Mighty Swords 18

Renowned acupuncturist explains how the battle for our health is, perhaps, a few needle sticks away

“Basically,” said the man holding half a dozen fine needles, “I move blood.”

That’s not exactly how most people would describe acupuncture, but the man, Doug Womack, acupuncturist extraordinaire and sole practitioner of Montana Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs, who wields these fine tiny swords, assures patients that the war for one’s health can be won.

“The body likes the status quo,” he said, which is why pain if not addressed can all too quickly become chronic.

“Chronic pain is a sort of learned response whereas acute pain tells you to quit doing something. For example, when you get a fever and then you’re shivering, what is happening is that the body has accepted that the fever is the status quo,” he explained. “When you start to break the fever, the body believes it is cold and begins to shiver in an effort to get it back up to the fever.

“You’ve got to break through that.”

The break-through comes in the form of new trauma—the sites where Mr. Womack sticks the needles, sending signals to the mid-brain’s periaqueductal gray (PAG), the primary control center for descending pain modulation with its enkephalin-producing cells that suppress pain.

The body’s natural soldiers, AWOL on their true assignment, are reset with each visit. The painkillers and toxic clean-up crews are redeployed with new orders, sending out fresh blood with nutrients for healing, at which point the body begins to see the pain—not as the status quo but—as acute and, later, as non-existent. The battle for pain relief, once seemingly lost, sees the tide turning.

The gain, however, can slip away.

Mr. Womack hears it often: Acupuncture works but only short term. He agrees, but up to a point.

“I tell people upfront, ‘Don’t come to me if you’re only going to come two or three times,’” he said, noting that acupuncture involves retraining the body, a process. It’s not a magic pill. “I can make you feel better but it’s likely going to come back if the issue isn’t properly handled over time.”

Typically, a four-month protocol is recommended. “I’ve got to be phased out. We phase me out of treatment as the body takes over,” he said. “That’s what makes acupuncture treatment whole and successful in the long term.”