Acupuncture is used to treat not only long COVID, but sleep disorders, anxiety, chemotherapy reactions, and more.

Needles may have made you shy from acupuncture, but if you’ve got lingering COVID symptoms, you might want to reconsider. In fact, in addition to COVID, the World Health Organization lists forty-three common conditions—from chemotherapy reactions to tennis elbow—that acupuncture can alleviate.  

Dr. May Wang, who trained in Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine, has been practicing acupuncture for more than forty years in China and the United States. While her specialty is pain management, she has had success treating COVID patients experiencing “headaches, fatigue, low energy, poor memory, brain fog, and loss of smell and taste.” In fact, after two sessions, one patient exclaimed that she “could smell the lilacs outside the office.” (Patients must test negative before treatment.)

“COVID finds our weak spots and cracks them wide open,” explains Jonathan McDonell, founder of Buffalo Advanced Medical Acupuncture, who has also treated patients suffering from long COVID. “Whether it is sending [a person’s] fibromyalgia into a seemingly endless flare, having them suddenly develop rheumatoid arthritis, or myriad other diseases that COVID seems to set off, we see a common theme of extreme fatigue. If a patient is battling fatigue, they do not have the energy to heal. The intent [of acupuncture] is to return the body to a place of balance.”

Local resident Michael Sheridan originally tried acupuncture to alleviate stress and allergic reactions. His wife, Aubrey, had never experienced acupuncture until he recommended it after her bad bout with COVID.

“I was unable to get out of bed for ten days. I was extremely fatigued, dizzy, had a high heart rate, pounding heart, and a fever. The fatigue, dizziness, and heart symptoms were so bad that I had trouble walking from room to room, and eventually saw a cardiologist as well,” says Aubrey, who found acupuncture neither painful nor uncomfortable. “You can’t really feel the needles at all and if you do, they can easily be repositioned.”

Afterward, Aubrey says she felt tired, “but in a peaceful way. Like waking up from a good nap.” She started feeling relief from her symptoms after three or four sessions.

When Michael contracted COVID, he suffered from “fever, heart racing, significant fatigue, shortness of breath, and body aches. Some cold symptoms, but those were not too bad.” He went for acupuncture because it had helped his wife.

“I felt very rested,” Michael says. “It’s not an immediate fix, [but] two sessions made a big difference. If fear of pain is the only thing holding you back, go! It is not painful at all. I was so nervous about the needles, but you truly don’t feel a thing. Nine out of ten times, I fall asleep in the chair.”

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a comprehensive system of health care that includes Chinese herbology and bodywork, dietary therapy, and exercise based on TCM principles and with a continuous clinical history of over 3,000 years, says Wang. These therapies work with our natural vital energy to promote the body’s ability to heal itself. Acupuncture is not painful because the needles are so tiny, says Wang, who adds that it generally doesn’t cause side effects.

“Oriental medicine is based on an energetic model rather than the biochemical model of Western medicine,” Wang says. “The ancient Chinese recognized a vital energy behind all life forms and life processes. They called this energy Qi [pronounced chee].”

Qi flows along specific pathways called “meridians.” Each pathway is associated with a particular physiological system and internal organ. Disease arises due to deficiency or imbalance of energy in the meridians and their associated physical systems.

Each acupuncture point along a meridian has a predictable effect upon the vital energy passing through it. Practitioners choose specific points to place the needles based on the patient’s condition. 

Treatment times and durations vary, though Wang says an average patient requires six to eight treatments. Some patients feel better after one or two treatments and complicated cases can take longer. “Everyone is different,” McDonell adds, “but it takes time to reverse a chronic health problem.”

Before starting treatment, Dr. Wang says it is important to know a patient’s medical history, including any underlying medical issues and what medications are being used.  Wang recommends patients start with two treatments per week, then space out treatments as their conditions improve.

“The patient’s attitude, diet, determination, and lifestyle will affect the outcome of treatment,” continues Wang, who says each patient’s path is different. “Patients are encouraged to actively participate in their healing process.” 

“It’s been a challenging time,” McDonell says. “But acupuncture, in conjunction with modern treatment methods, can offer hope to those with long COVID symptoms to get the relief they need to can get on with life.”


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