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Physician Uses Acupuncture to Bring Healing to Patients

Dr. Katie Weatherhogg is a physical medicine rehabilitation doctor at Southwest Spine and Sports Medicine at CoxHealth. She melds Western and Eastern approaches to healing the body.

“I’m trained in allopathic medicine but I use medical acupuncture. I’m a board certified physical medicine rehab doctor, so I use a lot of anatomy-based points, but then I integrate traditional Chinese medicine into my treatment. So, I look at it as a whole person/body approach. Then I use acupuncture to help emphasize my treatment.”

Dr. Weatherhogg says she was first exposed to the healing potential of acupuncture during her residency, and eventually pursued formal training. Acupuncture involves inserting small, thin needles into strategic points on the body to promote healing. Dr. Weatherhogg admits that she was skeptical at first.

“I started off very hesitant, and like, ‘I don’t think this works.’ Then, the more I learned about it, the more I realized this is a way for me to help people get better. I felt like I was making a difference. It’s very rewarding for me. I always wanted to be a doctor and help people with problems. As I was going through medical school and then residency, you start thinking, ‘The patients aren’t the focus here.’ There are a lot of other things such as billing, insurance. You lose focus of the purpose. I think acupuncture brought back my purpose, and my purpose is to help people.”

So, how does acupuncture work? Well, Dr. Weatherhogg says there are two explanations. There’s the Western perspective:

“All the research is showing that it increases the way that our body responds to pain and other problems. So, it increases the body’s endorphins, which are your feel-good, runner’s highs, serotonin and epinephrine, changing the way pain pathways transmit problems. It also changes the way our spinal cord responds, and our nerves and cells. They’ve done studies to show that you increase blood flow to the problem area, you decrease inflammation. These are all documented studies.” wx3

And the Eastern perspective:

“We have this Chi (Qi), which is energy, that travels through our body. It’s probably going to be discovered to be some nanoparticle. But right now, we just take a leap of faith, and it’s Chi. It’s traveling through the muscles, through the nerves, through the blood. And when there’s a blockage in that Chi, that’s when there’s a problem. The point of acupuncture is to help you heal yourself, to take out the water against the damn. If you can poke holes in it and let your body’s Chi flow, your body will heal and the problem will resolve.” wx4

Because she’s trained in acupuncture, Dr. Weatherhogg treats a lot of people who have chronic neck and back pain. But she says she uses acupuncture to treat a wide range of other conditions as well.

“So I get to see problems with itching. Itching that hasn’t gone away for years. Or chronic belching, reflex, depression, or infertility. Those are the people who respond amazingly. It’s nice to see them because they get big responses.” Wx5

Dr. Weatherhogg says research shows that acupuncture creates a response in most patients.

“The studies show about 80% of people respond to acupuncture. So, there are 20% that are non-responders. But when you look at placebo, it’s usually a 40% response rate. So, it’s higher than placebo, so there’s something going on. So, if someone has chronic back pain for 20 or 30 years, you may not take it away 100%, but you can certainly decrease it by 60-80% and help with other things too, like sleep, energy, and overall well-being. It does help.” Wx6

Dr. Weatherhogg says she’s tried to educate her peers in the medical community about how acupuncture can enhance the treatment of a variety of diseases and chronic conditions. Of particular interest to Dr. Weatherhogg is how acupuncture can help cancer patients.

“The Navy hospital in San Diego is using acupuncture now as part of their treatment with oncology and palliative medicine. About 70% of the patients are using it, and more than half feel the acupuncture is beneficial. It helps with pain control, depression, coping in general, and sleep. It helps with whatever treatment they’re on and how life is treating them.”

Dr. Weatherhogg says she’d like to see a more integrative approach to medicine, where physicians use acupuncture and other non-traditional approaches to enhance treatments and improve outcomes for patients. But, she says it’s an uphill battle on several fronts: With doctors who turn first to pharmaceuticals instead of alternative healing methods, some insurance companies not covering acupuncture, and many patients being unwilling to pay out of pocket. Still, she says she’s encouraged that some insurance companies and doctors are seeing the cost-savings and health benefits of these non-traditional approaches to healing. And perhaps most importantly, she says more and more patients are educating themselves about acupuncture and are asking their doctors if it’s appropriate for them.