Acupuncture is still considered a form of alternative medicine in the United States, but it’s been used throughout the world for thousands of years to treat issues including pain, stress, sinus infections, and even infertility, as explained in Your Guide to Understanding Acupuncture. Although it’s only gained popularity in the U.S. in the past few decades, many allopathic physicians are now considering it a legitimate treatment strategy that can effectively complement other forms of care. In these success stories, our patients* share how acupuncture helped them.
Acupuncture for Back Pain
Bay area resident Scott McCallister felt like he’d tried everything for his lower back pain. But as a physician, he hesitated to venture outside the boundaries of conventional medicine. “As a sort of old-school medical professional myself, I had never really considered acupuncture as a therapeutic option,” he said. But his frustration and pain led him to try something new and book an appointment with Michelle Kuroda, an acupuncturist at One Medical in San Francisco.
McCallister says his back hurt for years because of sacroillitis, a condition that can make climbing stairs, running or even prolonged standing difficult.
“Within minutes of meeting Michelle, I was reassured that the treatment she was proposing just might work,” he said. McCallister’s experience isn’t unique. According to the National Health Statistics Reports, acupuncture use in the U.S. nearly doubled between 2002 and 2012, and according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, the vast majority of those people went to an acupuncturist for pain relief.
McAllister says he felt an immediate benefit of relaxation during their first session. “When I sat up from my very first treatment, I felt remarkably better. I was amazed as I walked out of the office. Less than an hour later, I felt great.”
Acupuncture for Sinus Infections
Seanna Sifflet, a One Medical acupuncturist in New York, routinely sees patients grappling with one common ailment: a sinus infection, otherwise known as sinusitis. “A new patient told me a familiar story on her first visit,” she says. “When she moved to a new city, she got an awful sinus infection that first winter, the kind that makes the whole side of your face throb and teeth ache.”
Sifflet says the patient’s doctor prescribed a course of antibiotics, but the infection lingered. A second course didn’t do the trick either. Research shows that antibiotics aren’t very effective for upper respiratory infections like sinusitis, since 98 percent of the time, they’re caused by a virus. Practitioners like Sifflet approach these illnesses differently. “As an acupuncturist trained in Chinese medicine, I look at a sinus infection as an imbalance in energy,” she says. “I know that needles placed in just the right points in the body can clear up congestion, relieve pain and stimulate the body’s own healing power.”
Acupuncture can be an effective complementary treatment to at-home remedies like steam inhalation and sinus rinses. A 2010 Chinese study of 85 people with chronic rhinitis found that 72 percent of subjects reported full recovery from their nasal and sinus problems after a series of 20-minute acupuncture treatments. And in a small 2012 study at UCLA, researchers found that pairing acupuncture with Western medicine was an effective way to treat recurring sinus problems.
Sifflet relies on a variety of points like “penetrating the nose” (bitong), “leg three li” (Stomach 36), and the “great surge” (Liver 3) to clear heat in the body and relieve pain. While each individual case is different, Sifflet says the results are generally quick. Within a few visits, the New Yorker with the stubborn sinus infection mentioned above was pain-free.
“Usually, with a treatment or two, and some self-care, the sinus infection clears and they’re feeling better again,” Sifflet says.
Acupuncture for Fertility
Bay Area resident Emily Sinclair was frustrated. She and her husband desperately wanted to start a family, but according to the experts she consulted, her odds of naturally conceiving were slim to none.
At 38, Sinclair was suffering from both endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS); two conditions that can complicate conception. A fertility specialist told her she only had a 5 percent chance of becoming pregnant. But Sinclair and her husband held out hope and decided to investigate alternative ways to increase her fertility, including acupuncture.
Sinclair booked her first acupuncture appointment in late summer. After receiving a thorough evaluation of her medical history and goals and a brief education on the benefits and philosophies of the practice, she began weekly treatments. “It was pretty amazing what she could learn about my health without being invasive,” she says.
Current research shows that acupuncture may have major benefits for women trying to conceive, and those undergoing fertility treatments may reap the biggest benefits. According to a small study published in the reproductive journal Fertility and Sterility, adding acupuncture to traditional in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment significantly increased pregnancy success. And a 2009 study published in the same journal found that acupuncture helped regulate hormonal levels in women undergoing IVF. A 2010 study of 57 infertile patients found that acupuncture was associated with less stress before and after embryo transfer, possibly improving pregnancy rates. A comprehensive review of seven trials published in the British Medical Journal involving 1,366 women undergoing IVF found that acupuncture substantially improved rates of pregnancy and live birth.
Although many studies indicate a positive effect, researchers caution that acupuncture isn’t a surefire cure for infertility, and more studies are needed to fully understand how and why it seems to help. Currently, researchers speculate that the relaxing effects of acupuncture help reduce stress, which improves the odds of conception. Plus, some believe the treatment helps increase blood flow to the uterus and relax muscle tissues, enhancing the likelihood of embryo implantation.
Sinclair came to appreciate the weekly appointments as a relaxing respite from her work week. And after a few months, she got an unexpected surprise: she was pregnant.
In Sinclair’s case, the treatments seemed to make all the difference. After years of infertility struggles, she gave birth to her daughter, Sage, two weeks before turning 40. While the journey to motherhood is unique for every woman, Sinclair believes acupuncture was an integral part of bringing Sage into the world. “We’re grateful we pursued acupuncture,” she says. “I truly believe acupuncture helped make the difference for us — and now we have a happy, healthy little girl who brings us so much joy!”
*Note: All patients featured in this article have completed a HIPAA waiver granting One Medical permission to share their protected health information.