Evidence Shows Acupuncture Can Reduce Chronic Pain

Six in 10 adults suffer from some form of chronic pain. Acupuncture at Clifton Springs is helping patients manage their pain.

November 21, 2019

Peacefully nestled on the ground floor of the Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic sits the patient-centered Integrative Medicine Center & Spa. Calm, tranquil, and clinical, it’s the ideal setting for patients searching for alternative treatment for chronic pain. 

Six in 10 adults suffer from some form of chronic pain. The Integrative Medicine Center & Spa, known locally as the Springs, provides acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic care, and its unique mineral spring baths for pain relief from chronic illness or simply to provide rest and relaxation from daily stressors. 

Reducing Pain with Acupuncture

A traditional Chinese practice, acupuncture triggers the body’s natural painkillers (endorphins) and healing properties (serotonin) by stimulating areas on the body with needles.

“The body has built-in healing mechanisms, and the needles tap into our ability to heal injuries by releasing our natural painkillers,” said Mary Sarratori, MSAOM, L.Ac, Acupuncturist at the Springs. 

Mary Sarratori headshot, acupuncturist at Clifton Springs

“What’s unique about acupuncture is that it doesn’t just look at the symptom; it looks at both the patient and symptom. It’s a natural and opioid-free way to treat pain.”

A study of more than 17,000 patients by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that acupuncture can reduce pain caused by chronic illness. The study investigated acupuncture for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, shoulder pain, and chronic headaches.

Sarratori has treated all types of patients in her ten years as an acupuncturist, ranging in age from as young as one week old to 96. Regardless of age or symptoms, she treats all patients differently.

“Acupuncture isn’t just about needles,” Sarratori said. “Since it’s a branch of Integrative Medicine, I talk to my patients about all aspects of their life—physical, emotional, mental, social, and environmental—before recommending treatment.”

“I could have 15 patients all with elbow pain. But no two patients are alike, so why would I treat the elbow pain the same each time?”

Misconceptions About Acupuncture

There are many misconceptions about acupuncture, Sarratori explains. One of the most common misconceptions is that acupuncture uses the same type of needles as vaccinations or needles used to draw blood.

“The needles we use are so thin that many of my patients don’t even feel them. They are about the same diameter as hair on a horse.”

Patient receiving acupuncture treatment

In 1996, the FDA classified acupuncture needles as official medical devices. 

Sarratori says another misconception is the belief that acupuncture is a technique that balances the flow of energy in the body.

“The whole energy thing was a mistranslation. A French man who visited China in the 1800s to learn Chinese medicine mistakenly believed that acupuncture’s effectiveness was due to balancing the body’s energy. Unfortunately, the idea took off.” 

Acupuncture has shown to be a popular and effective alternative to pain medication. At the Springs, you don’t need to be a patient to receive treatment. 

Fighting Pain from Cancer Treatment

“Acupuncture has been a key component in keeping my pain under enough control that I can live a functional life and continue to work,” said Pamela Polashenski, MD, Hospitalist at the Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic. 

Dr. Polashenski lives with stage 4 lobular breast cancer, an unusual variant that accounts for only 10% of all breast cancer cases. She suffers from metastases to multiple bones in her body which causes significant pain. 

“The diagnosis was a complete and total surprise,” Dr. Polashenski said. “I eat right, I work out all the time, and I generally take very good care of myself.” 

A competitive athlete who plays volleyball twice a week, Dr. Polashenski never thought acupuncture was a viable option for treating her pain. 

“I was quite skeptical. We’re not taught acupuncture in medical school, so it wasn’t something I ever considered recommending. But now I get treatment every 3 to 4 weeks at the Springs for pain relief.”

A study of cancer patients by Cancer Research UK found that acupuncture can reduce vomiting and nausea in patients receiving chemotherapy.  

Dr. Polashenski’s trust in acupuncture at the Springs has caught on.

“Recently, I had a cancer patient ask if she could have acupuncture while she was in the hospital. So, an acupuncturist came over and performed acupuncture on the patient in the hospital.”

“I never used to recommend acupuncture because I assumed it was just a placebo effect. Now I recommend it to many of my patients who are struggling with pain, and that’s a huge change for me.”

Reducing Opioids with Acupuncture

Severe pain is often treated with opioids like oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. But the negative impact that opioids can have on patients is staggering. 


218,000 people died in the United States from opioid-related overdoses between 1999 and 2017, and more than ten million Americans misused prescription opioids in 2018.


To combat the rise of opioid-related deaths, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently declared a public health emergency and developed a 5-point strategy that recommends “advancing better practices for pain management” as a priority item. 


A study by Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee shows that acupuncture can be a safer, alternative option to opioids in the emergency department (ED). 


Pain scores of ED patients who received acupuncture dropped from 6.5 to 3.4 points on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain). Stress, anxiety, and nausea scores also significantly improved.

“When patients present to the ED with complaints of pain, the majority of conventional treatment is limited to prescription medications," said John Burns, DPT, MSOM, CAc, of Aurora Health Care. “This research is very important because America is currently in the throes of a pain management and opioid crisis."

Dr. Polashenski agrees.

“I was taking so much Advil that I was having terrible side effects,” she said. “Acupuncture and massage therapy have allowed me to cut back on how much pain medication I require.” 

Mineral Springs

The Springs’ mineral springs contain a unique blend of magnesium, calcium, and sulfur that are beneficial for reducing pain and inflammation.

“The concept is similar to soaking in Epsom salts,” said Springs Operations Manager Krista Ingerick, BA, LMT. “Your body soaks up the minerals that possess many essential pain management and healing properties.” 

The Springs is located on the first floor of the Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic

Seniors and Lipson Cancer Institute patients receive a 15% service discount on M-F appointments no later than 2:30pm, and RRH employees receive a 10% discount any time, any day of the week. Gift cards are also available to purchase in any dollar amount and do not expire.

Book an Appointment at The Springs

Recent News

Women shaking hands after tennis
When Ella was diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse, she opted for minimally invasive robotic surgery that helped give Ella her active lifestyle back.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Active Ella Aces Prolapse

When Ella was diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse, she opted for minimally invasive robotic surgery that helped give Ella her active lifestyle back.

Read News Article
Little kid giving a gift to his mom
Why are Americans so generous over the holidays? Studies say it's because of how giving makes us feel.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Why Giving Makes You Feel So Good

Why are Americans so generous over the holidays? Studies say it's because of how giving makes us feel.

Read News Article
View All Recent News Articles