Meridians. Qi. Palpations. Hair-thin needles. The vocabulary and instruments of acupuncture may seem as mysterious as its Eastern origins. Yet this form of complementary medicine is becoming widely accepted as an effective treatment for many modern day ailments.
“Thousands of years before the development of x-rays and microscopes, Chinese physicians mapped out internal functions of the body through observations they made in the course of treating their patients,” explains David Mercier, clinical acupuncture specialist at Shore Health System’s Center for Integrative Medicine. “They observed changes in skin color, the tongue body and its coating, and developed an intricate form of pulse assessments which provide important clues about a person’s condition.”
Mercier and the other acupuncturists at the Center for Integrative Medicine see clients for complaints that include back pain, fibromyalgia, women’s reproductive disorders and fatigue “Acupuncture can improve mood, and help people feel more focused, more energetic, and less fatigued,” Mercier says. “Many patients continue treatments years after their symptoms are gone in order to stay healthy.”
Mercier reports that over 12,000 research studies on acupuncture have been published so far, and many of them have shown promising results. The National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization have long endorsed the validity of this method of treatment.
An acupuncture session begins with the palpation or reading of an individual’s pulses. Using a light fingertip touch, the acupuncturist feels the twelve different pulses, six in each wrist. “When the patient comes in, the pulses may be low and weak,” explains Mercier. “What I feel in the pulses gives me information about the person’s overall health and indicates where I need to focus during a treatment.”
On occasion, the acupuncture needles are a concern for the new acupuncture client. Mercier readily shows a nervous patient how thin and flexible the needles are and demonstrates how shallowly they are inserted during a treatment.
“Some people don’t feel the needles at all; others just feel a little tingling,” Mercier says. “Although it can be uncomfortable for a small percentage of patients, most people have no problem at all.”
An acupuncturist inserts the needles into the skin at specific points along the meridians or energy pathways along the body. The needles stay in place for 20 to 40 minutes, encouraging the flow of qi (pronounced chee), sometimes referred to as bioenergy.
“If acupuncture is appropriate for a patient, we might see improvement in a few weeks, but sometimes patients feel a difference right away, even during treatment,” Mercier says.
As with most integrative therapies, no referral is required for treatment. Mercier does recommend coordinating care with a patient’s physician. Although the Center for Integrative Medicine does not bill insurance claims, many insurance companies are now offering reimbursement for acupuncture.
The Center for Integrative Medicine, which is located at 607-B Dutchman’s Lane in Easton, offers free initial consultations for acupuncture, therapeutic massage and other integrative health services. For more information, call 410-770-9400 or visit online at www.shorehealth.org/services/intmed.shtml.