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Acupuncture & Crohn’s

When you tell your gastroenterologist that your next stop is to see an acupuncturist, don’t expect to see him or her turning cartwheels.

You’re much more likely to get raised eyebrows or no reaction at all.

In my 25 years of experience volunteering to help my fellow patients with Crohn’s disease, I have found they seek out acupuncture practitioners for two reasons. One group hopes that acupuncture will somehow zap their disease – perhaps by calming the patient down. This idea of acupuncture curing Crohn’s disease or even putting it temporarily into remission is a misconception. While the art of acupuncture relieves stress and sometimes proves very helpful to sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition brought on to some degree by stress, it seldom has a dramatic effect on Crohn’s disease activity.

The remaining patients hope to find a way to relieve the cramping and pain associated with inflammatory bowel disease. Some are also searching for relief from constipation or diarrhea, nervousness or anxiety or the insomnia caused by Crohn’s night sweats. Acupuncture provides relief for some of them.

The art is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The body has around 2,000 acupuncture points. All of them are connected by 20 pathways called meridians. These paths connect body energy known as Qi from the internal organs to the surface of the body.

TCM practitioners believe that Qi has a diverse effect on each acupuncture point through which it passes and helps keep a balance within both the body and the mind. They also believe that intestinal illnesses such as Crohn’s disease represent a disruption of the spleen and liver, as well as, insufficient kidney support. As a result, they focus on the acupuncture points linked to those organs to try to lessen symptoms. Stimulate the right meridian via acupuncture points, and you will balance the body and the mind.

Western medicine has a different take on why acupuncture brings relief to some patients. Many medical practitioners believe that the application of the needles somehow stimulates the nervous system to block pain messages from arriving at the brain.

Another popular assumption is that the practice of acupuncture releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers. A third holds that the needles, when used properly, might release opiods into the body to reduce discomfort.

Crohn’s patients in China commonly receive acupuncture treatments to treat their disease. My attempts to take advantage of the practice came about because of the unremitting pain and high temperature I had experienced for several months, which made it hard to go to work each day.

During the first session, I answered many questions about my illness and lifestyle. The practitioner concentrated on making me feel at ease and used only a few needles to target the “imbalance” in my abdomen.

The second appointment was much more intense. I found it very difficult to cope with the pain of needles in my hand and did not return for any additional treatments. Aside from feeling more relaxed overall during my first meeting with the acupuncturist, I did not appear to reap any benefits from the needles.

In general, the practitioner inserts hair thin needles one at a time into particular points to stimulate the flow of Qi after targeting the appropriate meridians. The needles are solid and do not go as deep as hypodermic needles. They should not draw blood, as they are designed only to penetrate the meridian surface.

Some acupuncturists twist or twirl the needles or hook them up to an electrical current to stimulate the meridian. On occasion, they might utilize certain herbs or oils with the needles to treat a condition and relieve specific symptoms. Each appointment normally lasts between 20 minutes to an hour.

Most patients report a slight tingling, aching or numbing once the needles have been applied. Although acupuncture is not supposed to cause pain when the needles are properly inserted, I utilized a highly recommended practitioner and felt so much pain, I feared I was going to fly off the table.

Some acupuncturists actually specialize in the treatment of IBD. How do you find them? The most effective way is by word of mouth among the other Crohn’s patients in your area.

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