Acupuncture for Pelvic Pain

When it comes to using acupuncture to treat pain, some folks swear by it, and others dismiss it. But a Chicago medical center thinks a "new" form of acupuncture could very well be the hope that many women are looking for- a way to end chronic pelvic pain.

Rachael Fellers can now enjoy the ancient practice of yoga. A centuries-old treatment is allowing her to do it, pain-free.

Rachael goes to Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago for an advanced type of acupuncture. After years of chronic pain in her abdomen, this is now allowing her to live a more normal life. It all started when she was 12, with terrible dehydration and vomiting.

Fellers told Ivanhoe, "I also passed out in the middle of church, and had to be carried out."

She tried everything, even traditional acupuncture, but nothing worked.

This acupuncture study involves placing the needles in a more concentrated way and includes heating the needles, to target the most painful areas.

Larissa Bresler, MD, DABMA, Assistant Professor of Urology at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago told Ivanhoe, "If I put the needles in and the heat penetrates all the way into your boo-boo, how good would that feel?"

Rachael was blown away by the results.  "Thankfulness and gratitude that I wasn't trapped inside of my body anymore," she said.

Rachael's doctor says every patient in the study who's been getting the treatment, and not the placebo, has been coming back for follow-ups.

"Without me ever telling them what arm of the treatment they're getting. That's got to tell you something," Dr. Bresler said.

For Rachael, the results include a night-and-day better relationship with her husband and her kids.

Rachael's doctor says the only side effect is some occasional bruising.  The results of the clinical trial will be published next year. Rachael wants people to know that this is symptom management, not a cure, but with ongoing treatment their quality of life can and will improve.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Andy Roesgen, Field Producer; Cortni Spearman, Assistant Producer and Jamison Koczan, Editor. 

BACKGROUND: Acupuncture has been recorded in history as being about 2,000 years old. Some experts claim that it may have been practiced in China for about 4,000 years. During acupuncture, very thin needles are inserted into specific pressure points and remain in the body for up to twenty minutes.  Traditional Chinese medicine describes acupuncture as being used to balance the energy believed to flow through your body. Many acupuncture practitioners believe that by putting needles into specific points in your body will re-balance the energy flow, thus ridding you of pain. (Source:   depression/00017321,

TREATMENTS: Acupuncture has been a valuable alternative therapy for many conditions, some of which include:

·         Depression:  Acupuncture has been shown to have some effectiveness in treating mild to moderate depression.  Acupuncture exhibits regulatory effects on special brain cells in the hippocampus that helps maintain the brain and spinal cord.

·         Migraines:  Recent studies show that acupuncture is an effective treatment for migraines.  It is just as effective as a beta blocker.  Although it may take three to five treatments, acupuncture has been shown to cure 80 percent of patients with migraines. 

·         Asthma:  There are pressure points in which acupuncture can be used to help with asthma attacks. It is possible to affect the sympathetic nervous system and mitigate an acute attack.

·         Infertility: There is evidence that acupuncture can increase the success of in vitro fertilization and also promote fertility on its own in both men and women. It can increase blood flow to the endometrium, promoting a thick, rich lining. 

·         Anxiety:  Historically, acupuncture has been used to treat anxiety. Traditional Chinese medicine relates anxiety to an imbalance of the heart and kidney.  Acupuncture on points around the heart, kidney, spleen and ear are used to treat anxiety.  (Sources: 


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Researchers at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago are looking at the practice of acupuncture to help women suffering from chronic pelvic pain. Acupuncture has been known to help with many ailments, but according to the study, Acupuncture for Female IC/Painful Bladder Syndrome and Its Effect on the Urinary Microbiome, acupuncture could help relieve those suffering from chronic pelvic pain. According to the study, the acupuncture protocol for the study is directed towards pelvic health issues and balancing overall energy flow in the human body. Interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome is a hypersensitivity disorder of the pelvis affecting the bladder. (Source: Larissa Bresler, MD)


Larissa Bresler

Loyola University Medical Center


Larrisa Bresler, M.D., DABMA, Assistant Professor of Urology at Loyola University Medical Center explains how an advanced type of acupuncture is helping those suffering from chronic pain.

Interview conducted by Ivanhoe Broadcast News in May 2015.

This trial was just to prove it to the higher ups.  

Dr. Bresler: Not to the higher ups, to the community; to the scientific community and to insurance providers. Also, for folks who are curious, like my colleague urologists, that don't really know what to do for this disorder. We have some concrete evidence that something does work. 

What does acupuncture do?  What are you doing with these pins? What do you do with acupuncture?  

Dr. Bresler: As needles go in established acupuncture points, there is a release of beneficial chemicals in the body -- we call them cytokines; similar chemicals that are released when somebody takes pain medicine. That's from a Western standpoint. There's also reactivity of local nerves as well as the spinal cord nerves that receive pain signals, and there's also effects in the central nervous system, even in the brain, as has been shown before by functional MRI studies.  From an Eastern standpoint, when acupuncture needles are placed, there's balancing of energy. The pain is caused by stuck energy somewhere and the acupuncture balances this out.

So it balances out the pain so that it just goes away in the pelvic area where she's feeling it? 

Dr. Bresler: Well, she had multiple symptoms, not just pelvic pain. She also had some depression, insomnia and fatigue. Quite often patients with chronic pelvic pain and painful bladder syndrome have a lot of other systemic symptoms and systemic good acupuncture treatment will actually help multiple symptoms. As it happened for her, our study was only looking into effects on painful bladder syndrome and bladder pain, but we've noticed that there is a significant effect on overall sense of well-being, quality of life and headaches.

Why then is your acupuncture method here working when it was tried in other places like Cleveland Clinic and it didn't work there?

Dr. Bresler:  I don't think she had it at Cleveland Clinic.  I don't actually know where she had acupuncture before. I think we have a unique approach because I'm a Western doctor. I'm a surgeon. I understand the disease process that causes her to have pain and from Eastern medicine training, I also understand what process causes her pain from Western training. We design an energetic overall body treatment as well as some local needles to help her. The treatment I'm using is not unique to me or invented by me. It has been around by thousands of years. It's just understanding her disease process and applying good treatment protocol to treat her. 

The process has been around for thousands of years, but you've figured out a way, as she described it, to tune it like a radio.    

Dr. Bresler: Again, I can't take any credit. This is something that courses for acupuncture providers teach. I teach now for Helms Medical Institute and when we place the needle correctly, the patient feels a sensation of a sort of deep ache and the provider feels tissue and grabs that sensation. It's called, Da Qi. That sensation is very important for contacting body's energy so the needle is placed correctly. It's not anything that I have devised by any means. It's just placing the needles the right way and taking our time rather than tapping multiple needles and walking away. Also, we are applying electrical stimulation to her needles and, as you saw, she has heating light directed to her lower abdomen where she actually has pain. 

The infrared light does what? (it's technically red heating lamp)

Dr. Bresler: It heats the needles all the way through. 

You're heating the needles? 

Dr. Bresler: Yes. Imagine you have a big bruise. You hurt something. If I put the needles in and the heat penetrates all the way into your injury, how good would that feel? That's basically what it is. It's like getting a nice warm sensation all the way into the area of deepest tenderness. 

How new is it?

Dr. Bresler: The acupuncture is not new. It's just the use of acupuncture for painful bladder syndrome hasn't really been studied.  The majority of acupuncture studies are done for chronic back pain or neck pain.  Studying how acupuncture works for urological disorders is fairly novel, especially in this country. I don't really know any other urologists in the country that are doing it and we don't have any registered by American Board of Medical Acupuncture. It's very new for somebody to study it in the scientific manner and to answer these questions for urological and scientific community. Does it really work? At this point all I could do is answer based on preliminary results and say that it does, but I would like to answer the question with very definitive spirit of saying the evidence shows that it does work rather than being case series by this provider or that provider. 

At least for now though, it's looking good. 

Dr. Bresler: It's looking good, so far. 

How many patients like Rachel have been treated like this? 

Dr. Bresler: We have 7 in the trial. There are probably another 10 to 15 patients that have been treated outside of the trial because they either didn't qualify or they were at the Veterans Hospital. They also responded extremely well.

Do you think the trial will prove that it works? Can you see it on a future nationwide basis?  

Dr. Bresler: Absolutely. All of my patients that were in true acupuncture arm of the trial are coming back once the trials are done getting their tune up maintenance acupuncture. None of the minimal acupuncture arm patients are coming back to have their tune up treatment. They're not told what treatment they're having.  But every single one that has gotten real true Verum acupuncture arm of the trial keep coming back without me ever telling them what arm of the treatment you are getting. That's got to tell you something.

You call it Therum?  Is that the word?  

Dr. Bresler: Verum… it means true rather than shame.

Oh, Verum and that's the part of the trial? 

Dr. Bresler: The true arm versus minimal acupuncture/ placebo. I could definitely see it's done by acupuncture doctors anywhere. It's fairly benign meaning the side effects are minimal. None of my trial patients have reported side effects so far. For this type of treatment, the worst you're going to get is a bruise.  And chronic pain patients don't care that they get a bruise.  They want to feel better. 

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