Maria Ottinger of Wyoming had been battling the chronic pain of fibromyalgia for four years. “I was at the end of my rope,” Ottinger says. “At the point that I sought out acupuncture I really hurt head-to-toe.” She was also taking several medications for the condition. “I felt like I was living in pill bottles.”
Her daughter, a massage therapist, tried acupressure on her and suggested acupuncture as an alternative to Ottinger’s medication. “I knew very little about it,” Ottinger says. “I just knew that it was Oriental in background. I was skeptical because I thought it was New Age.”
In the past, acupuncture was greatly misunderstood by many in the West. In the United States, it’s now it’s gaining acceptance and growing in popularity.
Dover acupuncturist James Frisa says that though acupuncture is often “stereotyped as a radical or new medicine, it’s actually the oldest and one of the most complex forms of medicines.”
Acupuncture originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. Its foundation is in Oriental medicine that dates to 5,000 years. It is commonly believed that acupuncture did not become widely known in the United States until after President Richard M. Nixon’s visit to China in the early 1970s.
Fundamental elements of acupuncture include the belief in chi, or life energy, that flows through the body. “If chi is broken down in the body, then illness may occur,” Frisa says. Acupuncturists “remove blockage and restore blood energy supply to tissues, joints and internal organs.”
Another term associated with acupuncture is yin and yang, the two separate, opposite and complementary forces in the body. Acupuncture seeks to balance these two principles. “Everything in Oriental medicine can be broken down into yin-yang,” says Frisa.
Acupuncture involves inserting long, thin needles into the body at specific points to route energy flow into healthy patterns. It is used to treat several illnesses and health conditions. Acupressure is a similar concept that involves applying pressure instead of needles to adjust energy flow.
The World Health Organization recognizes 40 medical conditions as candidates for acupuncture treatment, including allergies, respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal problems and nervous conditions. Muscular and skeletal disorders, digestive disorders, diseases, weight control, and smoking cessation are the most common illnesses or conditions patients seek Frisa’s help for.
Acupuncturists use several means to make diagnoses. All begin with observation of the patient through sight, sound and smell. Acupuncturists will examine the tongue, for instance. Different areas or parts of the body correspond with different organs. Changes in color can indicate imbalances or illnesses.
Acupuncturists also will diagnose by palpating, or reading the body’s reaction to pressure applied in various places. They will also check six pulse points on the patient’s wrist, each of which corresponds to an organ. Irregularities indicate imbalances.
After diagnosis, the acupuncturist will determine a route through the 361 acupuncture points on 14 meridians, or paths that carry chi to the organs, to restore balance.
Dr. Vincent Lobo, an osteopathic physician and member of the Delaware Board of Medical Practice, has been a proponent of acupuncture for 30 years. “There is a lot of correlation with the physical and the visceral somatic,” he says. “It’s the same as yin and yang.”
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Lobo sees acupuncture as an alternative for pain management. He agrees that the medical community’s perception of acupuncture has changed.
“I don’t think it’s looked down on like it used to be,” he says. As one concrete example, Lobo notes that today, “We have physicians who are doing acupuncture.”
“It’s like any other profession. It has its place, and it’s not a panacea,” says Lobo. “Medicine has its place. Acupuncture, I feel, has its place.”
There are about 25,000 licensed professional acupuncturists in the United States. Last year Delaware passed a law to license acupuncturists here, making it one of the last eight states in the country to do so, according to Wilmington acupuncturist Lorna Lee.
Lee spearheaded efforts in the state to push for the enabling legislation. The importance of licensing acupuncturists cannot be understated, she says. “Usually the push comes from within the profession. It shows that you’re valid. Licensing is the gold standard. Once you are licensed, your scope of practice is defined.”
The licensing law also created the Acupuncture Advisory Council. Lee, Lobo and Frisa, along with three other council members, have been meeting regularly to get the licensing procedures in place.
In the meantime, it is estimated that there are between 25 and 40 practicing acupuncturists in Delaware. Frisa recommends that potential patients look for certification from the National Commission of Acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine. Certification is a future requirement for local licensees. Hour-long treatments should cost $65 to $75 a session.
Ottinger suggests that anyone who is skeptical should give acupuncture a try.
Her experience with it was life-changing and immediate. After the first treatment, “By the time I got home, my energy level was way up. I realized I wasn’t in pain. I was a totally different person, night and day. I had such relief,” she says.
Ottinger was treated with a combination of traditional needle acupuncture and needleless colorpuncture, another method used by Frisa. Treatment was so effective, she weaned herself off pain medications.
“I come from a family of women who live long, long lives, like 90s or 100, but before acupuncture, I couldn’t see beyond 65,” says Ottinger.
Despite the fact that insurance does not cover her visits, Ottinger goes twice a month. “I feel so healthy and have a real positive outlook.”