A needle-phobic actress ended up grateful for acupuncture's benefits.(ADRYENN ASHLEY)Though we don't know exactly how acupuncture works, many patients are just happy to know that it cansometimes with dramatic results. For author and former actress Adryenn Ashley, 39, of Mill Valley, Calif., the alternative treatment helped her recover from a life-changing injury. In 1997, while Ashley was standing in for Sarah Michelle Gellar on the set of I Know What You Did Last Summer, she fell off a truck and severely injured her ankle.
"I was in a boot cast for 18 months. I was in constant pain. I couldn't work and walked with a cane," she remembers.
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A former 105-pound cheerleader, Ashley quickly put on more than 50 pounds during her period of painful inactivity. "I hit a low point where the pain was really bad, and I was just distraught. I was crying, I hurt, and I was depressed because I was heavy." Ashley avoided medication, because she often reacted badly to it, and thought exploratory surgery would be too invasive. She felt doomed to suffer until a friend suggested acupuncture.
"I'm needle phobic, the thought of someone sticking a needle in me did not make me happy," she remembers. But the pain gave her little choice.
Not much needle pain and lots of pain relief
At her first visit Ashley was pleasantly surprised: "It doesn't hurt as much as you think it will. It's not as bad as drawing blood."
Her fear conquered, Ashley committed to an intense schedule: three times a week for six weeks.
Soon she began to look forward to her treatments: "As soon as the lights go out and the tinkle-tinkle, New Age music goes on, I'm out like a light. It's your time. If you use it also as a meditative time you can double the productivity of it."
A Western doctor might talk about the gate control theory of pain, or endorphins, but Ashley's acupuncturist, Jeffrey Szilagyi of Acupuncture of Marin, in San Anselmo, Calif., described her treatment with a mix of Chinese and Western terms.
"We regulated chi and blood stagnation, and we dispersed a cold and dampness that was in the ankle joint from the old injury," says Szilagyi. "Her pain went away and circulation improved. If you think about it from a physiological point of view, we activated the body's own healing mechanism and blood circulation, and its local tissue function."
Whatever the mechanism, Ashley was simply grateful that by the end of treatment she had found relief. "No pain, no swelling," she says. "It was great."