Option for veterans: Acupuncture can treat pain and PTSD

Area Vietnam veteran John Reid suffered from back pain caused by injuries he received while serving with the 82nd Airborne.

Like other military veterans, the Bedford man, 62, who also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, found relief from acupuncture, an ancient practice from China.

Silver and gold acupuncture needles that date as far back as 4,000 years have been found, said Michael Cregger, who treated Reid.

Cregger, who also incorporates massage, nutrition and Chinese herbal medicine into services, is a licensed acupuncturist and owner of Lifeworks Health Center in Altoona.

The needles used in acupuncture are called filiforms and are as thin as a strand of hair.

“The filiform or hair-fine needle moves the electrical current in the body that’s responsible for muscle activity and organ function,” Cregger said. “The body’s entire function is based on this electrical current we call chi, and where the chi isn’t moving, there’s pain and when it’s congested or deficient, there’ll be sickness or fatigue.”

Acupuncture therapy has shown effectiveness in treating the symptoms of a wide range of conditions, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Medical centers such as the VA Western New York Healthcare System conducts the therapy along with “more conventional modern medicine,” according to the website.

And acupuncture is offered at the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center in Washington, D.C.

The acupuncture program is in “high demand,” and a priority for individual sessions is for “combat veterans who have illnesses or injuries as a result of service in Operations Iraqi Freedom and/or Enduring Freedom,” the website said.

Dr. Heather Ferlitch has given acupuncture to more than 100 military veterans at her practice and as part of the acupuncture team at Canandaigua Veterans Affairs Hospital in Canandaigua, N.Y., she wrote in an email.

Ferlitch, who owns Fusion Chiropractic & Acupuncture at the Natural Connection Wellness Center in Huntingdon, is a chiropractor with a master’s degree in acupuncture, which she also studied at the Zhejiang Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in HangZhou, China.

“Working with veterans within the Veterans Hospital is a true system of integrative care,” she wrote. “For example, many of them see their physician who then provides them with a referral for acupuncture for pain relief. This is especially common when veterans are looking to decrease or eliminate their pain medication or if their pain medication is no longer working. The majority of veterans come to me seeking pain relief.”

The most common conditions she treats especially among veterans is lower-back and neck pain

“PTSD is another common condition that I treat with acupuncture, especially when it comes in the form of anxiety, depression, stress, irritability, insomnia, lack of energy and/or nightmares,” she wrote.

Having multiple areas of pain is typical with PTSD, and then keeping muscles tense can cause problems such as sleeplessness and anxiety, Cregger said.

In Chinese medicine, it is believed that pain can stir up the memories of it’s origin, Ferlitch wrote.

“When they are pain free, most of them are able to go back to living a normal life without PTSD as their pain is no longer an active reminder of the past,” she wrote. “Often after just a few acupuncture treatments, those with PTSD will notice symptoms like irritability, foggy memory, insomnia, pain, and fatigue are dissipating by bringing balance within the body. Acupuncture is very safe, does not have any side effects and is virtually painless.”

Lifeworks is offering a discounted rate to veterans: $10 off a $65 hour-long session and $5 off a $40 half-hour session, Cregger said.

The number of veterans in the area who need services and their willingness to turn to alternative medicine is why Cregger wanted to offer veterans a discount, he said.

Keeping patients isn’t Cregger’s goal.

“I have a few regulars, but we like to get problems solved for people so they don’t have to continue going to treatment,” he said. “That’s very important.”

Reid, who said he also experienced a spiritual awakening through acupuncture, said he initially had more pain when he started treatment because of the blockage of chi opening up.

The treatments eventually “loosened up the blocked areas and allowed me to regain my flexibility in my back,” he said.

“Acupuncture has to be accepted with an open mind to be the best use,” Reid said. “If you go with a closed mind, sure it’s going to have beneficial effects, but your negativity will cause your body to fight what the [acupuncturist is] trying to help you with. So just be positive and open minded and you’ll have the best effects.”

Cregger has treated plenty of naysayers who got better, but an open mind does yield the best results, he said.

“It’s a lot more relaxing than people realize,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.