Old-world medicine may offer new relief for a wide range of ailments.

Headaches, arthritis, acne, anxiety, depression, fatigue, menstrual cramps, infertility and indigestion… Aside from being common conditions, studies suggest they may also be cured or alleviated through one of the world’s oldest healing practices.

Having originated thousands of years ago in China, acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles just beneath the skin’s surface at strategic points on the body. In ancient times, it was thought that illness and pain were caused by blockages or imbalances ofqi, an invisible life force that flowed throughout the body by way of 14meridians, and healers would disperse needles across 365 points on the body to restore harmony.

While its effectiveness is still being debated in some circles, parallels have been found between contemporary science and the ancient practice. Many of those 14 meridians, originally thought to represent China’s major rivers, follow the path of vital arteries and veins, while a number of the 365 points, which may have symbolized the days of the year, correspond to nerve bundles and muscle trigger points. Neuroimaging studies have shown that acupuncture appears to calm areas of the brain that register pain and activate those that signal relaxation and recovery. It’s also been shown to increase blood flow and reduce inflammation in treated areas.

An Intangible Art
Today, many mainstream doctors are drawing from the traditional practice to benefit patients desperate for relief—something Dr. Keith Kramer, co-founder of Senara Health and Healing Center, has been doing for more than a dozen years.

Dr. Kramer has seen several of his patients’ symptoms subside or even disappear through acupuncture, after having unsuccessfully tried a string of conventional healing methods. “It’s hard for us here, on this side of the world, to [understand] because it’s not tangible. You can’t see it. You can’t touch it… We have better technology now, so I think it’s a little more accepted. So [people] are more willing to try it.”

While it’s been practiced in Asia for millennia, acupuncture did not take off in the U.S. until the early 1970s, but it’s been growing ever since. According to a 2007 National Institutes for Health survey, more than three million American adults and 150,000 children had undergone acupuncture in the previous year. Today, the U.S. military uses acupuncture to treat musculoskeletal problems and other pain. It’s being used by Acupuncturists Without Borders to reduce stress in Haitian earthquake victims, and several major medical centers are using it to ease the side effects of chemotherapy.

“I’m kind of a skeptic at heart,” notes Dr. Kramer. “But I’ve done a couple of case studies, and I’ve seen the results firsthand with my patients.”

Meanwhile, there’s a mountain of recent evidence to suggest that acupuncture really does work. According to a recent study of 18,000 patients with osteoarthritis, migraines, or chronic back, neck or shoulder pain, acupuncture was found to be more effective than placebo treatments and standard care alone. Another study in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology reported that women receiving acupuncture targeted to treat menstrual cramps claimed a greater reduction in discomfort than those treated with traditional painkillers. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledged the power of acupuncture in a 2008 review, citing evidence that it may be effective in alleviating recurring headaches, nausea, pain and allergies in children.

Helping to Heal
Here in Peoria, Dr. Kramer uses acupuncture to treat everything from stress to soft tissue injuries, but his number one clientele consists of infertility patients, whom he says have had excellent success rates. “[Acupuncture] helps the body heal itself,” he explains. “The body typically has the tools to help itself, it’s just we get in the way of it sometimes.”

Unlike the archaic method of checking a patient’s tongue and pulse to determine “qi” blockages, Dr. Kramer employs modern equipment to determine where to place his needles, which he says can be distributed across more than 1,000 points known to affect energy and body temperature. He uses up to 40 needles at a time, in sessions lasting between 20 and 40 minutes, after which most patients leave experiencing improvements that may last days, weeks, months, or even years.

As society opens up to alternatives to traditional Western medicine, Dr. Kramer believes more people will seek out holistic healing methods. “I think we’re going to find more and more people taking ownership of their health, so they’re starting to do things that prevent diseases and illnesses… Acupuncture is already one of the fastest growing forms of healthcare today, and I think it’s going to just continue to grow.” a&s

Senara Health and Healing Center is located at 2208 W. Willows Knolls Road in Peoria. To learn more about the acupuncture services offered by Dr. Kramer, visit experiencesenara.com or call (309) 693-9600.