For all the possible ways human bodies can fall ill, there are even more ways to treat them. Many of us combine Western allopathic medicine with things such as medication and other holistic approaches. Acupuncture is one of those practices. It’s been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years as a method of treatment.
Very fine, sterile single-use needles are inserted into specific points on the body into the muscle tissue just below skin level. These points are located along meridians, or channels, of energy found throughout the body. While origins are unclear, there is written record of acupuncture dating back to 100 B.C., according to Amy Severinsen, co-founder and practitioner at Milwaukee Community Acupuncture.
"By tapping into those points, the idea is that we're actually drawing energy either to or from certain locations of the body, allowing you to feel and operate your best," she explains.
Studies by both the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization found acupuncture to be effective in helping relieve stress, headaches, migraines, body pain, depression, and anxiety. It’s also used preventatively, but the practice is still somewhat controversial in the West — and often insurance in the United States doesn’t cover it.
The common problem of financing acupuncture treatment is exactly why Severinsen and co-founder Olive Crane went into the practice of community acupuncture.
"I really love acupuncture and I wanted to offer it in a way that anybody could get it and not have that be limited by cost, which it often is," says Crane.
Common rates for one-hour sessions typically fall anywhere from $50-$100. Wheras in a communal space, like Milwaukee Community Acupuncture, patients are charged on a sliding scale of $15-$40 since more people can be treated at the same time.
Two large rooms are filled with recliners facing one another in a wide circle. Severinsen and Crane note that they access points on the head, arms, feet and legs, so the most patients may need to do is roll up their sleeves or pants.
A communal setting can make people new to acupuncture a little nervous, but Severinsen says once you look past that initial hesitation it can turn into something meaningful.
"This can be a really beautiful growing opportunity too, for people to come in to here and feel comfortable in a setting with other people just a few feet away from them resting and sleeping in a chair," she notes. "How often do you rest and nap next to strangers? It's pretty beautiful."
Another concern people have is about the needles themselves — particularly if you're afraid of them. However the sensation of an thin acupuncture needle is vastly different from a hypodermic needle that people most often deal with at a doctor's office.
"When you have the acupuncture needle inserted, sometimes you feel something, and if you do it’s usually going to be like a minor dull achiness, a little pressure. It’s typically a very mild sensation — sometimes you don’t feel it at all," explains Crane.
Acupuncture is not a quick fix. While you may feel a difference after your first session, a treatment plan is written depending on what an individual needs. Crane and Severinsen recommend getting treatment consistently for at least six sessions to feel the full effects. Crane notes that with stress levels so high for everyone, getting into the practice of sitting still is also beneficial.
"Once the needles go in [patients are] able to really get into that rest and recuperate, and they're here for 40 minutes generally with needles in. And that really starts to set in — it's like training your body to meditate basically, and it gets easier too," she says.
"Stress is a major contributor to health, and that's one of the things that we see all the time," notes Severinsen. "Acupuncture is good at reducing stress levels ... And just reducing someone's stress in their life can do wonders in the body being able to heal itself."
In addition to the meeting Severinsen and Crane, Lake Effect's Audrey Nowakowski also met Victor and Allan, two patients who spoke about their experiences with acupuncture: