Saturday, October 8, 2011

A needle's worth of relief: Acupuncture gains favor

Written by: Jon Walker

It starts with a needle and ends with relief.

That's the intent as Dr. Dawn Flickema treats Evelyn Bultsma at Avera McKennan's Prairie Center. Bultsma has chronic pain in her left foot and a ringing in her ears that's annoyed her most of her 62 years.

Relief on Friday would come by acupuncture, an ancient art making a modern comeback. Flickema pushed a needle into the outer side of Bultsma's right leg at the knee. She pushed in a second nearby, two more at the ankle and four on the inner leg. She did the same on the left leg, then put needles into each hand and shoulder, and finally, needle 21, in the top of Bultsma's head.

"Sometimes they hurt. Sometimes I barely feel it," Bultsma said before dropping into a 20-minute nap.

Flickema, a graduate of the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, has practiced family medicine in Sioux Falls for 14 years. She didn't think much of acupuncture until her own back pain made her a believer. She went back to school and began offering the treatment a year ago. Now it's half her workload, with perhaps 100 patients today seeking treatment from her. She devotes two days a week to it at the Prairie Center.

"People are looking for alternatives other than prescription medicine to treat chronic problems, diseases and conditions," she said.

Acupuncture doesn't replace traditional medicine, which is most of Flickema's work at McGreevy Clinic. Nor does it solve conditions such as fibromyalgia, though it might help.

The practice rests on the thought that healing emanates outward from the central nervous system. Whereas traditional Western medicine addresses a specific area of the body, such as a sore shoulder, acupuncture uses needles to tap pressure points nowhere near the source of pain.

Flickema uses a needle that is 4 inches long and about as skinny as a strand of hair. She sticks it about a half-inch deep into the flesh, then twists it to access a peripheral nerve.

"I can tell when I'm there. You can feel the resistance," she said.

The needles go in along a system of 12 meridians that trace to Chinese thinking. The meridians run vertically, head to toe and in both arms. Tapping the meridians allows communication in the nervous system to stimulate pain relief.

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