Ancient art is now more accepted by health providers
By Erinn Hutkin, Special to U-T San Diego | 6 p.m. Sept. 23, 2014
The ancient art of acupuncture is becoming more common locally and nationally, but some people are hesitant to try it, often because they are either are afraid of needles or they don’t believe it works.
But Gerald Williams, clinical director and founder of San Diego’s Wellness Institute of America, said not all acupuncture — including that offered at his practices — involves needles. And, studies have shown that acupuncture can truly help people manage chronic disease and pain.
Williams said acupuncture first evolved in China as “the original people’s medicine” roughly 8,000 years ago. Through observation, trial and error, it was discovered that both humans and animals have the ability to heal and repair themselves. He said there are over 2,000 specific locations on the body that when precisely stimulated, trigger the body to accelerate self-healing.
He likens the process to a computer keyboard: When an engineer types in code, the computer receives information and implements commands. Acupuncture, he said, is exactly the same. Needles are inserted just below the skin in the correct combination to send a signal to the body to begin self-healing and repair.
The effect is improved blood flow to affected organs, glands and tissues so that, “much like returning water to a plant that has been starved of essential fluids,” the body can begin healing, said Williams.
He added that acupuncture can be used to treat any condition that’s not life-threatening and that has not progressed beyond the body’s ability to selfheal.
Nicole Murray, owner of Community Acupuncture, a San Diego clinic that provides more than 10,000 treatments per year, said acupuncture can be used to treat everything from migraines to sprains to tendinitis to fertility issues.
For instance, she said studies have shown anywhere from a 40 to 91 percent increase in success rates among fertility patients who received acupuncture in addition to traditional Western medical practices.
Although acupuncture has been around for centuries, she said it got attention in the West after President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972 and observed patients receiving acupuncture. A New York Times reporter who was with the President in China had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. The reporter received acupuncture for postoperative pain and published his story in the Times.
Murray said she’s “witnessed a sea of change in acceptance of acupuncture” among traditional medical doctors in the past five years.
“We have numerous doctors referring their patients to our clinic,” she said.
She said one person — an internal medicine practitioner — was a patient at her clinic and was so pleased with his own results that he now advises patients to try acupuncture alongside conventional therapy.
“As acupuncture gains a foothold among people wanting natural relief and finding it … they are reporting positive results to their doctors,” she said. “After they hear it often enough, these practitioners are increasingly advising their patients to give acupuncture a try.”
In addition, she said there have been several studies in recent decades validating acupuncture’s results from a Western point of view.
A 2012 study funded by the National Institutes of Health, for instance, showed that acupuncture helped about half of the people studied who were suffering from osteoarthritis, migraines or chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. However, the NIH also says while research suggests that acupuncture can help manage certain pain conditions, evidence about its value for other health issues is uncertain.
However, many people find it helpful and relaxing. Murray said patients sometimes fall asleep during acupuncture because it is so relaxing. Acupuncture can have negative side effects, too, such as slight pain or discomfort at the insertion site, bruising, dizziness and numbness or tingling near the needling site.
But there are also side effects that are positive. Murray said some people often report improved sleep or digestion, or an overall calmer state.
“This reinforces the point that we don’t treat symptoms, we treat people,” she said. “Acupuncture doesn’t ‘cure’ people, it puts them in a better state of balance, working toward homeostasis, meaning the body cures itself.”
Williams said the length of time acupuncture takes to work depends on the severity and length of time the person has been suffering. As a result, recovery can be anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
“It is vital that people understand that when they come to see their doctor suffering with a symptom … that the symptom is not the problem,” he said. “It is merely the ‘check engine light of the body.’ The real problem is what is causing the ‘check engine’ light to go on.”
When it comes to finding an acupuncture provider, Murray said experience is essential. She said potential patients should find out if they’ve treated others suffering from similar complaints. By working as partners, she said good results can follow.
“Acupuncture’s strength is in our holistic approach in bringing the body into a better overall condition,” she said, “and improving overall quality of life.”