By Sage Chung, 16, El Camino Real HS
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When it comes to sprained ankles, I am the reigning queen. I can only recall six sprains clearly, but I know I’ve probably had more sprains than that. I’d be playing tennis, running during P.E. or fooling around with friends, and somehow I’d fall with another sprain. It hurts just thinking about it. But lucky for me, acupuncture has helped me with all my sports injuries.

The first time I sprained my ankle, I was about six years old. I remember holding my mom’s hand while limping into the acupuncturist’s office. As I walked in, wooden drawers labeled in Chinese towered over me. I later found out they were for storing herbs. The doctor was very gentle and had this calmness to him. I was scared a little bit, at first, but after the first needle, my fear was gone because it was painless. I wanted to show up at school with a cast and crutches, like the other kids. Instead all I had was a few red dots on my ankles. I felt ripped off.

Thereafter, I reluctantly got acupuncture treatments for my sprained ankles. The first time I went to a Western hospital for a sprained ankle was my freshman year in high school. I was running around our volleyball courts, where grass grew between the cracks of the asphalt. I guess I was daydreaming or something when I caught my foot in one of the grass patches. I was so embarrassed. Not only because the whole class, including the guy I had a crush on, saw me fall, but a little crowd formed around me. I was rolling on the asphalt squinching in pain, trying not to let any tears burst out, while people asked, "Are you OK?" They took me off the field in a wheelchair.

That time, my parents took me to a Western doctor because I needed a note signed by my doctor to be excused from P.E. The doctor examined my ankle, then gave me a handbook titled About Ankle Sprains. It told me about a four-step program called R-I-C-E (Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation). It also told me how to strengthen my ankles so that I wouldn’t sprain them again. Basically, the doctor didn’t do anything for my ankle (not even a friendly offer of an Ace bandage).

I read the three pages of instructions. It sounded so complicated. I was supposed to apply ice and a bandage to my ankle, and keep it rested and elevated for the first three days after the sprain. For the ice part of the program, I was supposed to ice my ankle in 20-minute intervals every three hours while I was awake. What about my homework and chores? I can’t even feed myself three times a day. I was supposed to walk with very small steps—how could I get to my classes on time?

Later as my ankle got better, I was supposed to write the alphabet with my big toe 20 times a day and run an infinity-sign-like path to test my strength. I tried the alphabet thing once or twice, then I had homework to do, and the infinity thing? I passed.

For my other sprains, I only had to visit the acupuncturist once a week, two or three times and recovered quickly. Not being able to follow the steps, my ankle did not heal properly. Which would you choose—doing grueling exercises until your ankle is healed, or going to an acupuncture clinic a few times?

Once when I hurt my knees, my doctor told me to go to a physical therapist. The physical therapist told me that exercises would strengthen my knees. He, like the doctors that treated my sprained ankles, gave me a knee exercise handout that listed all the exercises that I had to do every night. One of the exercises was to raise my leg off the ground 10 times. In another, I had to point my toes and push my knee against the floor 10 times. These exercises seemed stupid. When I was doing them, it felt like forever. And my knees still hurt. I tried doing it on and off for about a month, but then I gave up. Eventually I went to an acupuncturist and I started to get results after my second visit. The pain started to go away.

Little pain, much gain

I think the reason why some people are afraid of acupuncture is because they only know one thing about it: that it involves needles. I spoke to a licensed acupuncturist at Serenity in West Los Angeles, where I went to have my knees treated. Jeannie Kang told me via e-mail that some patients are nervous, often asking, "Is it going to hurt?" I can tell you that acupuncture is relatively painless. You might feel a sensation called daqi (dah-chee)—like a poke—but it doesn’t hurt. To me, the needle poking into my skin felt like a little pinch.

She also said that 95 percent of the clinic’s patients are not Asian. She said the clinic has treated sports injuries resulting from tennis, basketball, lifting weights, mountain climbing, running, salsa dancing and other sports.

Dr. Kang said she found Western methods effective, but she noticed that acupuncture seemed to heal injuries faster. From my experience with sprained ankles, yes, acupuncture is faster. Rather than taking medications, acupuncture takes maybe three visits, then you can really feel the change. You have a stronger footing and are less likely to sprain it again in that ankle. What this means is that acupuncture not only heals the ankle, but strengthens the area as well.

On your first visit to an acupuncture clinic, you might be wondering, what is that strange smell? It’s not exactly unpleasant, but there might be scents you haven’t smelled before. What you are smelling are all different kinds of herbs. Some clinics smell more than others because they may brew the herbs themselves. These herbs are prescribed by the acupuncturist to help the body heal.

I spoke with another licensed acupuncturist, Sun Mi Kim, who is a longtime family friend. She said these herbal prescriptions are natural and that side effects are very rare.

Looking at a Web site,, I found out some basics on how acupuncture works. The idea is that an energy flow called Qi (pronounced chee) runs throughout your body. Qi moves through body channels called "Meridians" that run up and down the body, 12 on each side and two midline meridians. These meridians come all the way up to the surface of the skin and can be accessed by needles. Sometimes when your energy gets unbalanced, the needles can bring it back into balance. I know it sounds like hocus-pocus, but it’s medically proven for hard-to-ease ailments such as migraines, sinus pains and backaches.