AS HE WALKED out of his very first acupuncture treatment, Michael Wischnia was pleasantly surprised at how he felt.

"It was much easier and sweeter than I expected," said Wischnia, who traveled from Chester County to the Philadelphia Community Acupuncture in Mt. Airy recently.

"It was just so relaxing," he said. "There was very little pain."

Wischnia, 66, is among a growing number of clients trekking to community acupuncture centers in Philadelphia to treat their aches and pains without drugs.

Many people understand acupuncture as a traditional Chinese medicine in which fine needles are inserted into certain locations on the body to relieve pain.

But licensed practitioners, some of whom hold either master's degrees in acupuncture or Oriental medicine, say it is a complementary medicine used to correct the flow of energy, or chi, between the surface of the body and the internal organs.

"It's an ancient medicine that can be used in modern times, and it's excellent for stress reduction," said Elise Rivers, owner of Community Acupuncture of Mt. Airy.

Wischnia suffers from spinal stenosis which he said causes the discs in his spine to squeeze against nerves and cause pain.

He's had plenty of conventional medical treatment. But he said his daughter told him the acupuncture she was getting for migraines had helped her, and recommended he try it also.

What he learned is that community acupuncture is more affordable than private acupuncture, where a client is treated alone in a one-on-one session, by an acupuncturist.

When he started looking for acupuncture in Chester County, Wischnia found the first visit for a private session would cost $150 and follow-up sessions about $100 per visit.

At community acupuncture centers, most clients pay based on a sliding scale that ranges from $15 to $45. As the name implies, with community acupuncture, clients are treated in a group setting, either in reclining chairs or on tables, as the acupuncturist goes from patient to patient.

"Affordability and accessibility is what makes community acupuncture work," said Sarah Lefkowich, owner of the West Philly Community Acupuncture. "You can go as often as you need."

Alan Edelstein, 66, started going to West Philly Community Acupuncture about two years ago for relief from arthritis and nerve pain.

What he wasn't expecting, he said, was a general feeling of relaxation, well-being and less stress after his treatments.

"I've found that very beneficial," he said. "I do feel less tension, I feel tension can contribute to pain."

He said he's found that a combination of regular exercise and acupuncture has helped. And he's no longer taking opioids after having gall bladder surgery earlier this year.

"We like to take pills in our society and our culture," said Edelstein, who lives near the center. "Exercise and acupuncture is better."

Steve Mavros operates several private acupuncture clinics in Philadelphia and the suburbs. He opened Healing Arts Community Acupuncture, on Walnut near 20th, last year.

"About a quarter of my [community] clients are college students and graduate students who are dealing with stress or sleeping problems," Mavros said. He's also seeing older patients over 65 who are dealing with arthritis in their knees and backs.

Wischnia, a part-time manufacturer's rep in the LED lighting industry, can relate. He said his medical doctor told him to try acupuncture at least four times to see if it helps.

"I hope it does good," Wischnia said as he left the center recently "I've already made an appointment for my second visit."