By Iva Radman and Amy Via
RICHMOND, Va. – In ancient times, acupuncture was a last resort medical treatment. Now people everywhere, including students at Virginia Commonwealth University, are using the Asian treatment to help everything from migraines to sports injuries.
Katherine Sammons, a VCU senior in social work, had acupuncture treatments because she said her lack of energy was interfering with schoolwork. After the four-month treatment, she noticed a difference.
“It was really beneficial to me so I definitely sing its praises,” said Sammons.
Acupuncture, along with acupressure, heat therapy, and nutrition, are traditional methods of Chinese medicine. According to Chinese philosophy, acupuncture helps to restore “qi,” or the flow of the body’s natural energy.
Keith Bell, a licensed acupuncturist and former VCU student, has been practicing acupuncture in Richmond for 10 years. He says the method of diagnosing a patient is more holistic than most Western practices.
“We look at the color of their skin; we actually smell the air around them, to see what they smell like,” said Bell.
After Bell consults with a patient, he begins a treatment by inserting needles into various pressure points on the body.
Monica Gittings is very familiar with the process, as she works in Bell’s office as a massage therapist and is also a regular acupuncture patient. She says the needles don’t hurt at all.
“Initially when he puts it in some spots I feel like a zing almost. Not always but sometimes a zing. Then after that I get a warming or kind of a fuzzy feeling that spreads out from certain points,” said Gittings.
But that zing costs up to $150 per session. A new bill, The Federal Acupuncture Coverage Act of 2009, is currently being debated in congress to have insurance cover the costs.
The National Institutes of Health issued a statement in 1997 announcing acupuncture to be an effective treatment for certain medical conditions. While the process has been deemed safe, there are still some reported side effects: slight bleeding after needle removal, bruising, fainting, or feeling tired after a treatment.
And sometimes acupuncture isn’t the right treatment option.
“It’s good at treating nearly anything but emergency medicine, I mean I wouldn’t go to an acupuncturist if you have a car accident,” said Bell.
While more and more patients are turning to acupuncture, Bell says he also benefits from the interaction.
“The relationships with the patients, the relationships with my students, that’s my favorite. The ability to actually connect with people one on one and make a meaningful change in their lives,” said Bell.