Posted: Monday, January 26, 2015 7:00 am | Updated: 2:42 pm, Mon Jan 26, 2015.
By ALICIA NOTARIANNI firstname.lastname@example.org
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Soothing traditional Chinese music played.
“In. And out,” Dr. Albert K. Leung said calmly, as he gently placed stainless-steel needles into the hands of his patient and wife, Amie Ho–Leung, and then removed plastic guide tubes from the needles. “Three points on the extensor side and three points on the flexor side, along what is called meridian lines.”
“We use acupuncture music for relaxation for the patients,” he said in his Martinsburg office. “And also it is supposed to affect the meridians that are involved.”
Meridians, Leung said, are the invisible channels, or conduits, through which energy circulates throughout the body.
“The meridians are like road maps in the body. Neuroimpulses are going through those channels,” he said.
Leung practices the treatment modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine — or TCM — known as acupuncture. Through the insertion of fine needles into specific points along meridians, acupuncture is believed to ensure the even circulation of qi, or energy, a balance between yin and yang, he said.
Acupuncture needles access points to help guide qi to areas where it is insufficient and disperse it away from areas where it is stagnant, rebalancing the body’s natural energy.
Combining medical philosophies
For more than 20 years, Leung assisted women in caring for their health and delivered babies as a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist in Canada and the United States.
Leung and his family moved in 1994 from the Stratford, Ontario, area to Martinsburg, where he continued to practice. He studied Western medicine throughout the 1970s, and received his medical degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.
But even as his OB-GYN patients were satisfied and loyal, and his practice flourished, Leung began to wonder if he was missing out on methods of providing more holistic and effective care to meet their needs.
Ho-Leung was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, an autoimmune disease that results in a chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder that can affect joints, tissues and organs. According to MayoClinic.org, the disease can causes stiffness, swelling, fatigue and pain.
In an effort to manage her symptoms, Ho-Leung began to explore the traditional Chinese practice of acupressure.
“About four years ago, I felt there was a need to explore (acupuncture), especially when my wife developed RA, and she bought a book for treatment with acupressure,” Leung explained. “That’s what got me interested to start learning acupuncture, which is supposedly a little more involved or better of a treatment modality than acupressure, or chiropractic or massage therapy, or other Eastern ways of treatment.”
Leung attended comprehensive training courses at the Academy of Pain Research and the Institute for Medical Studies in Acupuncture for physicians in San Francisco from April to October 2011.
“I studied with an internist, and he has been practicing both internal medicine and medical acupuncture for over 30 years. I got to know how acupuncture works and all the meridians that are involved. We learned how to needle each other, and that’s how we practiced,” he said.
According to Leung, he was one of five obstetricians, out of more than 70 physicians, involved in the training.
“We all had pathologies that anybody could have had, you know, chronic fatigue, all the pain that people would complain of, we probably had it,” he said.
Leung went on for additional training in a National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine-approved program on auriculotherapy, which is a technique using acupuncture in the nerve-rich auricle of the ear.
While traditional acupuncture generally is recognized to have originated in China more than 2,000 years ago, Leung said, auricular acupuncture was pioneered during the 1950s by Dr. Paul Nogier, a French neurologist.
“He used an old Chinese chart to develop an anatomical body structure map which simulated and inverted human body within the auricles,” Leung said. “Basically, the whole body is mapped onto the ear. Some people use needles just in the ear. If you are European, you use just the ear. But for me, I use the ear to enhance other body points.”
Leung studied auriculotherapy at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore under Nogier’s son, Dr. Raphael Nogier, whom he said further advanced the technique.
He delved into the more fundamental theories of advanced acupuncture balance methods of Dr. Richard Tan during 2013 and 2014, and last September, he became a full member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.
Leung said Tan is a “world-renowned master.”
“He has traveled to 33 countries. He wants the world to know about Chinese acupuncture,” Leung said of Tan. “At his seminars, he asks patients with medical conditions to come up front for a demonstration, and the rest is silence. Everybody pays attention because his treatment is so effective.”
Leung no longer practices obstetrics, but provides gynecological services and medical acupuncture for male and female patients at his Martinsburg office on Sushruta Drive.
The results of his acupuncture, like Tan’s, have been favorable, he said.
His first patient, Ho-Leung, attested to that.
About four or five years ago, she said, she was experiencing nearly unbearable neck and shoulder pain.
“My shoulder was just completely frozen and my neck could not even turn. I was in agonizing pain, and it lasted for a whole year,” she said. “And then (Leung) started treating me. This completely released it. To me, it felt like air had come out of my neck.”
Ho-Leung said now, as she is a “seasoned” patient of acupuncture, she will “feel the energy float.”
“Sometimes you will feel a ‘ti-ti-ti-ti-ti’ that goes through my hand and then to my shoulder. It’s like a movement, a shock that is initiated. I feel something travel to my shoulder, but then it dissipates and disappears,” she said.
Though she said she has “very low tolerance for pain,” Ho-Leung said insertion of the acupuncture needles does not hurt.
“It’s not on the nerve. If they were on the nerve, I would jump off the table,” she said. “The needles are very tiny, very fine, just like a string of hair, so when they puncture the skin, you don’t feel too much unless that area is very painful. Everybody would say it a little differently, but I would say it’s like a little shock.”
While the single-use disposable needles vary in gauge and length, Ho-Leung said they are thinner than those used to draw blood, or those used for shots or intravenous therapy.
Still, Leung said he was a bit apprehensive, at first, about inserting acupuncture needles into patients.
“Men sweat the most. Women have childbirth and menstrual periods. We are big chickens,” he said.
Leung uses acupuncture to treat conditions including substance abuse and addiction, depression, menstrual problems, facial palsy, body pain and diabetes-related neuropathy.
The World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health cite the benefits of medical acupuncture for numerous issues, including incontinence, reproductive problems, sinusitis, urinary tract infections, anxiety and colitis.
Howard Stanback, 67, of Hedgesville, W.Va., receives acupuncture treatment from Leung for spinal stenosis in his back.
“I played college football at Wake Forest (University), and as I got older, the condition erupted so the joints around my spinal column are not naturally straight, so my body has to work extra hard,” Stanback said. “Spinal injections were pretty painful and for me weren’t effective at all.”
Leung provided Stanback with a full medical assessment, including an exam and records review.
“We talked for about an hour about lifestyle, my history, he reviewed my X-rays. He showed me the places on my back that are arthritic and are not going to get better, but that can be managed and be pretty functional,” Stanback said.
Leung recommended four to five treatments in a six-month period. He told Stanback if the acupuncture didn’t help after two or three rounds, he should stop. Stanback received his first treatment during June 2013.
“I had almost immediate relief once I left his office,” Stanback said, “and I was back on the golf course in two weeks. It’s not permanent. How long it lasts is different for everybody. I go for maintenance.”
Stanback also receives treatment for his knee.
“I’ve heard it doesn’t work for some people. But it allows me to travel (for work) every month, when before I couldn’t even sit down. I couldn’t walk very long, I couldn’t stand very long or sit on an airplane or walk very far,” he said. “It’s not a cure, but it’s a fix. It gives me confidence to do the things I want to do.”
Stanback said he doesn’t fully understand how acupuncture works.
“I guess they call them ‘fields of influence’ around various muscles and nerves,” he said.
Leung said since acupuncture is considered an alternative form of medicine, most major insurance companies do not cover treatments. Stanback’s insurance is among the few that do.
“My insurance encouraged me to do it because they did not want to pay $85,000 to $120,000 for major back surgery,” he said.
For people who don’t have insurance coverage, Leung said the initial consultation costs around $300, about the same as it would for a gynecological consultation.
Ho-Leung, who manages the office, said treatments range from $70 to $80 per visit.
“If people aren’t covered, we really try to work with them. I got well, and we really want to help,” she said.
Results for Leung’s patients have been “phenomenal,” Ho-Leung said.
“We have a 30-year-old patient who had debilitating migraines for five years,” she said. “Three years ago, she started acupuncture and even up until now, she has had them only slightly, maybe two or three times.”
Leung said three main systems are involved with the practice of acupuncture – circulatory, lymphatic and the neurovascular bundle.
“It helps in practicing acupuncture to have a medical background because I know the anatomy,” he said. “If you know anatomy, physiology, we can understand the response.”
Leung said a number of Western-trained physicians are turning to acupuncture as an alternative to medications. Chemical modulations affect multiple systems and organs, including the kidney and liver, and the body as a whole.
“We put people on all these strong medications, when acupuncture can really help to be a complementary addition to Western medicine, to decrease the dosages and the side effects,” he said. “We can use acupuncture to step up to the plate in order to complement Western medicine in that sense. So it works together not antagonistically, but complementary to each other.”
Western medicine is proving the legitimacy of acupuncture, Leung said.
“It has been documented by Western medicine, through MRI and PET scan, the measure of blood flow through the brain when you needle a certain part of the body,” he said. “It does show that there is a change in blood flow in that part of body. That has been substantiated and that is still an ongoing kind of research.”
The public has become increasingly open to the idea of alternative treatments, he said.
“People nowadays are well-informed. They are sick and tired of megadoses of medications,” he said. “People are leaning toward a holistic way of treatment. If they can do away with taking medication and be functional, not be like a zombie, they love that.”