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Whole Living: Acupuncture can help with stress and anxiety

The energy medicine has been used for thousands of years for everything from joint pain to headaches to fertility.

TAMPA, Fla. — You know that ache in your lower back, or that knee that always hurts? There's an energy medicine that's been used for thousands of years to treat those kinds of issues.

In our series, "Whole Living," we show you how acupuncture is not just used to help with pain, but also with the stress and anxiety we've been dealing with lately too.

Since 2012, Greta Bennett has been getting acupuncture. Her mom got her to try it for the first time. She started while she was stationed in Hawaii because she was under a lot of stress in her job and noticed she was short-fused. 

"Within that month of not seeing her, after the acupuncture, something occurred at work, it happened and I went about my business, but I stopped and paused and I said, that normally that would have set me off. And it didn't, And that's when I knew it was working."

Bennett was relocated to MacDill Air Force Base and started sessions again because of piercing headaches.

"I don't want to be on any type of medication, so acupuncture is what I prefer. It's healthy, it's your body kind of treating itself," Bennett said.

Dr. Su Campo is a licensed acupuncture physician with Elements Wellness Center.

Like Bennett, she sees a lot of people for pain management. 

"Areas of pain with the neck, shoulders, back, knees is what people generally come in for," Dr. Campo said. "But it's great for anything from headaches, to allergies. We focus on women's healthcare and fertility here as well."

But she also says it's just great for maintenance. 

"So it's always a good idea if you're feeling great, feeling healthy, to come in for treatment, then you get to see the different changes in your body that you may not have noticed. Sometimes you live every day and do your daily activities and you don't really notice the wear and tear on your body until all of a sudden you're sleeping better or you realize you have more energy," Dr. Campo said.

If you're worried about the needles, she says they're different than the typical syringe. It's solid and smaller than the follicle of your hair. She says sometimes you don't even feel them. 

"The needle stimulates nerves. There are some studies that show when we stimulate nerves it actually secretes lots of hormones, serotonin endorphins. So what that does is lower the inflammation and increases blood flow and circulation, so in turn it helps boost the immune system," said Campo.

There are different types of techniques and treatments can last 15 to 40 minutes. In the beginning, you may go once or twice a week for a few weeks and see how your body responds. 

"What it does is it calms and relaxes the body, puts the body in a parasympathetic state to where it is not fighting or responding to anything. So it gives the body a chance to heal. So that's why it's really great for stress and anxiety," Campo said.

That's one of the reasons Bennett says it's helped her.

"And you're able to go about your day and your week just more levelheaded and clear minded, at least for me and the headaches don't come," Bennett said.

The only side effect is a chance for some bruising around the area because of capillaries. 

With fertility, it depends on what's causing the infertility. 

"A lot of times it could just be stress," Campo explained. "You know a lot of times cortisol will cause inflammation in the body, so studies have shown that during acupuncture treatment it increases the serotonin and endorphins in the body, lowering that stressor hormone, the cortisol, so it helps your body be less inflamed. With other kinds of infertility the acupuncture helps with the organ functions in the pelvic region and it also helps promote blood flow and circulation to that area."

Acupuncture isn't new. Let's take a deeper dive into the treatment:

  • Acupuncture has been around for more than 3,000 years. 
  • Traditional Chinese medicine says it balances the flow of energy or life force, known as chi. It works with different nerve pathways of the body, called channels and meridians. 
  • Western practitioners say it boosts your body's natural painkillers.
  • It's often used with chemotherapy or other cancer treatments  to help with the side effects of that drug.

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