Edmonton

Acupuncturist pierces pain of Edmonton's homeless

Homeless people who need treatment for pain or stress in Edmonton can now turn to a volunteer acupuncturist as part of their recovery plans. David James treats a variety of maladies in clinics at the Hope Mission.

Needle treatment used for pain, stress and even drug addictions

Edmonton's homeless can now turn to acupuncture treatment to help them relieve mental and physical pain. 1:16

After taking a nasty fall in September, Faye Selzler couldn't find anything to deal with the constant soreness from her injury.

"Since then my leg, my knee, my ankle, my toes have all been swollen," she said.

Pain medication was making her drowsy and she was feeling bogged down in her recovery.

That is until a free meal at the Hope Mission got the 56-year-old in touch with David James.

David James volunteers his time twice a week offering acupuncture treatment at Hope Mission (Peter Evans CBC News)

James is a retired acupuncturist who volunteers twice a week at the inner-city agency.

"My heart goes out to the population here," said James, who is one of a number of health care professionals volunteering at the Hope Mission medical program as a way of giving back.

"I think the people who are part of this program as clients, as guests, have a very difficult life, and I can tell you it's often through no fault of their own," he said.

'Powerful medicine'

James, who has taken homeless people into his home in the past, is now treating a variety of conditions among those who use the Hope Mission's services.

While the kind of joint pain Selzler is experiencing is common in his patients, James also uses acupuncture to treat things like dizziness, insomnia, skin rashes and even drug addictions.

Faye Selzler said her leg, ankle and toe pain has been improving since beginning acupuncture treatment (Peter Evans CBC News)

"We've been doing some ear acupuncture for addictions," he explained, specifically pointing to opiate use. The treatment for addictions involves placing needles into five specific points in the ear.

James admitted there would need to be clinical trials to properly show the impact, but said he is hearing from some of his patients that they're not using as much, suggesting it can be effective.

Carefully inserting the needles while assuring Selzler they're all sterile, James explained they don't just go in where it hurts, but are also aimed at stimulating points around the pain.

Selzler said the swelling has been steadily going down since her course of treatment began (Peter Evans CBC News)

"I think acupuncture is powerful medicine," said James, 71, who has been an acupuncturist since 1995.

While a big believer in acupuncture, which dates back 2,000 years, he's quick to mention his treatment is a way to complement western medicine.

'There's a lot of stress and anxiety'

Many of his clients come to him through referrals from physicians.

Selzler can't say enough about the strides she's making since being in James' care.

"This has just taken away the pain so I have less medication and the swelling and general discomfort three months later," she said. "I'm finally getting this treatment and it's great."

Now her twice-a-week visits have become an important part of her therapy.

"I tell everybody and anybody who is willing to listen, go for it or try it, check it out," she smiled.

And James says that's easy to arrange by simply calling the Hope Mission main office and asking for the medical program to make an appointment.

I think acupuncture is powerful medicine.- David James

None of what he does would be available were it not for Karen Nelson, a nurse he credits with getting the medical program going.

But now that it's running, James is honoured to play his part in offering a service that many who are low-income earners, like Selzler, wouldn't be able to afford.

Eighteen months after joining the team he's feeling like he's making a difference in a physically and mentally wounded population.

"There's a lot of stress and anxiety. There's a lot of people with headaches and dizziness."