been pain-free since September and recently completed his second marathon.
For the two million Americans treated annually with acupuncture, studies show that the practice affects the body in measurable ways — reducing blood pressure and increasing the circulation of endorphins, a natural pain-relieving chemical.
The National Institute of Health has approved acupuncture for certain kinds of nausea and pain as well as 11 other conditions, including addiction, asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, and menstrual cramps.
New studies are published each year, evaluating acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating everything from Parkinson’s disease to depression. And thousands of physicians have incorporated acupuncture into their practices. One of the country’s most prestigious training programs, UCLA’s medical school, has graduated 5,000 doctor-acupuncturists over the last two decades.
Acupuncture is based on the traditional Chinese teaching that energy, or qi (pronounced “chee”), courses through the body along channels called meridians. Illness occurs when that flow is disrupted. Scientists have identified some physiological mechanisms at work, and there’s evidence that the insertion of needles into designated acupuncture points speeds the conduction of electromagnetic signals within the body. These signals may increase the flow of endorphins and other pain-relieving chemicals, as well as immune system cells, which aid healing.
For the patients it has helped, “how” and “why” it works don’t matter as much as the fact that it does.
Nick McCarter, who heads his own government relations firm in Laguna Beach, Calif. suffered from allergies all his life. When he fell for a woman with two dogs, his problem escalated from annoyance to life crisis.
After just minutes at his girlfriend’s house, itchy eyes and other painful symptoms would set in, forcing him to flee.
An allergy doctor had him try Zyrtec pills, steroidal eye drops, and a prescription nasal spray. The medications quelled his symptoms, but left him with dry eyes, headaches, and intense drowsiness.
“I was a walking zombie,” he says.
His mother, a nurse, suggested he try acupuncture. McCarter began seeing an acupuncturist for 20-minute sessions every two weeks. He treated McCarter with needles in his face, shins, hands, chest, and other parts of his body.
Within a month, he was off his meds and sleeping over at her girlfriend’s. “I’ve had amazing results,” says McCarter, who has been allergy- and medication- free for more than two years. “I consider myself completely cured.”
Five years after a car accident, 55-year-old Cheryl Keegan lived with devastating shoulder and neck pain.
“It felt like an ice pick was pounding in my arm 100 times a day,” she says. “I had very little use of my left arm for anything. I couldn’t carry anything, even a light grocery bag.”
She tried physical therapy, chiropractic medicine, and usual pain management, including multiple shots of steroids into her spine — none of which provided relief. She was even scheduled to have spine surgery to improve her pain, but three days before her surgery, her insurance pulled coverage, and her operation was cancelled.
Little did she know that this was a blessing in disguise. She was referred to an acupuncturist.
“The only thing I had not tried was acupuncture,” she says. All it took was four sessions over a month and she was cured.
Many people will tell you that this ancient technique truly holds benefits for those suffering from certain forms of chronic pain.
In a review of 29 previous well-designed studies, which together looked at almost 18,000 patients, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found that acupuncture does, indeed, work for treating four chronic pain conditions: back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache and shoulder pain.
— California Business Journal