By Lisa Britton
For the Baker City Herald
Dr. Melissa Knutson holds out the needle, three inches long and as thin as fishing line.
As a medical acupuncturist, these are her tools to help treat a range of ailments, from arthritis to stomach aches to sprained ankles.
"Acupuncture works really well for pain," she says.
Nearby, Paula Benintendi looks not worried at all - but she's already had several acupuncture sessions to treat arthritis in her knees.
"My knees have hurt for so long, I'll try anything," she says.
Knutson inserts needles at acupuncture points around Benintendi's knees, then attaches clips to deliver electrical stimulation to several points.
Next she moves a heat lamp above the needles, and then it's time for Benintendi to relax for the rest of her session.
Knutson studied medical acupuncture at Helms Medical Institute, completing a six-month course that required 300 hours.
Knutson came to Saint Alphonsus Medical Group Baker Clinic in August 2012. She focuses on family practice, sports medicine and acupuncture.
Acupuncture has been well-received, she said.
"We could probably do acupuncture all day, every day," she said.
Acupuncture is traditional Chinese medicine that has been used for thousands of years.
The simple explanation of how it works is this: energy (called chi) flows along 12 meridians in the body. Pain can block that energy, and inserting needles at the right points can "clear that blockage, allowing the energy to flow," Knutson said.
She gives patients a brochure from the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture to provide basic information. It describes acupuncture as "a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and to improve functioning."
Knutson is a medical acupuncturist, which refers to physicians trained in medical acupuncture.
There are also licensed acupuncturists, who are trained in Chinese herbal medicine.
"We still learn the same meridians, the same points," Knutson said.
Acupuncture offers another option when developing a patient's treatment plan.
"There's a big push for non-pharmaceutical treatments," she said.
There are 365 acupuncture points on the body.
And yes, Knutson knows how it feels.
"I had to have every point on my body done," she says.
The number of treatments depends on the ailment. Acute problems usually require one or two visits, while chronic issues, such as arthritis, may necessitate multiple sessions over a longer period.
But back to those needles.
Knutson uses sterile, disposable needles. Although the length varies, all are stainless steel and have a round tip.
"They push things out of the way instead of serrate," she said.
She said that about 50 percent of insurance companies are covering acupuncture. She requires an initial visit, during which the patient fills out a personality questionnaire that helps Knutson determine the proper treatment (in this case, acupuncture points).
Many patients have been referred to her, in ages ranging from high school age to 80 years old.
During her training, Knutson saw the positive results of acupuncture treatments ("Once I saw the results, I was hooked," she says) and offering this option is another way she can help patients.
And that is why she does what she does - to help others.
"It makes my quality of life, and the quality of my practice, better," she said.
For more information, call Baker Clinic at 541-523-4415.