Janine Ottley's first visit to an acupuncturist was an act of desperation. She was on a cruise to Mexico when a killer headache struck, threatening to destroy her vacation. She figured it was worth a try.
"I got off the table and didn't have a headache any more," she says. "It didn't seem possible."
These days, regular visits are part of her survival strategy. Long plagued by headaches, pain, infections and fibromyalgia, she was a veteran of the search for relief "I went to I can't even count how many doctors, specialists."
Home after the cruise, she embarked on a different search. She began researching acupuncture and then went looking for someone who had trained at a four-year accredited acupuncture school.
The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine accredit 50 such schools in the United States. Those schools train thousands of students each year 49 of them currently practice in Utah, where they had to take both a state and national test in order to become licensed by the state so they can practice here.
At least 8.2 million Americans have tried the traditional Chinese medical techniques of acupuncture, according to national surveys. The USA Commission for Alternative and Complementary Medicines says that 158 million American adults use complementary medicines; acupuncture is a not insignificant piece of that.
Acupuncture is based on yin and yang and the need for balance in all things. Yin represents that which is cold, slow, passive. Yang is hot, excited, active. You need both. Acupuncture is based on belief that disease occurs when yin and yang become imbalanced, blocking energy flow or qi that is key to an individual's spiritual, emotional, mental and physical health. The acupuncturist unblocks the qi (or chi) by inserting needles at particular points on the body. Traditional Chinese medicine has identified about 2,000 acupuncture points where needles can be inserted for specific effects, according to the National Institutes of Health.
It's somewhat controversial in a country dominated by traditional Western medicine. Some physicians call it quackery, while others are themselves trained in acupuncture. While some insurance companies are beginning to cover it, others call it investigational "a long investigation," quips one patient, given it's been practiced in China for between 2,000 and 4,000 years. Practitioners include a growing number of mainstream physicians, who see value in the blending of Eastern and Western medicine "complementary, not alternative," one told the Deseret News.
The World Health Organization says "acupuncture has been proven effective in relieving post-operative pain, nausea during pregnancy, nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy and dental pain with extremely low side effects. It can also alleviate anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia."
Daniel Clark, owner of American Fork's Lotus Spring Acupuncture and Wellness Inc., where Ottley now gets treatment, believes the WHO list just scratches the surface. Acupuncture can help with chronic disease and pain, he says. "That doesn't mean you stop taking your medications." It can relieve allergies, backaches, migraines, fatigue, arthritis, acid reflux, depression and a lot more.
Besides the needles, an acupuncturist may employ herbs, pressure, massage and various other techniques, he says.
Sometimes, he works with doctors. Sometimes he refers people to doctors. Occasionally, one of them sends a patient to see him.
Carole Stutz has had degenerative disk disease for years and endured a lot of discomfort. Throw in getting older, she says, and "sometimes I was struggling with keeping going."
She ran into Clark at a class she and her husband were teaching, helping small business owners come up with a business plan. He was just opening Lotus after several years in Salt Lake City. He came over to her and asked if she'd like help with the pain she was carrying in her neck and shoulders. "You can't," she said. "I have to take pain medication, muscle relaxants, hot and cold packs, ibuprofen."
He moved his thumbs down her back, working on her pressure points, and she felt immediate relief. She decided to schedule a regular appointment. The first thing she noticed was an increase in energy, she says. "I still didn't feel my best but was accomplishing more than I had been."
These days, the Highland resident is a regular, stopping in if her sinuses are clogged or if she simply doesn't feel good. She's found she can reclaim at age 61 activities she'd once given up. For instance, she often had migraines and as a result stopped driving. Recently, she shared driver duties during a trip to St. George.
She's been enjoying guasha, which she describes as having an oil-based liquid applied to the skin, then stroked with a spoon to draw the blood to the surface to release toxins. She's felt strong enough to resume gardening, she says.
But most of her sessions are half acupuncture, half acupressure massage. "I go in feeling so tight and come out great. I'm able to move." And her need for appointments has diminished to monthly unless she has a particular problem they're working on, she says.
To determine what someone needs, an acupuncturist takes a detailed history, often asking what seem like odd questions, Ottley remembers. During her visit, Clark checked multiple pulse points, including her wrist, neck, head, stomach, each correlated with a different organ. He looked at her tongue and checked three pulse areas on her wrist.
During the treatment, she says, she lies face up, clothed, or face down with a gown. The needles are placed in her back, neck, legs, feet, hands. Most often, Ottley notes, she's so comfortable she sacks out during treatment.
She was going to pain management weekly when she decided to try acupuncture, and she often required help with household chores because it was all she could do to manage life with her four children, ages 3, 6, 8 and 10. No more. She's back to doing her own chores and loving it, shes says."The great thing is, it's not something you have to believe in for it to work," she says. "It works anyway."