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Acupuncturist Kevin March works with a patient Thursday. Needles may be inserted in many areas of the body, including the forehead, back, hands and feet. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
When patients seek out La Grande acupuncturist Kevin March, it’s usually for pain management
by TRISH YERGES / Observer Correspondent
Though acupuncture analgesia has been used consistently in China for the past 5,000 years, it has only been since 1972 that Western scientists have taken a serious look at how acupuncture can be used to complement Western medicine.
Oregon licensed acupuncturist Kevin March of Blue Mountain Acupuncture is a graduate of Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland. He practices acupuncture therapy at Mountain Valley Therapy in La Grande.
“I’ve been here since 1992,” March said. “When I first came here, people had very little knowledge about acupuncture. The Chinese were doing surgeries with it, but it was not well understood here. I had to educate people about it and try to de-mystify it.”
The Chinese view the body as a delicately balanced system of energy (called Chi) that flows through meridians that interconnect within the body and nourish it. When that energy is blocked, the Chinese believe that negatively affects health and well-being and produces organ dysfunction. The insertion of acupuncture needles into acupuncture points attempts to re-balance the body’s Chi by removing the blockage so that healing may occur.
To most Western patients, describing the body in those abstract terms seems medically unscientific. However, March said acupuncture can be explained in terms common to Western science.
The physiological basis for acupuncture analgesia is that it “activates small myelinated nerve fibers in the muscle, which send impulses to the spinal cord, and then activates three centers (spinal cord, midbrain and pituitary-hypothalamus) to cause analgesia,” states “Acupuncture: Textbook and Atlas.”
Inserting hair-thin, stainless steel needles into acupuncture points produces a “micro-trauma” to the cells at the insertion site and stimulates an immune response, including increased blood circulation and lymphatic flow. This healing response reduces inflammation in the muscles, loosening them.
Needling is not painful to the patient. Rather, needling causes biochemical changes and the release of naturally occurring opiates like endorphins that produce analgesia.
After the initial insertion, the acupuncturist manually swivels the needle deeper into the skin until the patient experiences a slight feeling of pressure at that site. This is where the needle may remain for 20 minutes before being removed.
Needles may be inserted in many areas of the body, including the back, hands and feet, but March said that he likes to start his therapy with one to three ear (auricular) points to induce a calming and relaxing response from the patient. Among the roughly 103 auricular acupuncture points is one that directly affects the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve with the widest distribution in the body. Needling at this site produces a widespread feeling of relaxation.
After treatment, March said a patient may feel post-treatment lactic acid soreness, but by drinking water and applying moist heat, this usually abates within 24 hours.
Ninety percent of March’s patients come to him for pain management, and he has “quite a long waiting list,” he said. “They are all ages from teens to a 97-year-old.”
Acupuncture is used to treat many physical conditions, including digestive problems, menopausal symptoms, post-mastectomy pain, arthritic joints, migraines caused by muscle tension, oncology, hypertension and stomach nausea from chemotherapy.
Unlike Western medicine, the Chinese make no distinction between the psyche and the physical person, March said. They treat both with acupuncture to unblock the flow of Chi and facilitate healing to both body and mind. March has noted in his practice that acupuncture is helpful when treating some psychogenic disorders, like panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Western medicine is wonderful, but it can’t do everything,” March said. “We need both (approaches), and it is great when they work together. I think medicine should work together. Acupuncture is just one tool. You just have to find the right combination for you.”