Acupuncture: Getting to the  Point of It

Acupuncture: Getting to the Point of It

There are some amazing treatments when the Western and Eastern hemispheres treat illnesses together

By Maryann Pisano

Photos by James Foster

Patricia Piant, MSTOM, Dipl.OM., L.Ac., is a licensed, board-certified acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist at NorthShore University HealthSystem. She treats patients for pain every day; all types of pain for people from all walks of life. And that’s the exact reason Piant got into acupuncture.“I had an injury for a long time when I dislocated my jaw,” she says. “The only thing that seemed to help [ease the pain] was acupuncture.” Piant was working at a pharmaceutical company at the time and was familiar with traditional Western medications. Knowing the positives and the negatives of these medications, she added acupuncture and Chinese herbs to help her heal. According to Piant, acupuncture is the “insertion of fine needles to stimulate specific points in order to change functions of the body.” The needles can cause endorphins to be released, block pain receptors and release trigger points, enabling a person to relax and heal faster. The needles are solid, superfine and FDA approved.

The World Health Organization and National Institutes of Health “recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan for many illnesses.” A few of these illnesses include addiction, facial tics, headaches, low-back pain and menstrual cramps. The organizations feel that you can “safely combine acupuncture with prescription drugs and other conventional treatments.” Furthermore, the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture states that acupuncture can be used to treat anxiety, depression, anorexia and memory problems.

Since Piant is within a hospital system, she gets referrals of all types of patients including those with pain, migraines, women’s health problems and oncology. She helps oncology patients with their loss of appetite, nausea and neuropathy as they navigate their cancer treatments. Piant treats women’s issues such as infertility, PMS, pregnancy and menopause. She also works with patients who suffer from anxiety and gastrointestinal issues.

One problem that acupuncturists Karen Elarde-McCuaig and Kathy Hanold of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Weiss Hospital run into is that some patients have a phobia of needles. However, the needles are as thin as hairs, and patients hardly feel them entering the body. According to Elarde-McCuaig and Hanold, the needles are completely painless. However, there are still patients who are squeamish at the thought of needles. If this is the case, Hanold says that they can use a healing light spectrum over an acupuncture point. This is used to block pain and release feel-good chemicals just like an acupuncture needle.

Both Hanold and Elarde-McCuaig believe that integrating Western and Eastern medicines in a hospital setting can help cure a patient. Since both women have nursing backgrounds, they are able to understand both the Eastern and Western medicine philosophies and manage patients’ issues.

“There are conditions [for which] Western medicine [is] more effective,” Hanold says. “But we believe that acupuncture and Eastern medicine are a perfect adjunct to Western medicine. It’s not an either/or.”

Piant feels that acupuncture is a great outlet for people who are suffering from pain.

“I had a woman who was in her late 50s who [had] suffered from severe migraines since she was 12. She would have two to three severe migraines a week,” she says. After seeing Piant for a couple months, the woman was down to one migraine a month and sometimes even once every three months. “Her entire life changed.”

Katie Krebs, 12, a seventh grader at Glen Crest Middle School in Glen Ellyn, did not have a good experience when it came to acupuncture. She had a lot of pain in her feet due to over- exertion, most likely a result of having taken dance classes since she was very young. Krebs tried different forms of relief such as massage. When those didn’t work, her father recommended she try acupuncture.

But Krebs’ case was so great and complex that the acupuncture wasn’t strong enough.

“Katie had three different things wrong with her feet,” says her father Kevin Krebs. “We would have probably seen better results if we [had] followed through more.” Kevin says he brought his daughter to four or five treatments, which was more than enough poking for Katie.

She thought the treatment was weird and uncomfortable, especially since she was 9 years old at the time.

“I don’t really like needles,” she says. “When the needles were stuck [into] different points of my body, it would hurt.”

She felt the most uncomfortable when the acupuncturist squeezed a needle in-between her eyebrows.

“There were not any miraculous overnight results [with acupuncture],” says Kevin. “A lot of my football buddies used acupuncture, and it worked for them, but for Katie, there were just too many factors.” He admits that Katie was desperate to alleviate the pain, and surgery was the chosen option along with other more invasive treatment. The surgery was deemed successful, and today Katie is involved in competitive dance and volleyball. She still has to wear insoles in her shoes and avoids flip-flops, but her feet aren’t in as much pain as they used to be.

Although this treatment does not work for everyone—as in the case of young Katie Krebs—there is a lot to be said about combining Western and Eastern medicine to ease patients’ suffering and certain diseases.

Published in Chicago Health Winter/Spring 2014