Pains and Needles

"Expect a strange sensation," says Corinne Kohrherr, as she taps stainless steel needles, only 0.2 mm in diameter, into the inflamed shoulder muscle of an NYU Langone Medical Center nurse. A painful knot in the shoulder is preventing her from turning her head to the left.

"It feels like a vibration," the nurse responds.

Kohrherr is one of two licensed acupuncturists who are practicing this ancient healing art at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine as part of a collaboration with Tri-State College of Acupuncture. The externship program, which began in July, enables medical specialists at Rusk and Tisch Hospital to offer acupuncture as an adjunct to medical treatments. The collaboration between NYU Langone and Tri-State College also enables physician-researchers to gather data on the effectiveness of acupuncture in musculoskeletal conditions.

The program is directed by Alex Moroz, MD, assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine and director of the Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation Unit at Rusk. Dr. Moroz, himself a certified acupuncturist, was drawn to Eastern philosophy and medicine through tai chi. He studied acupuncture in the University of California at Los Angeles program and felt liberated by the new skill. "Before I used acupuncture, I felt like I was practicing with one hand tied behind my back," he says. "When you use more than one modality in medicine, the effect is more powerful." He once relieved a medical resident’s severe menstrual cramps within minutes during teaching rounds, he recalls, by inserting just a few needles in her outer ear. "It’s very rewarding," he says, "to see that kind of immediate response."

Acupuncture, among the oldest healing practices in the world, originated in China thousands of years ago. As part of traditional Chinese medicine, it aims to restore and maintain health through the stimulation of specific points on the body. Acupuncture became better known in the US only as recently as 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston, covering President Richard Nixon’s trip to China, described how doctors used needles to ease his pain after an appendectomy.

Western scientists have found that many of the traditional Chinese acupuncture points correspond to nerve bundles or muscle trigger points. Stimulating these points produces measurable changes to the immune system, blood flow, and brain activity (including pain receptors) in addition to the release of endorphins, all with negligible risk. Research has shown that acupuncture reduces nausea and vomiting after surgery and chemotherapy. In 1997, the National Institutes of Health officially endorsed acupuncture for the treatment of arthritis, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, fibromyalgia, menstrual cramps, and other conditions, as well as for stroke rehabilitation.

"I would lie in bed at night with throbbing pain in my head and wonder what I was going to do," says Joyce Baumgarten, 76, who first saw Dr. Moroz a few years ago with a severe neck problem, an osteoarthritis flare-up with superimposed myofascial pain. "I was very discouraged," she says. "I don’t like to be slowed down." Baumgarten started weekly treatments with Dr. Moroz, who used combined techniques. "It was just a miracle," gushes Baumgarten. Within seven treatments, her neck problem resolved. She now calls only Dr. Moroz when she is suffering from other kinds of pain. "At this point," she says, "I see Dr. Moroz before anyone else."

For more information or to make an appointment, call 212-263-7326.


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