Waiting on pins and needles
A quick stick to the skin is all it takes for muchneeded pain relief for Master Sgt. Pablo Cadena, 35th Signal Brigade, as he lies on a table in the office of Dr. Jae Park, doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, licensed acupuncturist, at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Integrative Pain Management Center March 6.
Park gingerly taps several needles into various points on Cadena’s body and instructs him to relax. The curtain is drawn around the table as spa-like music lightly plays in the background. For the next half hour Cadena’s treatment for the chronic pain he experiences as a result of combatrelated injuries is in full swing.
“Acupuncture is clearly a vital part of the rehabilitation program for many of our service members,” said Jared Anderson, doctor of osteopathy, integrative modalities coordinator of the Pain Management clinic. “Not all Army installations have trained acupuncturists; however our larger medical centers provide acupuncture and many of the smaller installations have consistently started moving in that direction.” Initially the 39-year old Soldier was hesitant about using acupuncture; however after enduring chronic pain due to a limb salvage, migraines and tinnitus - the result of surviving an explosion while deployed to Afghanistan - he’s had a change of heart.
“Since I was injured in 2008 I’ve done the medicine route and I didn’t like it,” he said. “So I started living with the pain … and I couldn’t take it anymore. Initially I came here (referred by the neurology clinic for migraines) and after a few pokes of the needle from Dr. Park I was able to get up and walk around and not feel any pain. So … I’m a believer.”
After living with chronic pain for so long Cadena had finally found relief.
“Along with the injury to my leg I had blown out an eardrum so I have tinnitus and have constant ringing,” said Cadena. “He (Dr. Park) actually put a needle in my ankle and it was like turning down the volume on a car stereo. The ringing actually turned down. My wife was sitting here with me at the time and it was absolutely amazing.”
Cadena has been using acupuncture off and on for the past 12 months and was well enough to deploy again, this time to Kuwait. Upon his return from Kuwait last September he again resumed his acupuncture treatment at DDEAMC in combination with other treatments such as platelet rich plasma injections.
“As an essential part of the Integrated Pain Management Center at DDEAMC, we have a team of providers who work together with the common goal toward functional rehabilitation for our service members,” said Anderson. “As part of this team, we currently have two licensed acupuncturists who provide complimentary healthcare for a significant portion of our total patient base. As the benefits and the role of acupuncture are not clearly understood in a traditional medical care model, our acupuncturists consistently make the extra effort to educate our service members regarding comprehensive and holistic healthcare options associated with acupuncture.”
Park and Eric Sherrell are the licensed acupuncturists currently on staff at DDEAMC. Park has been licensed since 2006 and Sherrell since 2008.
When asked who is eligible to receive acupuncture, Sherrell replies, “Mainly it’s for active duty service members,” he said. “We’re a small clinic and there are just the two of us so they have made eligibility primarily for patients on active duty and on a case by case basis for some retirees.”
The biggest surprise for the acupuncturists is learning that many people do not know the treatment is available.
“I think because we’re up here in the clinic and we do this every day, from our perspective we think, oh, yeah, people know about it, but they don’t,” said Sherrell. “I think what’s happening is people come here from the Warrior Transition Battalion or other units and they go back to their unit and tell people they’ve been getting acupuncture and it’s helped them with their pain.”
To those who have a fear of needles and are hesitant to try acupuncture, Park has this to say.
“I want to point out that those people who have a needle phobia, are scared of needles, to at least come and try it,” said Park. “We put one needle in and if they don’t like it we’ll take it out and they can go home. The needles used are different from the needles patients may associate with other procedures. Fifty percent of my patients, once they get the first needle, say, oh, it’s OK.”
Park says he really wants people who may benefit from acupuncture but who have yet to experience it to at least give it a try before discounting it. “The way we approach it is you don’t have to do acupuncture but try it out,” said Sherrell. “If you refuse it it’s fine. It’s different.”
Park and Sherrell stated that the treatment can be used for chronic and acute pain.
“For some people there is no other option,” said Park. “They can’t continue to have surgery anymore or they don’t want to take narcotics and they ask, what is their option? Our reply, we want them to try it (acupuncture).”
“ By the time they (patients) see us they’ve gone through a lot of doctors,” said Sherrell.
There are several styles of acupuncture such as mainland China and Japanese style, or Korean hand therapy acupuncture, but Park and Sherrell use the balance method and it’s unique because of the placement of the needles on the patient’s body.
“The idea being that once the needle is put in, you see immediate results,” said Sherrell when asked to describe the balance method. “Maybe not all the pain goes away but something happens.”
“Say you have a patient with shoulder pain. When they come in, they expect you to put the needle in their shoulder,” said Park. “We don’t do that. This method is more in-depth. You have to go to post-graduate school and seminars to learn this style of acupuncture. It’s not intuitive but clinically very effective.”
For example, the placement of the needle or needles for a patient with shoulder pain may be on the opposite shoulder, or a leg.
“ Some people have had a bad experience with acupuncture and it didn’t work,” said Park. “I want them to give us a try. It’s a different style. All acupuncture is not the same.”
“The difference between licensed acupuncturists and other practitioners such as physical therapists who receive a few hours of training is we both have masters of science degrees and Dr. Park has a post-graduate degree, a doctorate,” said Sherrell. “The MDs do a 300 hour course. The depth of knowledge base is … they (those who have received minimal training) don’t do it all the time. This is all we do.”
“I would say less than twenty percent of acupuncturists practice this style,” said Park. “What happens is when a patient comes in we can typically make them feel better that same day. This is why I want people to come and try it so they can see for themselves.”
“At DDEAMC, we are proactively introducing acupuncture earlier in the service member’s rehabilitation program and we have been having excellent results,” said Anderson. “Many of the patients who I share with the acupuncturists find acupuncture to be essential and invaluable for their road to recovery.”
Patients’ response to acupuncture has been wideranging according to Park and Sherrell, from crying to feeling somewhat indignant at not knowing the treatment was available.
“What the patient is going to get from us is individualized diagnosis and treatment,” said Park. “For some of my patients this is the only thing going for them. This therapy is about breaking the cycle of pain.”
Contact Tammy Price, pain management administrative office program manager, at 787-8322, for more information about acupuncture and the pain management clinic.
To learn more about acupuncture visit the World Health Organization resource portal at: http:// apps.who.int/medicinedocs/ en/d/Js4926e/ or the Mayo Clinic’s page on Acupuncture at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/ testsprocedures/ acupuncture/basics/ definition/prc-20020778