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Leimkuhler: Acupuncture as an alternative

My first experience with acupuncture began a decade ago when I sought treatment to heal a running-related case of plantar fasciitis. Afterward, I continued with regular acupuncture treatments to ease the pain in my knees, Achilles, hip, neck and lower back that was, for me, par for the course as a competitive triathlete.

Even now, though I am no longer regularly competing, I still seek acupuncture to prevent headaches, ease stress, and promote overall wellness.

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In my last column I wrote that, in December, at the conclusion of her fall cross country season, my 14-year-old daughter began experiencing bi-lateral knee pain. After six months of attempting to heal using “traditional” methods, the light bulb went off and we turned to acupuncture. After six treatment sessions, we are crossing our fingers and hoping for the best as she easing back into running, but given my own success with this form of alternative medicine, I wondered why I didn’t think of acupuncture sooner.

Apparently, I am not alone.

After reading my last column, a Reisterstown man wrote to share his experience, his words echoing my thoughts. He explained that his own daughter, 13, had been experiencing similar knee pain and, though his daughter had previously had positive results from acupuncture to treat an unrelated illness, their first course of action had been to visit an orthopedic doctor and pursue an MRI.

He wrote that, “perhaps because of our cultural predispositions, we were still inclined to try the traditional route first.”

I couldn’t agree more. And I can only hope that the pendulum will swing, and this cultural predisposition will change. But it will take time.

In my daughter’s situation, we pursued the traditional route first, in part, because one of her coaches encouraged it. But despite seeing no progress after six-months of traditional methods, her coach’s response to her receiving acupuncture was that it was impermanent, more like a Band Aid.

On this, I couldn’t agree less. In fact, research shows that in addition to being low risk and having few side effects, acupuncture offers positive, long-term effects for many people.

But it’s clear that not only will parents and practitioners need to lead the charge in changing these attitudes, but coaches will need to as well.

Though acupuncture is not for everyone, this ancient practice of Traditional Chinese medicine has been shown to effectively treat a variety of conditions.

According to hopkinsmedicine.org, National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies have shown that acupuncture is effective to treat nausea, post-surgical dental pain, addiction, headaches, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, and it may also help with stroke rehabilitation.

And while Americans tend to seek acupuncture primarily for the relief of chronic pain, acupuncture is also used in many parts of the world to treat a multitude of conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, infertility, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, sinusitis, sore throat, hepatitis, sciatica and bronchitis.

Most commonly, acupuncturists insert sterilized, hair-thin needles into several of the more than 2,000 points in the body that are connected by pathways — or meridians — that create an energy flow, or Qi (pronounced “chee”), that is responsible for overall health. Hopkinsmedicine.org notes that “disruption of the energy flow can cause disease” and that by “applying acupuncture to certain points, it is thought to improve the flow of Qi, thereby improving health.”

Acupuncture works by stimulating the central nervous system, which then releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord and brain.

“These biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being,” hopkinsmedicine.org explains.

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Most people report feeling minimal pain when the needle is inserted. According to hopkinsmedicine,org, “The needle is inserted to a point that produces a sensation of pressure or ache. Needles may be heated during the treatment or mild electric current may be applied to them. Some people report acupuncture makes them feel energized. Others say they feel relaxed.”

However, for those who are needle-adverse, acupuncturists can also use other forms of stimulation over the acupoints, such as heat, pressure, friction, suction (known as “cupping”) and electromagnetic energy impulses.

Overall, as more Americans seek healing approaches that treat the whole person instead of just a host of physical symptoms, holistic medicine treatments, including acupuncture, are on the rise.

According to amcollege.edu, researchers for a National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) concluded that more than 14 million U.S. citizens have used or tried acupuncture, a significant increase from the beginning of the five-year study period which found only 8.19 million U.S. acupuncture patients.

If you’re interested in holistic healing, but acupuncture is not for you, consider these alternative therapies instead: acupressure, aromatherapy, massage, craniosacral, Ayurvedic medicine, balneotherapy, biofeedback, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, reflexology, and reiki.

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