GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Chronic pain costs Americans $635 billion a year. Pain from an injury or illness can be so debilitating, you might be willing to try anything to get rid of it.
But you probably wouldn't chose to get stung by 30 or 40 bees three times a week.
For thousands of years, honey bees have been busy making honey, pollinating and occasionally stinging. And while most of us would like to avoid that painful encounter, some actually want it.
"The components of the bee venom stimulates the body's immune system," says Kristine Jacobson, an Apitherpist. At her home in Grand Rapids, she studies the benefits of bee venom therapy.
The practice goes back to the Egyptians for use in managing pain with venom from the honey bee which stimulates the production of mellitinin in humans, an anti-inflammatory a hundred times stronger than cortisol. "It will stimulate the adrenal along with the cortical system to produce your own cortisol."
And in return, Jacobson says it gives you relief from your pain.
"No matter what you want to call it, label it, tag it - people have pain and it's the pain they want to get rid of, so they can enjoy their life and do the things they want to do."
A torn rotator cuff was preventing David Richmond from playing tennis. "I couldn't even pick up a coffee mug. My options were to have surgery or live with the pain," said Richmond.
Willing to try anything to make it stop, David asked his sister Kristine to sting him three times-a-week, 10 to 20 times. After six months, David was back playing tennis with no pain.
When his tennis partner Ken Schwallier told him a painful toe injury would require surgery and limit his time on the court, David immediately suggested he try bee venom therapy.
"Yeah, I'm a naysayer," said Schwallier. "My friend Dave was telling me about it and I'm rolling my eyes."
But Schwallier says after a few weeks of stinging every other day, six to eight times, the pain was gone.
"I'm telling you the pain was just gone. I've never felt like this since I was in high school and within a few short weeks I was back playing tennis. It's amazing."
So Ken began stinging himself several times a week and Schwallier says he's been doing it as a way to manage his pain for four and half years. "If it starts coming back, I just maintain it with a few stings and it keeps me on the court."
How many times you sting and how often depends on your source of pain.
"It can go anywhere from one bee sting to 30 bee stings three times a week and sometimes 50," says Jacobson.
Bee venom therapy can be used for arthritis, muscle tears, knee injuries, back pain and numerous other conditions. But Kristine cautions the first thing that must be done before beginning treatment is to make sure the person isn't allergic to bee stings.
"It's definitely a caution that you want to consider and be prepared for. You never want to be not prepared for that reaction."
Another important part of the practice of Apitherapy, Jacobson says, is honoring the lives of the bees.
"When we use the honeybees for our purposes I always ensure that we help them regenerate and make many, many more than what we would ever consider using. We want to teach people number one, respect these bees. Because they are absolutely phenomenal and they give us so much."
Bee venom therapy is widely used in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America. In the U.S. many doctors are using bee venom, but it's in the form of a shot called Apitoxin.