It was in 2013 when McKenzie Beamer of Raleigh started having lower back problems. Beamer, 35, described the pain as “excruciating.”
“I would be sitting at my desk at work and I would come out of my chair the pain would be so bad,” said Beamer, who works with the state’s emergency medical services for children. “I couldn’t bend over and touch my toes. Getting dressed in the morning was an issue.”
The problem, she said, was not enough space between two vertebrae. Her doctor prescribed pain medications and there was talk of surgery.
Beamer instead sought out an acupuncturist. She started with one treatment a week.
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“By the end of four weeks, I was off my meds and able to touch my toes,” said Beamer, who still uses acupuncture. “And now three years later, I run 5 miles a week, sometimes less, sometimes more. I lift weights and I have virtually no pain.”
Beamer shared her experience of the alternative medical treatment Saturday afternoon in front of the N.C. Legislative Office Building in downtown Raleigh, where members of the N.C. Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine hosted the group’s first 5K walk.
Organizers described the purpose of event, which drew more than 50 participants, as twofold. They wanted to educate the public about acupuncture as an alternative to prescribed opioids for pain treatment. The 235-member group, which was started in the late 1990s, also wants the ancient medical treatment to be covered by private insurers.
David Peters, an acupuncturist and president of NCAAOM, pointed to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association about the use of acupuncture in a hospital emergency department.
“It could be compared to intravenous morphine,” Peters said, “and acupuncture won. We’ve known that all along. It’s been used in China to manage pain for only 5,000 years,” he added sarcastically.
Peters pointed to several reasons why the alternative treatment does not pass muster with American medical authorities. He said most medical studies for new treatments and drugs rely on a “double-blind placebo study,” where neither the patients nor the researchers know who is getting a placebo and who is getting the treatment.
“They can’t do it.” Peters said about previous acupuncture research that relies on placebos – acupressure for instance, that’s similar to acupuncture. “They really should be using the empirical method instead. Look at patient outcomes. The evidence is there.”
Peters and other acupuncture advocates offer presentations to private and public employers’ human resources departments, including one with human resources officials at the state legislature. The advocates wanted the treatment to be available to state employees through their insurance.
“We showed them the cost effectiveness of acupuncture,” Peters said. “They didn’t bite. They didn’t give us a good reason. They just said no.”
Through Oriental medicine, the body is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s healing itself.
McKenzie Beamer, Raleigh resident who receives acupuncture treatments
Cary acupuncturist Bonnie Cashwell, who participated in Saturday’s walk, said the treatment “keeps all of the body’s organs in balance, for optimal functioning.”
One of her patients, Veronica “Taffy” Clark of Cary, said there are 367 points on the body where needles can be placed that affect other parts of the body.
Clark, who is a vice president of quality control for a Triangle mortgage company, has the needles inserted in her feet, arms, neck, the top of her head and her stomach during the hourlong treatment sessions.
Clark, 60, said she uses acupuncture as a form of preventive care for her organs, along with relying on a nutritionist, a physical therapist for muscle maintenance and a chiropractor to monitor her spine.
She started visiting Cashwell in August after enduring pain in her bladder for five years. She said she would wake from bed in the middle of the night, “religiously, with a sharp pain in my stomach as soon as I stood up.”
“My doctor speculated it was probably my bladder pressing against a nerve,” she said. The doctor “had no interest in exploring it and chalked it up to age.”
Clark said that after her very first session with Cashwell, she woke up in the middle of the night expecting the abdominal pain, “because it was always there, without fail. It was an automatic pain. And it was gone.”
Morag MacLachlan, an NCAAOM spokeswoman, reported that more than 2 million Americans are addicted to painkillers. She said the medications have other downsides, including costs and side effects. She relies on acupuncture to relieve her feet after a week walking in heels at work. She called acupuncture “the best answer for pain.”
Beamer agreed. “Through Oriental medicine, the body is doing what it’s supposed to do,” she said. “It’s healing itself.”