The following article about acupuncture was on the cover of The Chicago Tribune's free daily newspaper, The Red Eye:
By Leonor Vivanco
Published February 18 2008
Nearly two years ago, Christopher Andrew was a mess.
His life was filled with drama?a broken engagement and money worries?which caused him to have trouble sleeping. When Andrew, now 29, did sleep, he clenched his jaw and had muscle spasms in his calves.
"I was falling apart mentally, physically and emotionally," said Andrew, who lives in Avondale. "It wasn't something I was going to be able to treat with a dose of ibuprofen."
His doctor recommended sleeping pills and psychotherapy?options Andrew tried and didn't like. That's when he turned to acupuncture.
"I just leave feeling so much relief, a sense of calm, almost like you're in a daze," Andrew said. Acupuncture, which originated in China more than 2,500 years ago, is gaining popularity. An estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults have used acupuncture, according to a 2002 survey developed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control.
The ancient practice has star power behind it too. Acupuncture reportedly has been used to treat actor Matt Damon for a neck injury last summer and musician Sheryl Crow as a supplement in her fight against breast cancer. Characters on new shows including "Eli Stone," "Private Practice" and "Welcome to the Captain" as well as old standbys, including characters on "Sex and the City" and "Nip/Tuck," have received the therapy.
While patients praise their acupuncturists as Dr. Feelgoods, acupuncturists tout the low-risk treatment for doing wonders in pain relief and relaxation. But some doctors remain skeptical of acupuncture, which can be a costly therapy, and caution against relying solely on it for all medical problems.
"In the last 20 years, acupuncture has materially exploded onto the American health scene," said C. James Dowden, executive administrator of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. The academy, made up of physician acupuncturists, had about 170 members in 1991; membership has increased nearly tenfold to 1,600 now, he said.
Dowden attributed the growth spurt in part to a 1997 National Institutes of Health report, which stated that acupuncture is effective in postoperative and chemotherapy nausea, and in postoperative dental pain. Further, the report said acupuncture may be useful as an additional treatment for addiction, headaches and lower back pain, among other ailments. More recently, a report published this month suggests that acupuncture coupled with in-vitro fertilization helps increase a woman's chance of conceiving.
Also contributing to acupuncture's rise in popularity, Dowden said, are a societal movement toward finding ways to treat conditions without pharmaceutical drugs as well as insurance companies beginning to cover some costs of the alternative treatment.
Word of mouth helps too, said Christie Hwang Jordan, an acupuncturist and founder of Source Healing in River North.
"With something like this in regards to your body and your health and needles, it absolutely requires that someone you know, love and trust tell you that they had a great experience with good results," she said.
For some patients, acupuncture has become more of a necessity and less of a luxury, especially if they're not getting what they need from traditional Western medicine alone, Jordan said.
"Initially, we used to get people coming in out of desperation. They heard from so and so that this is great, or from a friend or family member or co-worker, and they're willing to try anything because they're in so much pain or they're in so much agony or they just can't take whatever they're going through anymore," she said.
Now, she said her patients use acupuncture as a "tuneup tool" to maintain their bodies.
Most of her clients are women in their late 20s and 30s, although more men are coming in for stress, insomnia, headaches and lower back pain, she said. Women come in for infertility, migraines, PMS, fatigue, anxiety and depression, as well as for pain, headaches and tension, she said.
"They're still young enough to be open-minded about trying different modalities, and I think a lot of young professionals in their 20s and 30s have disposable income because this is an out-of-pocket expense," Jordan said. The practice can range in price from $70 to $150 for sessions that last a half hour to one hour, she said. For some acupuncture clients, it's up to them to pay first and get reimbursed after the treatment if their insurance company covers for it.
Still, acupuncture is not considered mainstream, particularly in the Midwest. On the West Coast, where the demand for acupuncture is higher, more insurance companies are inclined to cover its costs, said Chun-Su Yuan, director of the University of Chicago's Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research.
"There is definitely still a lot of skepticism," said Dr. Melinda Ring, medical director of Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Center for Integrative Medicine. "As a new generation of physicians are becoming trained, complementary and alternative medicine education is being incorporated more and more into medical schools, at least to a small degree."
Another hurdle facing greater buy-in of acupuncture is a lack of medical research, said Dowden, of the acupuncture academy. "The biggest challenge with acupuncture is believability and understanding why it works, and is there evidence it works," he said. "For the real skeptics, there has to be a lot more research to back it up."
Others just can't get passed those needles. "Once they're in, you realize they're just not that big of a deal. You really can't do harm with the needles unless you go to someone who really doesn't know what they're doing," said Jordan, who has been doing acupuncture since 1999.
Doctors say acupuncture for an ailment shouldn't be the first treatment, but it's not the last resort either.
It can be much safer than many medications and invasive surgical procedures, Ring said. But "in most cases, it's better to get evaluated first by the physician to make sure nothing else is going on and view acupuncture as a treatment option as long as it's a more benign condition or not life-threatening," Ring said.
For chronic conditions, not acute medical problems, acupuncture is useful, said U. of C.'s Yuan. "If a person constantly has back problems and is without a clear diagnosis?this happens to many people with back pain?and on different medication and it didn't work well, acupuncture could be an option," he said.
Acupuncture has helped Chris Bozarth, 36, who lives in Ukrainian Village, with his recurring back problems. After trying a chiropractor, Bozarth, a salon owner in Wicker Park, now gets acupuncture once a month.
"After you have these needles stuck in you everywhere, it's like a deep internal release, like stretching would give you but much more intense," he said. "It's a miracle. When it's done properly, it's unbelievable."
I absolutely love it. And, a little trivia about me...I'm originally from Chicago.