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Patient Stories

Managing Pain Medication-Free

Aug. 19, 2020

Debra Stoner always tries to live her life to the fullest. In the past couple of years, however, her back pain kept her from doing what she wanted


Playing with her 12 grandkids, outboard powerboat racing, motorcycle riding or camping in her 23-foot travel trailer, all became difficult. At times, she couldn’t even put on her own shoes.

Debra’s flat feet and traveling job as a calibration tech led her to have a stress fracture in her foot. An MRI also revealed Debra had four bulging disks, two of which had ruptured.

At only 54 years old, Debra could hardly walk, sleep or live her life the way she wanted. Done with her pain, she decided to visit a nearby pain management practice hoping to get treatment and ultimately relief. She left her appointments with only prescriptions to opioids and anti-inflammatory medications. Regardless, she stayed positive and hopeful she could get back to her life, even if it meant taking daily medications.

Unfortunately, the anti-inflammatory pills inadvertently gave her stomach pain. The opioids made her foggy, unable to drive and oftentimes prohibited her from even leaving home. The worst part though was their inability to relieve her pain. She wanted a new answer and one that did not involve more medications.

After spending several days researching what her other options were in Cincinnati, Debra stumbled upon UC Health Integrative Medicine acupuncture services and pain management capabilities at the UC Health Pain Medicine Center.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a well-known practice in traditional Chinese medicine, which helps to stimulate the body to repair and heal.

Fine needles are placed in points to regulate circulation and nourish the essential functions of the organs, tissues and mind. Research has shown it to be helpful for many conditions, including pain syndromes, cancer treatment-related side effects, gastrointestinal disorders, addictions and headaches.

For Debra, acupuncture significantly relieves her back pain. To stay on top of her pain without feeding her body opioids, Debra meets with Derek Johnson, L.Ac, UC Health acupuncturist at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute, every week for about an hour.

At first, Debra was anxious about the use of needles, but Derek made her feel at ease. “Acupuncture is a commitment, but one that’s worth it. I advise people to stick with it because it’s changed my life for the better,” Debra said.

“Although not all conditions require long term consistent care, in a situation like chronic pain where the alternatives involve risks of further complications, acupuncture can be a supplement that reduces suffering and significantly increases quality of life at a substantially lower risk and cost,” said Derek Johnson, L.Ac.

UC Health Integrative Medicine

Acupuncture is a part of UC Health Integrative Medicine, which combines traditional medicine with evidence-based complementary therapies that focus on a healthy lifestyle addressing stress, nutrition, movement, sleep and environment to reduce suffering and promote overall wellness.

With the growing need for acupuncture services, UC Health Integrative Medicine now has the most hospital-based acupuncturists in the Greater Cincinnati region, located in both Clifton and West Chester.

“Acupuncture services now have increased insurance coverage in the State of Ohio, based on health condition, making it easier for patients to receive non-pharmacologic pain management in a time of increasing opioid addictions,” said Sian Cotton, PhD, director of the UC Center for Integrative Health and Wellness. “In addition to increased insurance coverage, we have also expanded our acupuncture team to three full-time clinicians, allowing us to serve even more patients particularly those with cancer or neurologic disorders, an important step to making integrative medicine services more accessible to all in the Greater Cincinnati community.”

UC Health Pain Medicine Center

In addition to Debra’s weekly acupuncture appointments, Debra meets with Siu Fung (Will) Chan, MD, UC Health pain medicine physician and assistant professor of anesthesiology at the UC College of Medicine. Every six months, Dr. Chan administers a fluoroscopically guided epidural steroid injection into Debra’s lower back, which helps alleviate the inflammatory and neuropathic pain that radiates from her low back down her legs.

“Ms. Stoner is a great example of what happens when a patient entrusts their care to an integrated team of specialists for a multi-disciplinary approach to alleviate their pain. At the UC Health Pain Medicine Center, we strive to provide a tailored, comprehensive approach to treat a person’s pain while minimizing use of opioids,” said Dr. Chan.

The UC Health Pain Medicine Center stays at the forefront of the latest developments in pain management and related procedures.

Back to Her Fullest

Over time, Debra has encountered big wins in her health and pain management after seeing the multidisciplinary teams at UC Health. For the first time in years, Debra can sleep comfortably, play with her grandchildren and travel with family. She can even hitch up her travel trailer to go camping again - which sat for two years prior to her now regular visits to UC Health.

“I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life. If I hadn’t stumbled across UC Health Integrative Medicine and the UC Health Pain Medicine Center, I know I would not be as active as I am now,” Debra said.