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Treating the aches, pains and maladies of aging with the ancient Chinese art of acupuncture

Tim Schlank, a doctor of Oriental medicine and licensed acupuncturist at Highland Acupuncture, recommends the treatments for what ails seniors. 

In name and technique, acupuncture has long had something of an image problem. After all, most people don’t naturally consider “puncturing” themselves — literally inserting needles into their body — as a means of relieving pain.

But Tim Schlank has seen plenty of skeptics come around in their views of his practice at Highland Acupuncture over the years. While some may be wincing in anticipation of their first visit, he knows he has soothed a body and changed a mind when the patient's lingering pain and discomfort recede after a treatment.

That’s why Schlank believes that, long-held attitudes and preconceptions aside, senior citizens, in particular, should consider acupuncture to relieve the aches and pains that tend to become more common as we age.

In an edited transcript, Schlank discusses the benefits and process of acupuncture.

What are some of the most effective uses of acupuncture? Are there any particular conditions and/or parts of the body that react particularly well to this kind of treatment?

Acupuncture improves the health of tissues and organs by correcting nerve function and restoring blood flow. A number of well-documented studies support it as an effective treatment for chronic pain stemming from arthritis and back problems. Acupuncture also can yield lasting results with hip, knee and shoulder pain, as well as migraines.

Our patients seek treatment for many types of issues, but we do tend to see a majority of people looking for pain relief. Since Northwest Indiana is rooted in industry, there’s a large local labor force — currently working in or retired from physically taxing jobs. Acupuncture is amazing for treating the kind of back pain that is common among people who work at the mills and in construction jobs.

But acupuncture is not just for pain. Because it restores nerve function and addresses internal disease at the causative level, it can help reverse many conditions such as asthma, allergies, irritable bowel, anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

Please describe a treatment.

A typical treatment session lasts about 40 minutes. We have 10 private treatment rooms, and though there is no need to disrobe, we always suggest that patients wear comfortable clothing that can be pulled up over the knee or shoulder. It generally takes 1-2 minutes to insert 5-15 sterile, single-use fine needles.

The process is very relaxing, and many of our patients will fall asleep during their treatments.

What are some of the common myths or misunderstandings about acupuncture?

The question we get all the time is whether acupuncture hurts. Quite simply, it does not. In fact, a majority of our patients feel very relaxed during their treatment. Although it is not common, some people might feel slight discomfort at the most — like a mosquito bite.

Most people’s experience with needles is with hypodermic needles, and I think that’s where the pain myth originates. To put it in perspective, an acupuncture needle is about the thickness of a human hair.

Why does acupuncture make sense for seniors?

With the increasing senior population in Northwest Indiana, there is a growing need to address issues that come with aging, such as arthritis, neuropathy, and circulation issues, as well as joint and back pain. I understand that these issues affect people of all ages, but we have seen an increased number of patients 55 and older seeking alternatives to prescription pain medicine; they are interested in a holistic approach to their overall wellness. About 20 percent of our clients are retirement age and older.

Acupuncture can treat many of the pain-related issues that affect seniors. And a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine can be very effective for sleep issues and increased energy.

In your experience, who is the best potential candidate for acupuncture?

Anyone who really wants to improve their health and is ready for a change. Our patients new to acupuncture always say that they wish that they would have sought treatment years ago.

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