Why acupuncture is the new focus for pain relief

By | October 25, 2021

by Nancy Parello | For Jersey’s Best Wed., Sep. 29, 2021

The ulcerative colitis that Karey Ellis suffers from causes severe fatigue and stomach pains. The medication she was taking made her feel even worse.  

So, the Long Hill resident turned to acupuncture. She has never looked back. 

“I can honestly say that I went from not being able to live a normal life to, within a few months, being able to play in the yard with my daughter and resume a normal function,’’ Ellis said, adding that she still has treatments once a month. 

“They help me maintain my energy level,’’ she said. “I have no stomach pain or cramps. And it really does help with the hot flashes.’’  

Ellis has plenty of company. A growing number of people are seeking relief through this ancient form of Chinese medicine that uses sterile needles to stimulate key areas of the body. According to the American Institute of Alternative Medicine, acupuncture is one of the fastest-growing fields in alternative health. 

“Acupuncture helps the body get into balance,’’ said Ted Block, a licensed acupuncturist, with offices in Freehold and Toms River. “When your balanced, everything works better. My job is to help identify what is out of balance and then work toward getting that back to balance.’’ 

The rise in acupuncture’s popularity stems from several factors, experts say. First, the opioid epidemic has fueled a search for nonaddictive pain relief. Second, with numerous studies supporting its efficacy and safety, traditional medical practitioners are increasingly incorporating acupuncture into conventional treatments.  

Plus, a growing number of insurance plans cover acupuncture, at least for certain ailments and diseases. Last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services agreed to cover acupuncture for Medicare patients suffering from chronic low back pain. 

“It’s grown much more popular in the U.S.,’’ said Peter Kadar, a licensed acupuncturist in Morristown. “It is now used in a lot of hospitals, doctor’s offices and clinics for virtually every disease, disorder and condition. We’ve really grown from being relatively unknown and misunderstood to becoming very much an auxiliary part of conventional medicine.’’ 

Like many acupuncturists, Kadar treats patients suffering from a host of difficulties — from women who cannot get pregnant to people with substance use disorders to those who want to lose weight or quit smoking. 

“Acupuncture is very good for naturally regulating the body and stimulating normal function,’’ explained Kadar, owner of Acupuncture Center of New Jersey, one of the oldest acupuncture practices in the state. “It helps the immune system, the GI tract, the circulatory system, reproductive hormones.’’ 

So, how does it work? 

“Stimulating points on the skin, especially the specific points, has been discovered to hold and control the flow of energy in our bodies,’’ Kadar explained. “Acupuncture can stimulate a higher production of brain chemicals — dopamine, serotonin, endorphins.’’ 

This can help reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, promote proper digestion, balance hormone output and relieve stress, anxiety and depression, acupuncturists say. 

Licensed acupuncturists must attend accredited schools and pass state exams, said Thomas Kouo, dean, Eastern School of Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine in Bloomfield, the only accredited institution with a full campus in New Jersey. His students complete 2,700 hours of course work and 860 hours of clinical work, which is performed at a clinic run by the school. 

“Our students work under the supervision of licensed acupuncturists,’’ he explained.  

When choosing an acupuncturist, be sure to check licensing status with the New Jersey Acupuncture Examining Board, which falls under the supervision of the State Board of Medical Examiners and regulates acupuncturists in New Jersey. 

When visiting an acupuncturist for the first time, expect a thorough review of your medical history, symptoms and other issues you may be experiencing. Like many acupuncturists, Block spends a lot of time during a first visit going over a new patient’s medical, emotional and social history.  

“Then I make my initial evaluation as to what system I think might be not correct,’’ he explained. “When I get them on the table, I might see something else.’’ 

He typically starts patients out with weekly treatments and then tapers them off as the patient’s condition improves, ultimately hoping to see a patient only five or six times a year. 

“My treatments are very physical,’’ Block added. “I work the entire body from foot to head, and I needle while doing it. A session of mine is like a combination of acupuncture, chiropractor and massage therapy. I work the (physical) structure so the needles have less to go through. For the most part, we see fabulous results.’’

Nancy Parello writes frequently for NJ Advance Media/Jersey’s Best. A former statehouse reporter, she previously worked for the Associated Press and The Record.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Jersey’s Best. 

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