By Christine Graf
After being deemed non-essential and forced to close at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, acupuncturists were permitted to reopen in June. During the closure, the Acupuncture Society of New York (ASNY) pushed for the governor to grant the profession essential status.
Licensed acupuncturist Bridgette Shea, owner of Ageless Acupuncture in Saratoga Springs, is treating several patients who recovered from COVID but have lingering and often debilitating symptoms.
“I’m finding that the combination of acupuncture and herbs—Chinese medicine—is what works best,” said Shea. “I treat them with acupuncture because the body work really helps. Most of them have lung stuff going on still or something chest related or upper back related that was related to when they had the actual acute infection. I’ll also do some cupping on their backs to draw out some of the leftover heat, inflammation, or dampness that may still be residing in the body.”
According to Shea, acupuncture has proven to be beneficial for both the physical and mental well being of her post-COVID patients. Many report feeling depressed due to the lingering symptoms of the virus.
“It’s depressing, and the feel like they will never get better. When they start coming in for the body work, it really helps to alleviate their symptoms but it also helps to get them into a better mental state,” she said. “Once they start feeling better physically, they start feeling better emotionally. By treating the body with acupuncture, we are also treating the mind.”
“We were closed for two-and-a-half months, and then we were granted essential status,” said Katherine “Kat” MacKenzie, licensed acupuncturist and owner of Acupuncture Nirvana in Glens Falls. “We fought for it and got it. We have a very strong association, and they went after it and they won.”
MacKenzie is an incoming board member of ASNY, the Acupuncture Society of New York (ASNY). During the shutdown, she helped author a 22-page document that contained COVID-19 reopening guidelines and recommended best practices. It was distributed to all acupuncturists in the state.
“We reopened in early June and saw one patient an hour,” she said. “We have all of these new cleaning procedures. We disinfect everything that can possibly be touched. We have to go a lot slower. I used to see 55 to 60 patients a week, and now I see 35.”
None of MacKenzie’s patients have suffered from COVID, but she is seeing the impact the pandemic is having on mental health. Her patients are reporting high levels of anxiety.
“We have mostly been treating pain and anxiety,” she said. “We’re seeing a ton of anxiety. Almost everyone is anxious. We treated anxiety before but it’s never been to this degree.”
MacKenzie also treats other conditions including allergies, gynecological and fertility issues, migraines, and digestive issues. She incorporates Chinese medicine into her practice and is currently enrolled in a clinical herbalist program. She hopes to establish an in-house apothecary by the summer of next year.
Many of Shea’s patients are suffering from inflammatory disorders or other chronic conditions. When treating her patients, she incorporates a combination of acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine.
Shea also leads seasonal cleanses that are intended to reduce inflammation and create balance in the microbiome of the gut. Her recently released book, Cultivating Your Microbiome, provides detailed guidance on managing gut health naturally.
Licensed acupuncturist Danielle DeVivo, owner of Phoenix Rising Acupuncture & Herbal Clinic in Saratoga Springs, also works extensively with patients suffering from pain and inflammatory conditions including fibromyalgia and Lyme Disease. DeVivo specialized in fertility while in acupuncture school and was diagnosed with Lyme after graduating.
“That sort of led me into my specialization of treating these types of diseases,” she said.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment alone or in combination with conventional therapies to treat numerous pain and inflammatory conditions.
“It is very effective. I would say that 85 percent of the time we get what I would specify as a good result—meaning it brings your pain down measurable,” said DeVivo. “And there are a lot of things we can cure. Things that are curable are things that don’t have underlying conditions. Things like tendonitis, tennis elbow, torn meniscus, sprained ankle. For things that aren’t necessarily fixable like arthritis, we can manage the pain.”
DeVivo is not treating COVID patients, but the pandemic has had a devastating impact on her practice. Many of her chronically ill patients are too concerned to leave their homes.
“I had a thriving practice prior to this. I was seeing 40 or sometimes 50 patients a week,” she said. “With the reopening, people have become very fearful. I have lost at least two-thirds of my practice.”
By Christine Graf