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Acupuncture with a kick: Charged needles said to pump up results

  • Acupuncturist Marta Martinez electrifies the needles she is using to treat Maria Campanario of Springfield at the Stay in Touch Center in Florence. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amy Mager inserts needles into the legs of David Farkas of Deerfield at Wellness House in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • The current is typically between 40 and 80 volts, only enough stimulation for the patient to feel a slight pulsating sensation. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Farkas, who has received traditional acupuncture treatments for decades, says that he sought the electrified version to relieve his pain after hip replacement surgery. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • David Farkas of Deerfield talks about the benefits of treatment with electro acupuncture during a session at Wellness House in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • The current is typically between 40 and 80 volts, only enough stimulation for the patient to feel a slight pulsating sensation GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Martinez treats Eugene Brice of Springfield. Charging the needles is said to give the effects of acupuncture a boost. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Licensed acupuncturist Marta Martinez uses electro acupuncture to treat Eugene Brice of Springfield at the Stay in Touch Center in Florence. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Licensed acupuncturist Marta Martinez uses electro acupuncture to treat Eugene Brice of Springfield at the Stay in Touch Center in Florence. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Licensed acupuncturist Marta Martinez uses electro acupuncture to treat Maria Campanario of Springfield at the Stay in Touch Center in Florence. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Monday, September 18, 2017

David Farkas of Deerfield says he likes to get buzzed occasionally.

This buzz he is talking about is a literal electric current, passed between two acupuncture needles sticking in the side of his leg.

On a recent Monday afternoon he is lying face-up on a table at the Wellness House in Northampton, with his jeans rolled to his knees, as acupuncturist Amy Mager clamps electrical leads to each needle.

Farkas, 70, says after decades of getting typical acupuncture treatments here, he decided he needed an extra kick because of pain from a recent hip replacement surgery. The electrical current, is simply an extra boost to the regular acupuncture treatment and Farkas says he saw it as an alternative to the addictive painkillers that doctors might prescribe.

“I was surprised that electro acupuncture made a difference,” he says. “I feel even better than I regularly would.”

And now, he says, this treatment is just another part of his health care regime.

Manipulating energy

Electro-acupuncture is relatively new compared to the traditional ancient acupuncture treatments that were born in China 4,000 years ago. Acupuncturists mostly use it for pain management. The electricity passes between two needles, covering more area than the tradional approach, creating a tingling and numbing sensation. It is said to work so well that physicians in China have even offered it as a substitute for anesthesia during open heart surgery.

A 2011 study out of the Shanghai Traditional Medicine University in China found that patients who had acupuncture during heart surgery had a lower chance of postoperative infection and paid less for their surgeries by cutting the cost of general anesthesia. 

Researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor compared acupuncture to a placebo in their study and found that acupuncture may affect receptors in a region of the brain that processes pain signals.

Chinese medicine has a different explanation. Practitioners say that acupuncture is based on the idea that a person’s qi, an energy that runs through the body along certain channels, can be manipulated to affect certain parts of the body. When points along these channels are stimulated by needles, specific chronic pains or illnesses are said to be eased. Using a gentle electrical current in conjunction with the needles is believed to further enhance the qi. This can heal ailments from neurological diseases to chronic pain, spasms and paralysis, according to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.

The current is typically between 40 and 80 volts, only enough stimulation for the patient to feel a slight pulsating sensation, according to the school.

Finally, relief

When he is on the table, Farkas closes his eyes. “Deep breath in,” Mager says as she slides a few more needles around his ankles. By the time she is done, he looks like a human pin cushion with more needles sticking out of his ears, one in his hand, and another one between his eyes.

A machine is resting on a table by his toes, connected to the leads, which are pulsating electricity into his calves. Mager turns up a dial to control the frequency. With each pulse, his muscles twitch.

Then she leaves him alone for awhile.

“It makes me feel more balanced and a little bit happier,” Farkas says.

Another acupuncture patient, Richard Robinson, 55, of Springfield says the electro-acupuncture changed his life. He suffers from constant radiating pain from a failed back surgery and found that this treatment is the only treatment that keeps it at bay.

He makes a bi-weekly visit to Florence acupuncturist Marta Martinez at her practice, the Stay In Touch Center, on Main Street.

“This has been sustaining me — that’s why I keep coming,” Robinson says after a recent treatment.

Before he started acupuncture, he says, he could barely walk and sitting for long periods of time hurt. Driving was difficult — even the trip to get an acupuncture treatment was a challenge in the beginning. But amazingly, he says, the treatments leave him pain free for days.

Nothing else he or his doctors could think of offered him such relief, he says. He had tried physical therapy and even more surgery to mend deteriorating vertebrae. The operation left him with even more pain and the scar tissue made the area tense and tight.

Robinson had given up hope, he says, when his doctor suggested he try acupuncture. He found out the cost, $125 for an initial visit, and $85 for follow up appointments, would be covered by his health-care insurance through the U.S. Veterans Administration.

He was skeptical at first, but now he tries never to miss an appointment with Martinez.

“I feel like I am healed,” he says as he gets off the table, slipping his shirt back on. “This gives me some of my life back.”

Lisa Spear can be reached at Lspear@gazettenet.com.