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To Your Health: Acupuncture another way to treat pain

It’s not easy to accept, but lobster fishing involves pain. For the young, the pain may be fleeting, something to shake off with a hot shower and some rest. For others, the daily repetition of hauling, extended over years, results in chronic and sometimes acute pain. All too often, fishermen turn to prescribed painkillers or surgery to deal with the toll lobstering takes on their bodies.

Like massage, acupuncture is another type of treatment that can help relieve chronic and acute pain. Acupuncture has been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for many centuries and has gained acceptance in the Western world in recent decades.

“Acupuncture is one of the tools in Chinese medicine for helping bring the body back into balance,” explained acupuncturist Eileen Murray of Rockland, Maine.

Acupuncture uses solid needles to help the body's energy flow and can help relieve chronic and acute pain as well as diseases. Photo courtesy of the Maine Acupuncture Society.

Acupuncture use specific techniques, including insertion of very thin solid needles into the body, to rebalance the body’s energy. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that the human body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points connected by pathways or meridians. The body’s energy flows through these pathways. When that energy is blocked or disrupted, disease can occur.

The acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system. This, in turn, releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These biochemical changes may stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being. Individuals use acupuncture to address many physical problems, from migraine headaches to the after-effects of chemotherapy.

The process of finding the specific acupuncture points to address a particular individual’s pain begins with talking. “The practitioner will first ask you questions about your complaint and then do certain diagnostic techniques, like feeling your pulse and touching parts of the body to detect areas of too much or too little energy,” Murray explained. “Then using different tools, they will help move what is stuck or build up what is empty.”

Murray treats many lobstermen suffering from chronic or acute pain. One of the elements that causes such pain is the cold and damp conditions in which lobstermen work. “We call it a pathogenic factor. It penetrates and slows movement of the blood and body fluids in the tissue,” she said. To warm the tissue, Murray may use an infrared lamp, Asian body work, or other means to deeply warm the affected area.

Murray emphasized that the needles used in acupuncture are extremely thin and are made to move through the tissues, not to cut them. “Many people don’t feel the needle but do feel an energy sensation,” she said. The result for most patients is a feeling of relaxation, cessation of pain, and a looser muscular-skeletal system.

How often one undergoes acupuncture depends largely on how acute the pain is. “If it’s a chronic pain that you’ve had for 40 years, it may take a longer time. I have long-time patient, a lobsterman, who just comes when he can because he lives on an island. But it’s important to him,” she said.

To practice acupuncture in Maine, one must hold a state license from the Board of Complementary Health Care Providers. The Maine Acupuncture Society ( features more information about acupuncture and a selected list of licensed practitioners.


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