Special Report: On Pins And Needles

By: Lauren Zakalik Email
By: Lauren Zakalik Email

What if you could reduce the pain of a crippling migraine, a debilitating injury, even the discomfort of chemotherapy with the prick of a needle?

"A number of people are getting to the point where they're tired of pain management that involves medication and not actually restoring the body," says Shalena Havens, a licensed acupuncturist at Creative Wellness in East Lansing.

So they're turning to an ancient Chinese practice called acupuncture. Acupuncture is the insertion of thin, steel needles into your skin at precise points. It's something Havens practices on a growing number of people.

"Everyone can benefit from acupuncture-- stress reduction, migraines, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, alcohol withdrawal," she lists as a few reasons for the practice.

From weightloss to chronic back pain, Havens says she can insert needles in places that will stimulate and open up other parts of the body.

Sound mystical? It kind of is.

"How it works is still kind of an unknown," she says.

It may even be that mysterious element that's alluring so many. The National Institutes of Health show more than 4 million Americans are using acupuncture, and found it to be useful in reducing certain types of chronic discomfort.

"I was surprised by how quickly the pain went away," says Gale Strasburg, a man who first used acupuncture a few years ago for pain in his foot.

"After the first treatment, I noticed the pain associated with that was substantially reduced. After another treatment, it had essentially gone away," he says.

Since then, he's used it for shoulder pain, stress, even infertility-- all with positive outcomes.

"I'd say give it a try," he says.

So this reporter did. Havens inserted the hair-thin needles into my skin-- as she would with any patient-- and let the healing process begin.

If you're worried about the pain associated with acupuncture, this reporter can tell you firsthand you can barely feel anything at all. And Havens say pain is the biggest concern people have when it comes to doing acupuncture.

"I tell people you feel the sensation of the needle going through the skin and nerve endings. After that, it's pretty relaxing," Havens says.

But this practice isn't embraced by everyone.

"I'm sure there's a hardcore M.D. who says they don't ever think about it," says Dr. Ruth Yoon, D.O., a local family physician.

With that said, Dr. Yoon finds it especially helpful for some of her patients.

"People who don't respond to conventional treatment or maybe some people right away from the beginning want to do more holistic rather than pills," she says.

"Acupuncture's not for everybody. It can be really profound for some people; it can have no effect on others. It depends on how much you're willing to trust and to try something different," Havens says.

Because for some, the slight pain of a needle prick is worth much more than the chronic pain they deal with daily.

Not every insurance company covers acupuncture, so be sure to call your insurance company before going. Clinics like Creative Wellness do offer acupuncture in a group setting for a smaller price of $17 a session.


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