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Healthy Living

The Finer Points of Acupuncture
By Michelle Boyle

December 9, 2014
Acupuncture is one of the many alternative methods to address health and wellness issues. With non-traditional approaches, it is difficult to know how to evaluate their effectiveness. With traditional Western medicine, an internist can prescribe medicines or make referrals to specialists. 


Many online resources offer easy access to articles from experts in medical fields. But how do we find out more about alternative methods of treatment, those that don’t require pharmaceuticals or surgery?

I’ve always wanted to learn more about acupuncture so I was delighted to get a call from Raphel Labelson, an acupuncturist who works with Access Physical Therapy & Wellness in Armonk. He was personable, easy to talk to, and happy to introduce me to the treatment process. He asked many questions about my general health, diet, and other issues I might be experiencing.

“How about stress?” he asked.

“Who doesn’t feel stressed today?” I responded. He determined that I would benefit from an energy treatment.

Typically, ten sessions are a single treatment course, depending on the reason for your visit. According to Labelson, if you have headaches, you’ll leave without a headache; if you have constipation, within a day or so you’ll find relief; if you have sinus pain, your sinuses will open before you leave. For muscle tension in your neck, the practitioner will stick needles there and relax it a little bit. But, he advises the issue might return soon because of your daily biomechanics, such as tilting your head down while reading, or clenching or grinding your teeth at night.

Labelson offered key suggestions for those who may spend too much time at a desk:

• Keep the computer screen at eye level to avoid looking down and hunching over.

• To avoid pain and stiffness, feet should be flat on the ground, use a large phone book if necessary.

• To set the best posture position for sitting, turn your palms so they are facing in front you-- your shoulder (scapula) blades will contract and give you better posture. Then just turn your hands back normally and you will be sitting less hunched.

Labelson offers other tips for common issues:
• For lower back pain, put a golf ball behind your knee and squeeze it. This will apply acupressure and should relieve some of your lower back pain.

• Always breath from your diaphragm. Think of energy as traveling all the way up your spine, coming out of the top of your head. As you exhale, breathe slowly out of your nose and store the breath an inch and half below your belly button, where your adrenal glands are located and you preserve your energy. Do this three minutes a day, as a way to relax, especially if you can’t fall asleep. Increase the time to five minutes, then eight minutes. Think of the energy flow going up and down your body in sequence and increase it as long as you want. It’s a healthy way to preserve your chi, energy.

• You can use a jade roller to massage your face every night and morning.

• To help clean your skin on your face, use pearl cream. This is popular in China. You can also dissolve granular crushed pearl under the tongue. As it dissolves, it goes into your body internally.

• Tap your head to reduce hair loss

Labelson notes that the demand is growing for acupuncture as it becomes more mainstream and people want to move away from traditional medicine. “This is a way for your body to heal without taking narcotics or pills.” He usually combines acupuncture with massage depending on the patient’s needs. “If you have elbow pain, we’ll stick needles in your elbow and do a little massage on your neck or back. If there’s pain, there’s stagnation. If there’s stagnation, there’s pain. The chi and blood aren’t flowing smoothly. Sticking a needle in locally will open up the channel to get the chi and blood to flow better.”

My acupuncture energy treatment began with three half-inch stainless steel needles with finely tapered points inserted into the top of my scalp, running under the skin. Labelson warned that I might feel a little pinch, then a dull pressure, and numbing sensation, but there was no feeling of pain. More needles an inch long, set about 1/4 inch in, were placed in my abdomen, feet and hands.

The needles were stimulated by twisting them back and forth, tonifying the energy up and down. The treatment lasted about 20 to 25 minutes. When the needles came out, I felt relaxed and there were no restrictions or side effects.

Labelson also uses aromatherapy for relaxation as this helps with the spirit.

If we were addressing pain for the lower back, Labelson explained, the needles cause a little bit of micro trauma in the muscle and connective tissue. That sends a signal to the brain to bring blood to the area. Blood brings along oxygen, nutrients, and t-cells that help clean out toxins and release endorphins, a natural pain killer. This helps to reduce inflammation and enables the body heal itself naturally without any medication.

Labelson attended the University of Delaware as a biology major. He attended South Baylor University in Anaheim, California for a three-year Masters of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. He graduated in 2000 and has been practicing for 14 years.

Recently, he traveled to Shanghai China where he studied at Longhua Hospital Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), known as one of the oldest TCM clinical centers in China. He spent three hours in daily clinics following different doctors on rounds; some for pain, some for oncology, digestion, gynecology, and at night he attended two hours of lectures.

For pain, the Chinese use acupuncture, electric stimulation, and Chinese massage. Herbs are used to increase immunity for cancer patients along with cupping -- in which cups are placed on the skin to bring toxins to the surface. This helps with neck pain and back pain as well.

Labelson also sees a lot of neck and back pain in White Plains’ Spine Options where he works with Dr. Bradley Cash. Labelson treats clients there for a variety of issues including: colds, sinuses, headaches, tennis elbow, back pain, infertility, constipation, cough, depression, and stress.

Labelson also offers some nutritional tips:

• Dairy is phlegm forming with a lot of hormones, buy organic.

• Warm water with lemon is the best to drink for detoxification of the body.

• For a dry cough, have an Asian pear which moistens the lungs.

• The fall season is a dry season when people get dry skin; increase your water intake, eat pears and apples, they are moistening.

• Going into the winter, you want to eat spicier foods, stews and roasted foods for warming. In winter you want heavy thick foods that are braised and stewed. These take a long time to cook and warm you up in the winter.

• He does not advise eating a raw food diet. because the spleen and stomach like foods to be neutral and bland. Stay with stir frying, steaming, or roasting rather than eating raw foods.

• In the summer, he recommends watermelon and bitter melons, and other foods that are moistening.

Labelson is in Armonk on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and in White Plains on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can reach him at Access PT at (914) 273-9100.


Marian Hamilton to Receive Quality of Life Award for Service to the Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center of Northern Westchester Hospital

March 14, 2014
At Northern Westchester Hospital, there is no better place for families and friends overwhelmed by their loved one’s medical needs than The Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center. It is a “wonderful and beautiful place” where “there is always somebody to listen and talk to” for volunteers to “give support, act as an advocate, and make this time as easy on family as it could be.”

Named after her husband, who succumbed to lung cancer in 2004, Marian Hamilton founded the center to provide an oasis where those in support roles could be empowered to take care of their own needs, and find counseling and relief from the stressful journey of caregiving.

Opened in 2007 at Northern Westchester Hospital, the Caregivers Center is a place where over 7,000 volunteers have served, and where Marian still serves weekly. Marian continues to be a driving force for the organization, fundraising and offering enthusiasm and new ideas to support family caregivers at the center. She feels that all hospitals should have a dedicated support program and place of respite and advocates for similar centers in other facilities.  In addition, Marian initiated a Caregivers Center Consortium, a bi-annual conference dedicated to sharing best practice and education on current caregiving issues as well as support. 

Continuing to offer emotional support and care for family caregivers whether their loved one is an inpatient or outpatient, Marian has been a driving role model for the meaningful community that they require. The Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center has gone above and beyond simple care for the people who seek comfort: They truly make them feel loved and supported in their time of need and loss.

One of the reasons Westchester and the Mid-Hudson Valley are great places to live and work is the large number of dedicated volunteers who are committed to making a difference. To honor outstanding service to the community, The Volunteer Center of United Way will give special recognition to nine individuals and groups who have gone above and beyond in donating their time and talent to volunteer activities that strengthen the fabric of the region. The Volunteer Center’s 34th annual Volunteer Spirit Awards, presented by New York Life, will take place at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Tarrytown, NY, on Thursday, April 24 from 8 to 10 am. Lou Young, the Emmy Award-winning CBS 2 broadcast journalist, will emcee the celebration and fundraiser.

One Woman’s Fight
By Alice Levine

July 29, 2011
Armonk resident Barbara DiGiacinto, a retired school teacher who taught English for over 30 years, faced the most challenging battle of her life in 1999 after receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer. Barbara won the fight and now helps other women cope when they are faced with a similar diagnosis.

After Barbara found a lump in her breast during self-examination, she immediately made an appointment to see her gynecologist; when a suspicious cyst was found, he scheduled an appointment for Barbara with a surgeon in a local medical group. After the pathology report revealed breast cancer, Barbara’s doctor advised her to get a second opinion at Sloan Kettering. “I wanted to stay with my local doctor since I had a long relationship with him and a great comfort level. He strongly advised me to get another opinion. The advice turned out to be a lifesaver because the doctors at Sloan-Kettering diagnosed my particular type of breast cancer, a very rare type of cancer which did not seem to play by the rules,” Barbara explained.

Barbara stressed the importance of trying to view cancer as a temporary bump in the road. It can be overwhelming to consider it a lifelong disease. Barbara added, “I can’t overemphasize the importance of how you approach cancer. Of course I was scared, but I made up my mind to take charge and not see myself as a victim. While friends and family members wanted to bring me to chemo treatments, I felt a sense of peacefulness and inner strength by going myself. Of course, some people may not feel well enough to go to their treatments by themselves, but I was fortunate that I was able to.”

Barbara was pleasantly surprised by the warmth and compassion of both the nurses and doctors at Sloan Kettering. “I expected a very impersonal experience because it was a big New York City hospital, but it was just the opposite. On a day when I was waiting a long time for my chemo treatment, my oncologist, Dr. Maria Theodoulou, noticed me waiting and sensed my anxiety. She suggested I join her to run some errands and pass the time. She also gave me her home phone number and told me not to be afraid to call when I needed her,” Barbara said. Barbara also discussed how important it is for women to expect to wait sometimes for medical appointments, tests and treatments. “Bring a book and don’t waste energy getting upset if you need to wait. It’s almost always due to an emergency, and it’s out of your hands,” she added.

After eight surgeries and several chemotherapy treatments during which the cancer would temporarily go away and come back, Barbara’s doctors recommended a mastectomy to be followed by more aggressive chemotherapy. The news was of course startling and disappointing, but Barbara did her best to take it in stride. “During this time I took great comfort in the support of the American Cancer Society. They are available 24/7 to answer questions and provide support. Anyone who is diagnosed with cancer should add their number to her speed dial. They helped me move on to the next phase of my treatment with a feeling of strength and positive energy. Again, I was determined to stay calm and continue my fight,” Barbara said.

Thankfully, Barbara’s surgery and chemotherapy were successful in removing the cancer. She has now been cancer-free for 11 years, and she enjoys helping other women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Barbara offered some helpful suggestions for women. She stressed the importance of self-examination, which helped save her own life. “Unfortunately, many women neglect to do a self-exam or don’t take action even after discovering a lump. One of my friends waited almost a year before seeing her doctor, and tragically, it was too late to save her, once she finally decided to seek medical treatment,” Barbara said. Barbara also recommended getting in touch with the American Cancer Society immediately. “One of the first things I did was read their 120 page booklet on breast cancer. It helped me understand my cancer so that I was ready with questions when I first met with my doctor. Always bring a pad and be prepared to ask questions and write down answers, since it’s easy to forget what the doctor said later on,” she stressed.  Finally, she recommended always getting a second opinion. “Even if you totally trust your doctor, you must get a second opinion. I recommend going to a cancer treatment hospital, such as Sloan Kettering, when possible. The doctors are cancer specialists and the treatment is cutting-edge. The nurses at Sloan are trained in working with oncology patients and you feel their empathy immediately. It’s so important to know you’re going to feel comfort and support every time you go for a treatment,” added Barbara.

Barbara never takes for granted how fortunate she is to have survived breast cancer and to be cancer-free. She said, “While it was obviously an experience I would never have wished for, I feel more empowered and I am thankful for every day.”

Barbara expressed these sentiments:
“Accept what you cannot change. Do not look into the future unless your vision is positive as it does no good to see the future as doom and gloom.”

“These two beliefs helped keep me positive and I embraced these words every single day of my ordeal. They helped me survive and stay positive,” Barbara concluded.

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Access Physical Therapy Armonk