Stick it to Surgery

For Janet Szczurkiewicz, tiny needles are doing what no drug has been able to do: relieve her abdominal pain. Her husband, Paul, is also undergoing acupuncture to fight the side effects of chemotherapy.

"So he has had no side effects whatsoever - no nausea, no vomiting, nothing at all. So we really think the acupuncture has helped him," said Cecilia Szczurkiewicz, daughter.

Cecilia Szczurkiewicz convinced her parents to give the treatment a try at the Loyola Family Practice Center in Maywood.

Aaron Michelfelder is a family doctor who's also a certified acupuncturist. He says there are dozens of conditions that respond well to acupuncture. And now acupuncture has an up and coming role in surgery. It may not only encourage the body to heal faster, it could help decrease the amount of pain medication needed.

"When you put the needles in, you get a release of endorphins - those natural pain killers inside your body," said Michelfelder. "That can lessen your need for some the painkillers you would normally get during the surgery itself."

As Lauren Hennessey was being prepped for surgery, she was getting acupuncture along with drugs to numb the pain.

At Duke University Medical Center, researchers analyzed 15 studies on acupuncture for surgical pain. They found that those patients who received acupuncture before or even during certain operations reported significantly less pain afterward than patients who did not have the procedure. Anesthesiologist T.J. Gan also says acupuncture can even make pain medication work more effectively.

"Some studies suggest that acupuncture can also reduce the amount of anesthetic that you need to provide for the patients," said Gan.

And fewer drugs mean fewer side effects.

"I never vomited, I was nauseous for very shortly and my pain was very minimal," said Lauren Hennessey, patient.

Doctor Gan says the pain relieving benefits of pre-op acupuncture may last far longer than the effects of any drugs.

"Not only does it benefit the patient immediately post-operatively, there is also increasing evidence to suggest that this will prevent longer-term pain problems," said Gan.

But even with the growing body of evidence of its benefits, most doctors agree acupuncture should only be used as a complement to traditional anesthesia. Doctor Michelfelder put this technique to the test and has his own acupuncture anecdote to tell.

"Just a few months ago, I had thyroid surgery myself, and I did acupuncture on myself pre- and post-surgery to decrease the among of pain medicine I would need and it actually worked beautifully," said Michelfelder.

Exactly how acupuncture works is still a mystery, but the theory is the thin needles create a balance between blood and energy to relieve pain. The treatment may also stimulate endorphins, the body's own feel-good chemicals.

Dr. Aaron Michelfelder, MD, FAAFP, FAAMA
Associate Professor
Family Medicine
Medicine, Bioethics and Health Policy
Director of Undergraduate Education, Family Medicine .
Loyola Family Medicine at the Loyola Center for Health on Roosevelt

1211 W. Roosevelt Road
Maywood, IL 60153
(888) LUHS-888
(708) 531-7915 (fax)

Dr. T.J. Gan
Duke University Medical Center
Melissa Schwarting
Media Relations

American Academy of Medical Acupuncture
4929 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite 428
Los Angeles, CA

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