Needle Relief

Natural Alternative Tortoise Clinic owner and doctor of oriental medicine Drew Smith inserts tiny needles into a patient’s skin for back pain relief. Photo by Scott Holstein
Needle ReliefAcupuncture, a Drug-free Alternative for Pain Management, Has Been Around for Centuries. Is It a Valid Therapy? And Is It Right for You?

By Jessica Maraman

Acupuncture. The term reminds many people of their first dreaded experiences with another kind of needle — the kind used in childhood vaccinations, which were likely painful and more than a little frightening. So when considering the notion that needles can decrease or eliminate virtually any ailment, those same people often are skeptical.

However, although childhood fears may have created boundaries in their knowledge of medicine and wellness, many people eventually do find themselves exposed and enlightened to the world of Chinese medicine — and more specifically acupuncture. The verdict: It’s not about pain.

After 5,000 years, how has this ancient Chinese practice managed to outlive centuries of ideologies and medical theories? The answer lies in the deep, intricate web of metaphors, balance, wisdom, and the consistency of the human body. Acupuncture is not only a natural healer; it’s a phenomenon in the world of technical and sophisticated medicines. Somehow, after thousands of years, this ancient doctrine has integrated itself into our everyday lives and continues to grow among generations of open-minded and ailing individuals.

Considered a “new alternative” medicine, acupuncture is believed to be effective because it naturally stimulates the nervous system and chemicals in the brain. Advocates say that the body’s energy or life force, called qi (pronounced “chee”), can be affected and balanced based on high and low concentrations, which are more commonly referred to as yin and yang. The theory states that the mind, the body, and the universal forces of yin and yang work collaboratively to keep a continual balance.

A key tenet of Chinese medicine is that the body contains numerous points along a “meridian” in which energy is released. Acupuncture, then, helps to maintain the balance and flow of that energy within the body.

Tiny needles are inserted into the skin along these various points to treat health issues such as cardiovascular disorders, neurological and psychological disorders, respiratory system disorders, and any disorder of the eye, ear, nose or mouth. In addition, herbal supplements are often provided to further bring the body back into balance and alignment.

Drew Smith, doctor of oriental medicine at the Tortoise Clinic in Destin, which is the oldest Chinese medicine and herbal facility in Northwest Florida, explains that acupuncture is about the relationships and tendencies of the body.

“There is never a separation between the mind and the body,” he says. “It is a continuous flow of energy in which acupuncture simply points the body in the direction that it already wants to go.”

According to Smith, major ailments respond well to Western medicines, but there is a need to combine both Eastern and Western practices for optimum health.

“Acupuncture has different terminology, but it is based on natural terms, not biomedical terms,” he says. Based solely on natural causes and cures, acupuncture, combined with herbal supplements, offers patients a natural pathway to wellness and wellbeing.

Martha Kay, a patient of Smith’s, vows that acupuncture has become a major part of her overall wellness, treating everything from major knee pain to sprained ankles and toes.

“Acupuncture has definitely kept me from having surgery, but I believe that repetition is key to feeling better and staying better over a long period of time,” she says.

Dr. Stephen Henry, of Henry Chiropractic Clinic in Destin, says that 10 percent of his customers come in for acupuncture.

“I can see that people are now taking more responsibility for their health,” he says. “They are more aware of what their body is saying, and they are paying attention. Because of the instant result of acupuncture, with no sign of side effects, military groups are working to bring in more acupuncture specialists for use in combat. It’s a fast and effective way to alleviate pain or stress without the side effects that regular medicine could have. It’s a fascinating new wave in the military medical field.”

Dr. Paul McLeod, regional campus dean at the Florida State University Regional Medical School campus in Pensacola, says there is no doubt that acupuncture works on some patients.

Such was the case with Frank (some last names are being withheld to protect patients’ privacy), a Santa Rosa Beach resident, who was diagnosed with hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver. Told by his medical doctor that his liver would only last another two years, Frank refused to undergo transplant surgery and sought the expertise of Smith at Destin’s Tortoise Clinic. Astonished at the results, he has never looked back.
“My future looked grim before I started with Chinese medicine,” he says. “I was tired, weak, and had flu-like symptoms. Dr. Smith gave me hope.”

Given about two years to live by his physician, Frank says that acupuncture has kept him alive four and a half years longer than what was originally expected, with absolutely no side effects.

“I feel like a completely different person, and my doctor said it’s a miracle,” he says.

Most medically trained professionals find it difficult to accept the legitimacy of acupuncture. However, when Mary, a nurse from Alabama found that her lymphoma would soon require her to undergo chemotherapy, she took the word of her friend and gave it another look.

“I have been absolutely astounded,” she says. “After the first six months of acupuncture treatments and herbal tea, my IgM number (which measures the amount of natural antibodies in the blood) dropped 500 points. After another six months, it lowered an additional 700 points. Being a nurse, I have seen it all — and this is fantastic!”

“There is definitely something to it,” says Florida State’s McLeod. “Traditional medical doctors cannot explain it, but is doesn’t change the fact that there are patients who see results.”

Duly noted. In the world of bigger, better, newer and more convenient, one must question the validity of a form of medicine that is so ancient and at the same time so modern. When it comes to wellness of the mind, body and soul, there is something to be said for centuries of studied and practiced Chinese medicine. For many, it’s a simple choice: Be healthy, be well, be natural.