Is acupuncture painful? How does the therapy actually work? Can it complement other medical care?
Licensed Acupuncturist Stacey Degen, L.Ac, often receives questions about her practice. Degen, who sees University of Minnesota Health patients, uses acupuncture to help her patients manage their pain, relieve stress and boost the body’s natural healing processes. She works side-by-side with other medical providers—such as Anesthesiologist Clarence Shannon, MD, a pain management specialist—to carry out a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary treatment plan.
We caught up with Degen and Shannon to discuss acupuncture, its effectiveness and its use alongside other treatment approaches. Here’s what they had to say:
“There are many theories about how it works,” Degen said. “Some research points to the stimulation of neurotransmitters and the autonomic nervous system to elicit responses that in turn reduce pain and inflammation.”
“We use needles to elicit a body response,” Degen said. “When used by a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac) who knows the body, the therapy should not be painful. The majority of people who come in uncertain about the treatment leave surprised at how pleasant it was. Everyone responds in a different way, which is why we create a specific acupuncture plan for each person.”
“University of Minnesota Health providers care for some of the sickest people in state,” Degen said. “I often see patients after they’ve received a life-altering diagnosis. Acupuncture can help relieve not only pain, but also the physical and emotional symptoms of stress. We look at the body as a whole, in addition to the diagnosis.”
University of Minnesota Health care providers employ it in our orthopaedic, pain management, cancer care, women’s health and internal medicine services along with other modern pain management techniques, from medication to peripheral nerve blocks.
It is often used to treat neck pain, back pain, knee pain and chronic concussion syndrome. Acupuncture can also help relieve the side effects of chemotherapy, including nausea, fatigue and lack of appetite. Our providers also use it during post-operative recovery for certain procedures, such as knee or shoulder replacement. At University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, our Integrative Health providers offer acupuncture for our pediatric patients.
In some cases, acupuncture can serve as an alternative to opioid medications, Shannon and Degen said.
“We want to educate the public to understand the opioid problem is something we can address,” Degen said. “Acupuncture is a referral option for physicians looking for a safe, natural solution for treating chronic pain.”