By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Sep 19, 2007 at 5:32 AM

Almost everyone remembers getting shots as a child -- the dreaded doctor visits that were never quite exonerated by that lollypop at the end. They were painful, they bled, they made you want to cry.

It's understandable why many people harbor a fear of needles, and it's even more understandable why many Americans are iffy when it comes to medical practices like acupuncture.

The good news is that acupuncture isn't only about skin pricks, and the even better news is that acupuncture needles are neither thick nor hypodermic; they are considerably thinner than a sewing needle, thinner than tattoo needles, so thin in fact that you can spring them back and forth as you would a cat whisker.

Solcare acupuncturist Amy Severinsen says her needles vary in size from .16 millimeter to .30 millimeter. That's not to say, however, that you can't feel them going in. You can definitely feel them, though it doesn't hurt the way people assume it will -- it happens to quickly. What you feel is their presence, which, if anything, is positively stimulating.

An acupuncture session at Solcare, 305 W. Silver Spring Dr., begins with a lengthy intake -- three pages of medical history questions, followed by a one-on-one personal health discussion with your acupuncturist.

"Part of the reason the intake is so long is because, with Eastern medicine, you're really trying to find a pattern in a person and determine why things happen, so you're going after a root," says Severinsen, who received her masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago before doing a three-week internship in China. "Through certain needles and herbs you are tackling symptoms, but you also have needles for the root of the problem."

Before the needle treatment begins, Severinsen checks the pulse in three places and does a tongue diagnosis based on the color of its body, its shape and its coating. A pale tongue, for example, can say so much about what's going on internally, such as low qi (which is pronounced "chi" and refers to the body's natural energy) and blood deficiency.

For patients without major ailments, she recommends a simple tonifying (add qi in and build existing qi) treatment, during which she'll stick to about 15 needles, as not to displace the vital energy too much. For more complex symptoms, she'll use as many as 30.

The needles enter the skin 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch at various points along internal channels that run through the body like arteries and veins. Tapping into these channels affects circulation and it's not long before you can literally feel your own qi flowing through you.

It's a mildly tingly sensation, yet not in the same way it feels when your foot falls asleep. In fact, it's the diametric opposite of that, both scientifically and physically. It's similar to that euphoria you experience after a long bike ride or a yoga practice. Energized, yet satisfied and relaxed. For the record, it's really cool to feel your own qi.

Once the needles are in, she dims the lights and lets you relax alone with soft traditional Chinese music for 20 minutes.

"A lot of times people will say things like, 'Don't I have to have a problem to come in?' But you can tell by going through all that information, there is bound to be something. And even is there's not, we can always tap in and tonify some of the qi the body and just make sure the immunity is strong."

Severinsen says that acupuncture can be effective for all kinds of things, although it depends on the person and how long they've been having issues. In fact, it was reading about acupuncture's 80 percent success rate in getting addicts off heroin that really triggered her passion for the practice.

"I always think it's worth giving it a try," she says. "Lots of times it's effective but needs to be paired up with something else, so it's not the one single key to recovery. It's good for everybody. Even if you don't find it helping the one specific thing you came in for, often times it'll be effective for other reasons."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”