Juanita Thompson of Richfield had suffered from lower back pain for two decades. But when her massage therapist and physician each suggested acupuncture, she was skeptical.

“I guess I just didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know how sticking needles in would do anything,” she said. But the pain prompted her to consider it. “If I was doing much walking or working, it felt like someone was following me with a two-by-four, hitting me. … I was leery on acupuncture, but anything to get rid of the pain.”

When she arrived at Jon Paul Morse’s office in Twin Falls, Thompson thought she’d lie face down on a table, and that the needles would hurt. Instead he had her roll up her sleeve and gently tapped the needles into places near her shoulder, elbow and thumb.

It’s “a lot less painful than going to the dentist,” she said. Best of all, she no longer has to take narcotic pain pills. “I felt like I got 10 years of my life back. I have more energy; I just can’t say enough about it.”

Thompson is one of the south-central Idahoans turning to the traditional Eastern art and science of acupuncture to treat a variety of conditions — from migraines to arthritis to weight loss to tobacco addiction.

Most acupuncturists here have a specialty; many have practices that are busy enough that if a patient’s request doesn’t fall within that specialty, they refer the patient to another practitioner.

Idaho instituted licensing and certification requirements for acupuncturists in 2000, and slowly, insurance companies covering Idahoans have been adding acupuncture to the list of covered treatments. However, many local practitioners still operate on a cash basis, providing insured patients with paperwork for reimbursement.

Fees tend to be per-visit, and practitioners contacted for this story said they charge between $25 and $75 for a visit, which can vary between 20 and 90 minutes; initial visits usually cost a little more.

It’s worth it, even if insurance doesn’t reimburse, say some patients.

“I have extolled the virtues of it to several friends,” said Claudia Andreason of Twin Falls, who visits certified acupuncturist and chiropractic physician Craig Manning at Canyon Springs Chiropractic in Twin Falls.

Andreason has suffered from arthritis since 1964, and had been putting off knee replacement surgery since 1982. When she finally decided to schedule the surgery because she could hardly bend her knee, her daughter, who had used acupuncture, pleaded with her mom to try it before going under the knife. The relief was immediate, and Andreason’s condition has continued to improve; her biweekly visits have tapered off to once every four to six weeks.

“I’m sold on acupuncture; (Manning) has helped me immensely. As long as it’s going the way it is now, there’s no way I’m going to go and have knee replacement,” Andreason said.

Manning said he is seeing more patients because of the higher profile of acupuncture in popular media. Even in Idaho it’s become an accepted, rather than fringe, treatment.

“I’ve had people say, ‘I saw it on Oprah,’ or ‘I saw it in a magazine,’ but most of my practice is word of mouth,” Manning said. And although not many patients are covered for acupuncture by their insurance, they’re willing to try it for cash. “More and more people, their deductibles are so high, they’re shopping (around for treatment options) more than ever. They want to find what works best and is the least expensive.”

Dana Henry, a licensed acupuncturist and yoga teacher who practices part time in Twin Falls and part time in Ketchum, said that in Magic Valley she sees primarily people with issues resulting from physical labor, especially dairy and beet farmers. Up north, she’s one of four acupuncturists who are called on when someone at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center requests the treatment as part of the hospital’s integrated medicine program.

“That’s a huge step, that the Wood River Valley was open to that,” she said, lamenting that St. Luke’s Magic Valley has not yet launched a similar program.

Although some acupuncturists focus exclusively on that treatment, many have combined practices that include chiropractic, holistic therapies or other approaches.

Mark Dunlap, a naturopath and certified acupuncturist who owns Acupuncture Works in Burley, said the mixed nature of his practice has kept the business afloat. But compared with two decades ago when he began practicing, many more Idahoans are interested in learning about acupuncture, he said.

Dunlap is eager to share information with whomever asks, quick to launch into detail about the Surround the Dragon method and the Meridian Therapy method; he noted that the latter now incorporates modern technology and software to quantify what the original Chinese practitioners figured out millennia ago.

In Burley, he said, the patients who are quickest to accept acupuncture are those with Hispanic heritage. “You don’t have to go back as many generations in that culture to find the old ways,” he said, describing the place of non-Western, home-remedy concepts in many of their ancestral societies.

 

Ariel Hansen may be reached at 788-3475 or ahansen@magicvalley.com.

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