It can be a bit difficult for people to get their head around exactly how acupuncture works.
The theory behind the traditional Chinese practice, which involves thin, flexible needles inserted into a person’s skin at key points to correct imbalances in the flow of qi, is abstract, to say the least.
While the science behind it is difficult to pinpoint, acupuncturist Laura Christensen said more than 3,000 years of practice illustrate its effectiveness.
Furthermore, in her more than 20 years practicing acupuncture in the Iowa City area, Christensen said she has successfully used the method to treat a slew of ailments, from pain and headaches to infertility and asthma. In addition, she said acupuncture helps patients sleep, have higher energy levels, reduce stress and improve overall wellness.
Christensen, who opened Acupuncture of Iowa in 1991, said the popularity and acceptance of acupuncture has grown. There are now several clinics in the area and she and acupuncturist Stacy Kluck treat an average of 60 patients each week at the Acupuncture of Iowa clinic.
“At this point in history, it is quite popular in the United States,” Christensen said. “There are 50 schools that train acupuncturists and there are something like 30,000 acupuncturists practicing in the United States.”
But while acupuncturists work as primary health care providers and are licensed by the Board of Medical Examiners, Christensen said the practice still isn’t completely accepted as medical treatment by insurance companies. The majority of her clients, she said, pay for services out of pocket.
To introduce acupuncture to the broader community, Kluck started a free community-style acupuncture clinic at Iowa City’s Shelter House to aid underserved populations. She worked at similar communityclinics in Chicago, and said she was excited to offer similar experiences to Iowa City residents.
For the past 10 weeks, Shelter House residents have been invited to a free, two-hour clinic to receive acupuncture treatments. Each week the clinic attracts between six and 15 people, Kluck said.
At the clinics, Kluck uses auricular acupuncture — acupuncture of the ear — with a stress-relieving protocol from the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association.
By inserting about five needles at specific points in each of the patients’ ears, Kluck is able to help reduce stress and pain.
“The whole body is mapped onto the ear so I can press around and do a shoulder point or a hip point or just a general pain-relieving point,” she said.
She said she also has had success helping some people decrease and even quit smoking by stimulating the lung point on the ear while having the person smell a cigarette.
“I’ve had a number of people after the session go outside and try to smoke a cigarette and they can’t finish it,” she said. “And even if they smell someone else’s smoke, (they don’t like it). So it’s actually creating a physiological response.”
Shelter House resident Ron Oge said he began coming to the clinic to get help quitting smoking, which he has previously tried by using gum, patches and medication. He said he went from smoking three or four packs of cigarettes a day to smoking three or four cigarettes a week.
In addition to the help quitting smoking, he said he has received other benefits from the acupuncture sessions as well.
“It’s really relaxing,” he said.
Resident Charles Ruth said he has always wanted to try acupuncture to reduce his neck and shoulder pain, the result of a serious car accident 29 years ago. He attended the clinic for the first time last week and said he hopes to continue receiving treatment.
Christensen said the clinic is particularly useful in an environment such as Shelter House because it is portable, quick and relatively non-evasive. She said she is working to start two more similar clinics, one with Mecca Services and the other with the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic.
“I’m at a point in my professional development where I want to start doing service for the community,” she said.
In addition to getting help for specific ailments, people who receive acupuncture treatments also tend to experience general “healthifying,” she said.
“They sleep better, they don’t eat inappropriately as much, they deal with stress better, they don’t get sick as often. If they do get sick, they get better faster,” she said.
Kluck said she believes acupuncture is especially effective because instead of just targeting a person’s symptoms, it targets the cause of the ailment.
“Every treatment is custom made to the person, as they are presenting that moment in time,” Kluck said. “… It pays attention to patterns and changes and always meets the person where they are at.
“We never proclaim that we can cure everything or make everything better — no medicine can do that — be we can at least effect some sort of positive change.”
Reach Alesha L. Crews at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-5414.