Acupuncture for More Than Just Pain

Allison Bower giving treatment at Army 10-miler exhibit hall.

I was shocked. Acupuncture can help lift my droopy eyebrows, lessen lines between my eyes and help lift my sagging jowls? That's what Allison Bower, Lavender Retreat's acupuncturist, told me. I always knew acupuncture was an effective treatment for pain, but I never imagined it can be used in lieu of a face lift. I wondered what else it can be used for.

I talked to five practicing acupuncturists on the Hill. All are trained and treat patients for all kinds of issues. "Acupuncture is such big picture work," said Mary Rieger, owner of Healing Arts of Capitol Hill who has been practicing for 20 years. "The Chinese didn't separate out the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical body. It's not just for pain. We do ourselves a disservice if we just focus on a specific area of treatment. We have to get a sense of what the person's whole life is like." 

Marjorie Shovlin, an acupuncturist on the Hill since 2001, has treated a number of clients through their cancer treatments and then helped make their end of life transition easier. "Acupuncture treatment pre- and post-surgery often results in a quicker, more comfortable recovery. I've had patients whose doctors were amazed by how easy their surgical recovery was with acupuncture included in the post-surgery plan."

Marilyn Adams, owner of Capitol Hill Acupuncture, who has been practicing for 20 years, said that digestion and diet is always part of the protocol. "I never think of someone with one thing wrong. I look at the whole person. While I make no promises, a new patient after just one treatment was able to sleep through the night." Marilyn also sees many patients who have allergies. One woman had retired and looked forward to playing golf, but found when she went on the course her allergies were so bad she couldn't enjoy the game. After acupuncture the woman's symptoms dissipated so she could play golf allergy-free. Marilyn is also helping to support a patient through the effects of the rigorous pharmaceutical protocol to treat Lyme disease.

Aurora Raiten, who practices at Freed Bodyworks, has been an acupuncturist since 2006. She started out as a massage therapist and is also a doula. She treats patients with all kinds of reproductive health issues. "I work with older moms who are trying to conceive, women with menstrual issues or menopausal issues. I also work with men to increase sperm function and correct erectile dysfunction as well." She has worked with patients to induce labor and pregnant women to help turn breech babies.

What is Acupuncture?

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., a Harvard medical school graduate who is a world renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, acupuncture is a complete medical protocol focused on correcting imbalances of energy in the body. From its inception more than 2500 years ago it has been used to prevent, diagnose and treat disease and improve general health. Dr. Weil notes that it became popular in the United States during the early 1970s after President Richard Nixon opened relations with China.

Besides pain, acupuncture treats a myriad of issues including digestive complaints, emotional disorders, neurological issues such as Parkinson's or migraines; post-traumatic stress disorders, respiratory issues (allergies, asthma), fatigue, sleep disorders, reproductive issues, ill-effects of cancer medications and stress. People get acupuncture treatments as a preventive measure to decrease stress, improve energy and boost immunity. People also use acupuncture in conjunction with traditional Western medical practices. 

How does Acupuncture Feel? 

I decided to take the plunge and undergo the treatment for facial rejuvenation. The protocol is two treatments for three weeks then one treatment a week for up to six weeks. "Tune ups" can be from once a month, one every three or six months or once a year depending on an individual. 

I was both pleased and surprised by the results. After my second treatment I saw a lift in my eyebrows. After several more treatments my eyes looked more open and brighter. I saw a brightness and felt a smoothness in my skin tone. What I didn't expect was the elimination of dryness in my left eye or the effect on my sinuses which has been a problem for years. 

Needles were placed in my feet, my arms, hands, legs, feet, head, face, eyebrows and the corners of my eyes. My sinuses drained for weeks until the 10th session when I felt amazingly cleared and energized. People unknowing of my treatment tell me I look good. The effects of acupuncture for facial rejuvenation can take months to fully realize according to Virginia Doran, the acupuncturist with whom Allison studied. I look forward seeing the results that she speaks of -- improved muscle and skin tone, increased collagen production, improved hormonal balance, increased skin moisture, tightened pores and overall improved health and wellbeing. 

Each treatment I had felt different both during and after treatment. I felt nothing from most of the more than 30 needles Allison used. 

When she inserted some needles I felt a momentary sharp or stinging sensation. From others I felt a dull ache that dissipated after a short period of time. Allison said the needles are about the thickness of two strands of hair. Even though each session she inserted the needles into the same places, it always felt different. In the beginning I was nervous but after several sessions I began to look forward to the session and seeing what effects it would have on me.

At first it was difficult to lie still for 20 minutes, but after several sessions I relaxed more. By my 11th session I dozed during that time. All the acupuncturists I spoke with emphasized how different each person's reaction will be to treatment. Because of my aversion to needles I started acupuncture apprehensive and tense. As time elapsed I learned how to relax and feel my body. I learned a lot about myself and my energy. Sometimes I felt a needle inserted in my cheek on my arm. Another time I felt a needle inserted in my foot in my stomach. Allison, who has been practicing for 12 years, told me that all of the needles are placed in strategic points and have a reason for being there. "For example, needles inserted in the feet, legs, hands or arms are pulling heat down from the head so my blood pressure didn't go up. Other needles are bringing chi (energy) into the face or drawing heat from the head."

Allison pointed out that studies at the National Institute of Health have confirmed the health benefits of acupuncture --reducing blood pressure, relieving stress, improving the immune system. Perhaps that is why more insurance companies are reimbursing patients for their treatments.

Acupuncture can help most everyone. "It's not about fixing or curing. It's about helping bodies minds and hearts to function better. We are helping people have a little more awareness of their bodies and how they work." 


Marilyn Adams
Allison Bower
Aurora Raiten
Mary Reiger
Marjorie Shovlin

Pattie Cinelli is a fitness consultant who emphasizes exercise as a gateway to overall health and wellbeing. She has been writing her fitness column for more than 25 years. Please email her with fitness questions or column ideas at: