By Jeanne Drennan
Whether from a toothache, a broken bone, an infection, or a major surgery, it is likely that each of us has experienced—or will experience—pain in one form or another. If we are lucky, it will be temporary. However, according a 2018 report released by the CDC, 50 million people in the United States, about 20 percent of the entire adult population, report experiencing chronic pain. As such, pain management is a billion-dollar-a-year-industry, comprising everything from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and Advil, to analgesics like Tylenol, to opioids like Vicodin and oxycodone.
Unfortunately, these therapies are not a cure. They only relieve the pain, and many have troublesome side effects. Aspirin and other NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal and liver problems and opioids are highly addictive. No wonder then, that more and more patients turn to alternative medicines to help them manage pain, the most popular being acupuncture.
“I have seen so many people who have tried everything for their pain have success with acupuncture,” says Dr. Ann Losee, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine (DOM) who offers patients acupuncture and other forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and holistic health services at her practice, Edgewood Acupuncture Wellness. She mentions in particular some of the veterans that she’s treated over the years: “They’ve been through so much and come in pretty broken. They don’t have a lot of faith that they’ll get better or see any improvement, but they do improve with acupuncture.”
Dr. Losee believes that acupuncture can offer relief where more traditional therapies cannot because, “TCM has always looked at the root cause of disease. It’s the original functional medicine.” While Western medicine tends to treat the body more like a machine, isolating and “fixing” the part that’s sick or broken, TCM sees the patient as a whole. “I like to think of the human body as a garden,” Dr. Losee says, and she considers all the factors that come into play to keep it healthy and flourishing.
TCM practitioners tap into the body’s innate self-healing abilities using modalities based on Qi (chi)—the life force that connects everyone and everything—to recharge that self-healing function. Acupuncture is one such modality. Doctors of Oriental Medicine believe that Qi flows through the body through invisible energy pathways called “meridians.” By inserting tiny needles into key “acupoints” along the body (our bodies supposedly have 2,000 of these points) acupuncturists relieve energy blockages along the meridians and encourage free-flowing Qi, which in turn balances the body’s yin and yang energies. This balance, say practitioners, is crucial to a healthy body, mind, and spirit.
Dr. Losee, who has been practicing in the East Mountains for 16 years, personally experienced the healing benefits of acupuncture after a bout of severe sciatica while living in Connecticut. Her first session yielded a 60 percent reduction in pain symptoms, she recalls, and after her second treatment, her pain was completely gone. This life-changing experience, coupled with her interest in nutrition and herbology, facilitated her decision to pursue an education in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture. Originally from Pennsylvania, Dr. Losee relocated to New Mexico to attend the International Institute for Chinese Medicine in Albuquerque, where she studied with a number of extraordinary teachers from Mainland China. Although no longer in existence, the school provided her with a great education in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Doctors of Oriental Medicine like Dr. Losee are considered primary-care practitioners in the state of New Mexico and receive over 3,000 hours of training. Her practice is also home to two part-time chiropractors and two licensed massage therapists.
While many traditional doctors are skeptical of the benefits of some TCM modalities, there is much in the medical record to support the efficacy of acupuncture. Acupuncture has been used in China for thousands of years, and, according to the Acupuncture Massage College in Miami, Florida, it has been used in the West since the 17th century, recorded first in Europe in 1810. Former President Nixon may be responsible for acupuncture arriving on the scene in America, following his 1972 visit to China where he learned about the modality. In 1997, the National Institute of Health (NIH) acknowledged acupuncture as an effective therapy for a wide range of health conditions, and while it’s most commonly used to treat pain, it’s increasingly being used to enhance overall wellness and stress management according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Working with pain is very rewarding to me,” Dr. Losee says. She has treated patients suffering from a variety of ailments, including tension headaches and migraines, tendonitis, arthritis, and neck and back pain. While she says that neurological conditions, like MS and various neuropathies, cannot be cured with acupuncture, she can help mitigate their symptoms.
Dr. Losee also routinely treats patients with anxiety and depression and even the flu and the dreaded seasonal allergies that plague a lot of East Mountain residents.
Additionally, she says, acupuncture is proving to be highly effective in patients suffering with opioid addiction by assisting them in the weaning process. In 1996, the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed acupuncture suitable for the treatment of drug abuse, listing three major advantages: it’s inexpensive and has no side effects, it can be used to prevent opiate relapse, and it is safe for pregnant women and women in labor. “Acupuncture helps with that transition and helps with their pain,” says Dr. Losee, who offers a form of ear acupuncture that has been proven effective for drug and alcohol addictions as well as stress and trauma.
A particularly interesting form of acupuncture offered by Dr. Losee, facial rejuvenation acupuncture, is used cosmetically to restore skin vibrancy, but this modality has also been successful in treating medical conditions such as facial paralysis, bells palsy, trigeminal neuralgia, ptosis (drooping eyelids), post-stroke recovery, and even painful TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders. Additionally, Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique (NAET), a non-invasive, drug free, natural protocol used to alleviate allergies of all types, is another powerful therapy offered by Dr. Losee that works beautifully along side traditional acupuncture.
Many people who seek out acupuncture in an emergency or as a last resort do find relief, but Dr. Losee asserts that preventative treatments are ideal—say, once a month to “maintain balance and keep everything working smoothly.” For preexisting pain conditions, she reports that her patients usually experience relief in four to five sessions. While Dr. Losee does not accept insurance, her rates are very reasonable and she is happy to provide what’s known as a superbill, which itemizes services in detail, so her patients can seek reimbursement from their individual insurance plans. She is also credentialed with the VA Choice Program, which allows eligible Veterans to receive health care from a community provider rather than waiting for an appointment with the VA or traveling to a VA facility.
Given that therapies once considered alternative are now becoming more mainstream, Dr. Losee would love to see a healthcare system that is more integrative, while allowing TCM practitioners to remain autonomous as a profession. She says that having acupuncturists on staff in hospitals, pain clinics, and urgent care facilities could offer patients an alternative to traditional prescriptions, and the kind of long-term solutions that truly “do no harm.”
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