Curious about acupuncture, but not crazy about needles? Electroacupuncture may be in your future. Instead of needles, the technique uses a small electric current and conductive pads to stimulate acupuncture points. "You just feel a warm vibration and a slight tingle, and that's it," says electroacupuncturist George A. Ulett, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health in St. Louis. Dr. Ulett has been studying acupuncture since a trip to China in the late Sixties, and practicing electroacupuncture for almost 20 years. In two recent studies (Southern Medical Journal, 12/98; Biological Psychiatry, 7/15/98) he reports that the procedure can greatly reduce--and in some cases eliminate--the need to take drugs for arthritis pain, backaches, migraines, depression, anxiety, addictions, digestive disorders, and other ailments.
Often called evidence-based acupuncture, electroacupuncture bypasses the traditional Eastern notion that acupuncture works by correcting imbalances in the body's energy flow, or qi. Instead, advocates embrace a more Western, anatomical point of view. The technique focuses on the 80 points (out of the 365 acupuncture points recognized in traditional Chinese acupuncture) in which nerves enter muscles. Electroacupuncturists contend that stimulating these points releases healing, pain-relieving brain chemicals, and that electric currents are superior to needles for triggering the release of these beneficial compounds.
"Electroacupuncture is cost-effective, painless, and free of side effects," says Dr. Ulett. But finding a practitioner trained in the technique is difficult. Why? While electroacupuncture has been extensively studied in China, it has received scant attention from U.S. researchers. Until there is more research available, U.S. medical doctors who perform acupuncture will be slow to embrace it. Licensed acupuncturists who are not M.D.'s have also been reluctant to accept it because it rejects traditional concepts and underlying theories that most of them hold dear.
Like traditional acupuncture a typical session costs about $55 and lasts 30 minutes or so. Patients usually start off with once-a-week treatments, which are tapered in frequency as their condition improves. Dr. Ulett is currently holding seminars to teach the technique to interested practitioners. He says it's a simple procedure that can be taught in a couple of hours.
For more information: Contact Dr. George Ulett, Missouri Institute of Mental Health, University of Missouri School of Medicine, 5400 Arsenal St., St. Louis, MO 63139-1494.
Date Published: 3/10/2003
Date Reviewed: 8/31/2009