Ms. Allen had tinnitus for more than 10 years. She did not have hearing loss, but the ringing (especially in her right ear) was so annoying that she periodically could not fall asleep, which only made her tinnitus worse. She initially came to get acupuncture for left elbow, which she injured after banging into a wall at her office. As she had been playing tennis for over 30 years, she had developed very mild tendonitis on the right side, but her left elbow completely prevented her from playing any intense tennis. She was extremely unhappy without tennis, so she came to me for acupuncture to reduce her elbow pain and continue playing tennis. I told her that if she wanted to continue playing tennis during her recovery period, she needed to come two to three times a week for at least six weeks. The last thing she wanted was to give up playing tennis, so she followed my advice and scheduled acupuncture sessions twice a week for three months.

After twelve treatments, the pain and swelling in her left elbow were almost gone. She then asked me for more needles for her tinnitus, despite the fact that she did not like needles. She even hated the sight of the needles being inserted. She was determined to get rid of her ear ringing, so she closed her eyes and let me insert the needles into the sensitive points close to her right ear. After 10 treatments, her tinnitus was 70 percent better. She was amazed by the result. Then, she showed me her right thumb which already had developed arthritis and which she could not straighten. She had chronic pain in her right thumb. I told her that it was possible to reduce her inflammation and swelling in her right thumb, but it would take a long time, maybe a couple of months for the structure to change. She said that she had gotten thumb arthritis within the last couple of years and did not expect to get better within a short period of time. So a longer treatment was OK.

I took her pulse and found it was extremely weak. She told me that her pulse had been like this since she was a child. This indicated that her hand circulation was not very good, which was one of the reasons she had developed arthritis on this particular hand. I choose local points on the thumb joint and the points on her feet because the nerves in the hand and feet project to the adjacent brain areas and chronic inflammation can influence neighboring brain cells. This is one of the reasons that Chinese acupuncturists like to use local and remote points. As a Harvard Medical School trained neuroscientist and traditional Chinese acupuncturist, I am able to use my neurological knowledge to explain why and how acupuncture works on her arthritis and tinnitus. We did another 12 treatments. As a result, she started to see her thumb straighten and the swelling almost go away. At the same time, her left and right elbow pain abated and she started to play tennis twice a week. If she played more than that, she knew she would need twice a week acupuncture treatments.

Ms. Allen had been coming for weekly acupuncture treatments in my Needham and Boston office for over a year. Because she wanted to play tennis 2 to 3 times a week, she needed regular treatments to reduce inflammation and repair the tendons due to wear and tear. Recently, her right hip started acting up. In order to continue with her tennis competition, she had to take Tylenol before playing. A yearly physical exam at a Boston hospital showed that her liver function was slightly abnormal. She had to cut down her medication to save her liver function, I told her maybe we should also work on her right hip so that she could delay hip replacement. She was thrilled that I could do something for her hip, elbow, thumb and tinnitus at the same time.

The X-Ray showed that her hip joint was bone on bone because of wear and tear. I guess when you play tennis, the quick twisting may not be so friendly to the hip joint. After another 10 acupuncture treatments she was able to stop her Tylenol and play tennis 2 to 4 hours twice a week with minimal pain. Her physician told her she may need to get cortisone shots to reduce the hip joint inflammation. I told her that combining acupuncture and steroids may allow her to be pain free if she just played tennis once a week. She did stop playing for two weeks after the cortisone shots. Amazingly, she was pain-free even when she went up and down the stairs when she stopped playing tennis. Unfortunately, when she resumed her tennis playing 2 to 3 times a week, the hip pain came back, though at a much lower level. She continues her acupuncture once a week in order to avoid daily pain killers.

Initially, she had acupuncture treatments twice a week for three months, then once a week until now, totaling one year duration of treatment. She has no ear ringing for most of the time if she sleeps well. She has no elbow pain and her hip pain does not prevent her from playing tennis three times a week. And most importantly, she is happier than before with better sleep and does not crave junk food.

Author's Bio: 

Li Zheng is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist and a graduate of the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine with 11 years of formal training, including 6 years of residency. She holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the US and is a Harvard Medical School-trained researcher and a professor at the New England School of Acupuncture. Her two practices are located in Needham, MA and Boca Raton, FL. She has 26 years of clinical experience.