(Reprinted with permission from The Key West Citizen’s Health File, April 2011)
A layman’s guide to understanding acupuncture
By Sara Matthis
Special Sections Editor
Most people have at least a rudimentary understanding of acupuncture in that it involves needles applied to certain areas of the body.
Fewer people understand it’s application and only a handful of people are expert acupuncturists. Ashley Hoyt, of Key West, is one of the latter.
“Essentially, acupuncture is about influencing the circulation of ‘qi,’ or energy, through the meridian system,” she said. “Although I hesitate to say that’s the only definition because everyone understands it differently. Other people might liken it to promoting balance in the human body or fine-tuning the electrical system.”
Regardless, it’s a revered study of medicine thousands of years old. The first Chinese texts that describe acupuncture date to about 300 B.C. The practice spread from China to Korea, Japan, Vietnam and then elsewhere in East Asia. In the United States, it didn’t receive widespread notice until the 1970s after an article in the New York Times touted its value for post-operative relief.
While acupuncture certainly has it’s place as a therapeutic measure, it can also be preventative and curative, Hoyt said.
“Many patients come to me for pain management,” Hoyt said, “and I also get some that come in from a tune up. They might have a couple of sessions and then I won’t see them for a while until they feel like they need another.”
At Hoyt’s Clinic of Alternative Medicine on Duck Avenue, patients seeking acupuncture treatment come for a variety of reasons. Number one on the list, Hoyt said, is pain management. The second most common complaint is women’s health issues such as menopause. Others seek treatment to deal with headaches and migraines or low energy levels. They come for help dealing with insomnia, anxiety or depression. Finally, some locals want to lose weight or stop smoking.
Regardless of what prompts patients to visit the office, the process starts with a complete health history. Hoyt has spent her entire professional career in the health industry – first as a pre-med student with an interest in psychology, then a massage therapist and finally a doctor of acupuncture medicine, a four-year academic commitment.
“For patients who are receiving acupuncture to quit smoking, I can also make other suggestions regarding their diet, exercise and stress management,” Hoyt said. “Acupuncture combined with other behavior modifications — such as chewing on a flavored toothpick or exercising to combat agitation — can help my patients kick the habit.”
Perhaps one of the most important functions of acupuncture, however, is its ability to promote healing. In much the same way a massage therapist’s touch can remind a certain muscle to behave, acupuncture can stimulate the body’s systems to work more efficiently to deal with the crisis du jour.
“Acupuncture can help revitalize the body’s natural healing capabilities and it can also help accelerate healing,” Hoyt said. In this instance, it’s appropriate before and after surgery. For example, a man awaiting spinal surgery might find added relief on the acupuncturist’s table above and beyond whatever pain relief he has been prescribed by his regular physician.
Hoyt is very emphatic that acupuncture and other alternative medicine is not an “either/or” proposition.
“Acupuncture works well with all modalities of medicine, including traditional medicines such as Western medicine,” she said. “The great thing about acupuncture is that there are no negative side effects.”
The Clinic of Alternative Medicine has four treatment rooms. In Hoyt’s acupuncture salon, a table not unlike a massage surface is surrounded with art and Eastern furniture. A small antique side table is where she keeps the sterile and disposable acupuncture needles, no bigger than a human hair.
“It depends on what we’re treating how long the needles stay in. Sometimes the patient can benefit from having them stay in for several minutes,” she said. Hoyt said most people find acupuncture relaxing and many achieve the type of peacefulness as that generated by a good massage. The needles come out before the patients leave the clinic, unless the patient is trying to lose weight or stop smoking. Some of those leave with a few tiny tacks taped to an ear.
“The tack is helpful in behavior modification treatments,” she said.
The Clinic of Alternative Medicine also provides massage therapy and skin care including facials, peels and microdermabrasion. It also carries a select inventory of health and wellness supplements such as Chinese herbs and a line of skin care products and teas.
People like Hoyt and her patients are promoting the popularity of acupuncture and slowly but surely the message is reaching mainstream America. Some health insurance companies now cover acupuncture and massage therapy to treat pain management and rehabilitiation.
For more information about Ashley Hoyt and the Clinic of Alternative Medicine or to inquire about services, call 305-296-5358 or stop by 3420 Duck Avenue next to the Art Warehouse. The clinic is open business hours Monday through Friday and half day on Saturday.