Acupuncture Takes the Ouch Out of Most Pain, Ailments

Mary C.* is reclining in a cool, dimmed room at The Spa at St. Dominic’s. Her hands and feet are propped on soft cushions. Soft, relaxing music is playing quietly in the background as she closes her eyes. The headache that plagued her all day is slowly dissipating as she drifts into a relaxed state.

Those viewing this idyllic scene would likely find it hard to believe that just moments before, licensed acupuncturist Dennis Holmes, MSOM, LAc, inserted several needles into Mary C.’s hands, feet and temple. Following the insertion of the hair-thin needles, the memory of the slight twinges quickly disappeared along with her headache.

"I felt some tiny pricks as the needles went in, but only for a few minutes," she said. "I've tried many other treatments and medications to treat my migraines, but nothing has helped me like acupuncture."

The slight discomfort from the needles is hardly comparable to the pain that brought Mary C. to St. Dominic’s Spa for treatment. As an administrative assistant for a local company, she spends long hours working at her computer. This fact, along with other triggers such as lack of sleep and a change in her routine, often leaves her with agonizing pain on one side of her head, a common side effect of migraines.

When it comes to most of her medical care, Mary C. prefers a combination of drugs and other conventional treatments, but nothing she's found alleviates migraine pain better than acupuncture. 

"Western medicine may not totally approve of acupuncture,” she said, "but acupuncture really works. Best of all, I don’t have to take a pill every day."

Numerous medical studies have confirmed this judgment, and it's now widely accepted in medical circles that acupuncture is an effective treatment for most types of pain.  “In the U.S. and many countries around the world, acupuncture is increasingly becoming another tool, along with medications and therapies, that is being used to successfully treat a variety of ailments,” said Holmes. “Most problems can be successfully treated in 25 minutes or so, while some require follow-up treatments. But in most cases, it does resolve the problem.”

Back pain is the number one problem Holmes treats, followed by neck and shoulder pain and other problems associated with the sciatic nerve. Headaches, stress and anxiety are also common ailments that cause patients to seek acupuncture treatment, he said.

Traditional Chinese medicine believes acupuncture helps to smooth the flow of the life force, or qi, through the body along 14 major pathways, or "meridians." According to this theory, pain is the result of blocked qi in one or more meridians.

"Sometimes when pain sets in an area of the body it’s because blood is not flowing as it should; things have become stagnant," said Holmes. "At the very least, pain can set in and at the very worst, disease can occur. By inserting the needles, we are able to get things flowing and moving as they should."

Holmes, one of only four licensed acupuncturists in Mississippi said the "acupoints" highlighted by the meridian map of the body seems to be the most effective places to apply needles.

For those suffering from stress, anxiety and other mental health issues, acupuncture has proven to be effective in triggering the release of endorphins and other pain-blocking chemicals.

US scientists who've applied brain scans to acupuncture patients have been able to observe that the needles stimulate those parts of the brain involved in pain perception.  Due to these studies showing the overwhelmingly positive benefits of acupuncture, many hospitals and pain-treatment clinics now include acupuncture as a standard regimen.

On March 26, 2009, Governor Haley Barbour signed into law HB 458, Mississippi’s initial licensure law for acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Mississippi was the forty-fourth state to license and regulate the practice of acupuncture in the US.

One of the clearest signs acupuncture is becoming accepted in Western medicine is that it's being used to cut healthcare costs. Even though acupuncture treatments sometimes extend over many weeks, they're often cheaper than drug regimens, Holmes said.

Hospitals such as St. Dominic’s are realizing the benefits of offering acupuncture as a viable alternative to more costly treatment regimes. St. Dominic’s physicians have been quick to embrace the practice that can augment, and in some cases, serve as a necessary supplement to their medical practice.

"Acupuncture is being used in almost every specialty area, including heart surgery, neurology and mental health," said Holmes. "As long as it has no side effects for their patients, they are willing to prescribe it. For the art of medicine, that's as good as it gets."

For more information about acupuncture at The Spa at St. Dominic’s, which requires a physician prescription, patients are urged to contact their primary physician or contact Holmes at The Spa at St. Dominic’s at 601-200-5961. The initial visit will include a short consultation and  treatment usually takes a minimum of 25 minutes.

*Mary C., a pseudonym of an actual patient undergoing acupuncture, approved the release of her story.