MERRIMACK, N.H. — While the debate over acupuncture’s medical benefits continues, many swear it works and can stop physical symptoms such as pain.
Modern-day acupuncture is a mixture of faith and what its practitioners say is thousands of years of traditional Chinese medicine. Using needles, practitioners claim they can help with issues such as pain, stomach problems, infertility and weight loss.
While many remain skeptical, practitioners claim the techniques have worked for thousands of years.
“If they pressure certain parts of the body, either the pain or the symptom goes away,” said Ying Buckley of Oriental Acupuncture and Herb.
Buckley studied acupuncture in China and said practitioners first need to diagnose the problem. The patient’s pulse and tongue are checked, and then the acupuncturist works to correct the flow of energy to the affected part of the body.
According to believers, the body has energy lines that allow the body to be healthy. When that energy or chi gets disrupted, problems can arise, Buckley said.
Sterile needles are inserted into the problem energy line, called a meridian. The needle can be inserted up to 3 inches deep, but most say they don’t feel any pain. Buckley said that after a few half-hour sessions, the symptoms often fade or disappear.
“Once this energy flow shifts back to the right position, you shouldn’t have that much pain or discomfort anymore,” Buckley said.
Scientific studies have not revealed any energy lines in the body or revealed a mechanism by which acupuncture might work, but many say it works.
Marcia Sinclair is a nurse and knows conventional medicine. But she said it didn’t help 10 years ago when she tried to stop pain from a back injury.
“It just got very frustrating,” she said. “It really wears on you, just constantly being in pain.”
Like many who try it, Sinclair sought out acupuncture as a last resort.
“Probably by about the fifth session, the pain in my leg was totally gone,” she said.
Karla Renaud is on the state Board of Acupuncture Licensing.
Renaud said more and more doctors are looking at acupuncture as a viable therapy.
“Most conditions you don’t need to go to the emergency room for, acupuncture can really help,” she said.
But scientists said acupuncture may be affecting the mind more than the body. Studies have shown that acupuncture can reduce pain, but phony acupuncture — in which needles were inserted in random locations or patients didn’t have needles inserted at all — were just as effective. Researchers said the placebo effect may be at work, in which people feel better when they think they are receiving therapy.
Renaud said she agrees the mind plays a part in healing. But she said studies have shown that the needles do cause a physical change in the body.
“We’ve seen brain scans where blood flow changes while people are getting acupuncture,” she said.
An average acupuncture session can cost about $50 to $75, and in many cases, health insurance doesn’t cover it.