By Helen Kirwan-Taylor
Many years ago I had a falling-out with a girlfriend that proved so painful, I can hardly talk about it today. My friend (let's call her Mary) was a colorful television personality and had the world at her feet. She was engaged to a handsome European, and her face was plastered across the newspapers. I was working for 60 Minutes at the time, and we often met for lunch. Then one day her show was canceled and she asked me - casually, as though it didn't really matter...
Instead she began actively searching for alternative treatments
and tried acupuncture combined with biofeedback and meditation.
"I had treatments twice a week, with needles sticking out
all over my arms and legs. The pain was much less, and the effect lasted for
about two weeks," says Liza.
Today she needs only one medication to control her arthritis.
She still needs acupuncture occasionally, she says -- "after playing 18
holes of golf."
Acupuncture uses hair-thin needles to stimulate specific points
on the patient's body. "We often combine acupuncture with Chinese herbal
medicine, diet, and tai chi, says Ian A. Cyrus, RAc, DiplAc, president of the
American Association of Oriental Medicine in Catasauqua, Penn.
"The underlying principle is that chi, our natural energy,
flows through the body in well-defined pathways or channels, and acupuncture
can balance this flow of energy," says Cyrus, who practices oriental
medicine at the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University
Hospital in Philadelphia. "Tai chi is a series of traditional exercises
designed to similarly balance and regulate the flow of chi."
While western science isn't certain how tai chi and acupuncture
actually work, evidence is accumulating that they do help patients with
arthritis and other forms of chronic pain. The World Health Organization has
concluded it may be helpful for several conditions including osteoarthritis,
headache, gastritis, bronchitis, and low back pain. And an influential
consensus conference convened by the National Institutes of Health in 1997
reported that acupuncture might be useful as an adjunct treatment for many
forms of chronic pain.
"We think acupuncture does relieve arthritis pain,"
says Robert Spiera, MD, who specializes in rheumatology and arthritis at Beth
Israel Medical Center in New York City. "While there aren't as many studies
as we'd like, there have been studies showing benefit specifically in
osteoarthritis of the knee. I've supported my patients in their decision to try
acupuncture in addition to routine medical care and physical therapy."