Pins and Needles
To cure what ails you
By Holli Moncrieff
Acupuncture is one of the world’s oldest healing arts. The Chinese have been using acupuncture to treat a variety of ailments for at least 2,000 years, although some claim it has been practiced for 4,000.
Acupuncturists believe that the insertion of very fine needles into specific points, known as “acupoints,” on the body regulates the flow of “qi,” your body’s vital energy.
Dr. Priscilla Kerr of the Prairie Medical Acupuncture Clinic explains that everyone is made up of two different types of energy—yin and yang.
“The balance between the two is going to make you either sick or healthy,” she says. “Acupuncture can change the movement of energy between these opposing forces. It’s one tool of traditional Chinese medicine.”
How effective is acupuncture?
There have been many conflicting studies and reports on the effectiveness of acupuncture. While some scientists are convinced it works, others say the results are not consistent.
“Some people think acupuncture is a placebo, but there’s been plenty of evidence that it is not,” says Dr. Kerr. “It works 75 per cent of the time. That would be an amazing placebo.”
Rebecca Sprintz of the Family Acupuncture Wellness Clinic initially turned to acupuncture out of desperation. Crippling digestive issues had her doctors stumped. They finally told her there was nothing more they could do for her.
Sprintz decided to become a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncturist.
“I treated myself and my issues are gone,” she says. “Acupuncture is another country’s form of medicine. It’s the medicine China uses and with all their advances, it’s the medicine China continues to use. You could choose not to believe in gravity, but your feet would still be on the ground.”
The effectiveness of acupuncture treatments depends on the condition and the patient’s willingness to follow instructions—such as diet suggestions and returning for follow-up treatments as needed. Most people require between two and six treatments, Sprintz says.
“The proof is there, but people don’t necessarily want to do the work,” she adds. “Some people try to find excuses to not get better. They get comfortable with their own ill health.”
During her six years in practice, the only condition she’s had issues treating has been psoriasis.
What can be treated with acupuncture?
Almost anything can be treated with acupuncture, including
- gastro-intestinal disorders, such as ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, IBS
- facial palsy
- migraine headaches
- tennis elbow
- frozen shoulder
- muscle pain
- panic attacks
- fertility issues
Dr. Kerr has found acupuncture eases the suffering of patients going through chemotherapy, and can reduce or eliminate their nausea.
Acupuncture can also eliminate symptoms associated with pregnancy or menopause, says Sprintz.
“Chinese medicine views menopause as a natural stage in our lives, so we don’t try to trick the body, just help it adjust to menopause with ease,” she explains. “I haven’t been unsuccessful treating menopause yet. I’ve got many women off estrogen.”
Acupuncture and fertility
Dr. Kerr and Sprintz have found acupuncture to be extremely effective in treating fertility issues.
Sprintz says that the key is treating the underlying causes of infertility, which can include abnormalities in the uterine lining, endometriosis, hormones, and stress. TCM acupuncturists can determine the cause after briefly examining the patient—which often means looking at her tongue!
“Yesterday alone I had five pregnancy announcements from my patients,” she says. “Once we address the underlying cause of their infertility, they get pregnant.”
Dr. Kerr says that acupuncture can improve a woman’s chances of getting pregnant by 25 to 60 per cent.
Over 100 of her patients who were diagnosed as infertile have had children after her treatments, and she says 35 more are in the second and third trimester of their pregnancies.
“It’s really, really effective. They had no hope other than IVF (in-vitro fertilization) but they were treated with acupuncture only and got pregnant naturally,” she says.
Does acupuncture hurt?
Both Dr. Kerr and Sprintz agree that acupuncture should never be painful. While many people flinch at the idea of needles, acupuncture needles are just a little bit thicker than a hair.
“Acupuncture should not be painful. It should never burn,” says Sprintz. “I treat babies and they don’t cry. I’ve treated some patients for insomnia and they will fall asleep while I needle them.”
How much does acupuncture cost?
Manitoba Health does not cover acupuncture. Some insurance companies do cover it, but often the acupuncturist also needs to be a physiotherapist, chiropractor, or registered massage therapist. Unfortunately, the acupuncturists with the most training are often not covered by insurance companies.
MPI will cover acupuncture if it’s used to treat injuries or pain relating to a car accident or other related insurance claim.
Prices will vary by clinic. At the Family Acupuncture Wellness Clinic, the first consultation and treatment is $100, while follow-up treatments are $65.
“It’s not regulated in our city. It would be wonderful if it was,” Sprintz says. “Look for TCMs—traditional Chinese medicine acupuncturists. They are trained to look at the body as a whole rather than isolated symptoms.”
A minimum three years of schooling is required to become a TCM acupuncturist, four years for a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, and five years for a traditional Chinese doctor.