GROTON -- When Ann McKinney's horse suffered a hairline fracture of its left front leg, the veterinarian suggested surgery to treat the potentially life-threatening injury. After much discussion, a wait-and-see approach was agreed upon, with only minimal walking of the horse allowed.

McKinney, a licensed acupuncturist who normally treats people, asked if she could try acupuncture on the horse. The vet's response: It couldn't hurt.

After two weeks of acupuncture, supplemented with infrared light and microcurrent therapy, the horse was doing so well that McKinney asked for a new set of X-rays to see how the leg was healing.

The X-rays showed the fracture had healed. The veterinarian, interestingly enough, did not have much to say.

For McKinney, owner of Acu4life of Groton, it's just another example of the ancient practice of acupuncture, paired with newer noninvasive technologies, building on the body's natural ability to heal itself.

The U.K. native entered the field of acupuncture almost by accident. After years in the corporate world, McKinney was ready for a change. "It wasn't satisfying or rewarding," she says of the career she'd been building. An avid equestrian, McKinney explored veterinarian school but realized she would not be comfortable euthanizing an animal. It took a friend to suggest acupuncture before McKinney saw the possibility of work that could satisfy her search for personal growth and fulfillment.


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McKinney studied acupuncture at the International College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ICTCM) of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Acupuncture uses special needles that are inserted into specific points along meridians believed to channel qi (pronounced chee), the vital energy that flows through the body's systems and organs. In traditional Chinese medicine, disease is thought to be the result of an imbalance within the body, or disruption of qi. Eastern acupuncture works to rebalance the body, with each successive treatment building on progress made in previous treatments to correct the individual's qi and restore body systems and organs to health.

McKinney actually hadn't had much experience with acupuncture before enrolling in ICTCM. "I'd gone to a chiropractor who did acupuncture on me, but he wasn't a licensed acupuncturist." She remembers getting mediocre results from the treatment.

It wasn't until she suffered a painful shoulder injury that she considered acupuncture again. Students at ICTCM receive free treatment from the school, so she decided to give it another try.

During the treatment, the ICTCM acupuncturist asked her to lift her arm. "I argued with him. I told him I hadn't been able to even use that arm and he was asking me to lift it." He inserted a needle, and with his continued insistence, McKinney reluctantly did as asked.

McKinney was shocked. "There was no pain, none whatsoever." She suddenly realized how life-changing her newly chosen career could be.

After five years of training at ICTCM, McKinney passed the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine exam to become a licensed acupuncturist, allowing her to practice almost anywhere in the United States.

Treating the whole system often leads to unintended, positive side effects for McKinney's patients. "Patients often say they're more relaxed, they sleep better, have improved digestive systems, and have more energy."

Most of her patients come in for pain management. "I get a lot of people with osteoarthritis or work-related, repetitive-motion injuries. I also have a lot of fibromyalgia patients who do really well with acupuncture."

Many come in as a last resort. They've tried traditional medicine, prescriptions for pain, physical or occupational therapists, and still find pain affecting their quality of life.

And after acupuncture? "Ninety percent say they wish they'd come in earlier."

Acupuncture often works best after several treatments. "Treatment takes time to work," McKinney explains. "We don't get out of balance quickly, unless it's a traumatic injury. It takes time to heal."

While Western medicine focuses on fixing a problem quickly, there's no denying the refreshed and relaxed look of her patients after they receive one of McKinney's treatments. During a visit to her office at 300 Main St., Groton, an elderly gentleman came out of the treatment room gliding easily across the floor with his walker towards his waiting wife.

"How do you feel?" she asked.

The gentleman looked so invigorated, as if he were ready to dance the night away, or at least take his wife for a few turns around a dance floor.

"I feel great," he enthused. How many patients say that after a visit to their doctor?

"There's not a day that goes by without my being amazed at the results (of acupuncture)," McKinney admits. And by the smile on her face, one can tell that feels amazingly good.