Chronic Pain, Acupuncture & Holistic Healing

Chronic pain is on the rise affecting 76.5 million Americans and one third have disabling pain. Unfortunately, most people are not getting relief from their pain. The usual route that most people in the States with chronic pain go through is to see their Doctor and the Doctors typical reaction is to give out pain pills and then tell their patient to see how that works.

When the pain killers or Cortisol shot stops giving the type of relief it did in the beginning the next step is to consider the option of surgery to relieve your chronic pain. At that point most people are tired of being in pain and will try most anything to feel some relief.

Unfortunately, these surgeries rarely give the kind of relief from the chronic pain that the patient was hoping for.

Now that the chronic pain is still there after what was supposed to be the game changer (surgery) has begun a new search for help. Some people will give up but others begin to look outside the box and search the internet for pain relief or one of their friends will tell them how they got help with their lower back pain from an Acupuncturist.

That starts the chain reaction of the “Ah ha” moment that gets the burning question into their minds of can this help me too!

In my experience as an acupuncturist, I have had numerous people say, I wish I would have given this acupuncture a chance before I got surgery for my shoulder pain, lower back pain, knee pain, elbow pain, neck pain, etc…because its helping the pain after the surgery.

They begin to ponder if they needed the surgery in the first place. At this point I must explain that sometimes surgery is a must and you should have your doctor check to see if there is a tear in the muscle or physical damage that acupuncture may not be able to help completely.

Acupuncture unfortunately has a stigma that needles are scary and therefore the procedure will be painful. This is the typically far from reality, since the needles are hair thin and are more like a pin than a hypodermic needle which has a hollow tip. I believe you can put around 16 acupuncture needles inside the hypodermic needle opening.

That is a thin needle! The reason why hypodermic needles hurt when inserted into the skin is because there is a hollow tip that actually takes out a small chunk of tissue from the body.

That is why shots are painful. Acupuncture needles do not have hollow tips, so the insertion is much smoother. The most that should be felt is a slight pinch or a dull ache for a few seconds of no sensation at all. This seems like a minor price to pay for decreasing the chronic pain that most people endure for years.

One of the most prominent types of chronic pain that I see is shoulder pain. This is also one of my favorite issues to work on because I usually can get very good result. The methodology which I take is atypical to most acupuncturist.

While most practitioners will go directly into the shoulder using electro stimulation or cupping, I will insert needles in the lower leg and ankle are of both legs. After inserting several needles, I have the patient move the shoulder trying to illicit the pain. After doing this several times, the pain level has dropped 40-60%.

On occasion I have had people walk out the door, chronic pain all gone! What most people reading this must realize is that this first treatment is great and helps with the pain but if you have had a pain problem for many years, it took a long time to get to that point and it’s going to take some time to get rid of the pain as well. Also, after the first treatment, the pain will usually start to inch its way back in about 2-4 days.

The idea is to come back for another treatment before the pain goes back to the same level is was before the first treatment. I usually recommend 2-3 sessions for the first 2-3 weeks then reassess the pain level. Typically, after 5 sessions, the pain levels have dropped 50-75% and that is staying at those levels and not getting worse. Usually by the third or fourth week, the level of treatment gets down to 1 time a week with noticeable pain relief.

Then finally getting to the point of not needing acupuncture except for maintenance if desired. Most enjoy coming back because it helps with stress relief as well. This method also works the same way for neck pain, lower back pain, arthritis, migraines, knee pain and elbow pain. Getting pain relief is all about being diligent and giving acupuncture a chance to help facilitate healing.

Besides acupuncture, there are several things that people with chronic pain can do to relieve inflammation. Reducing or eliminating sugar, alcohol, dairy (all types), grains and caffeine. Taking out all of these at one time may be impossible so try to take out one at a time.

Eliminate that item for 21 days then reintroduce the food to your diet and see how your body reacts. If the pain decreased during that time and when you starting eating the item and your pain got worse you should consider eliminating that food for good. Do that with all of the items on the list.

Lastly, there are several foods that you could add to your diet that helps with reducing inflammation and chronic pain. Ginger, turmeric (curcumin), cayenne. Ginger is great for stomach issues and is anti-inflammatory which reduces pain. Turmeric is great for osteoarthritis pain and increases mobility. Cayenne pepper also alleviates pain in general.

Weight Loss & Acupuncture

Weight loss has been one of the major concerns of the 21st century within the last 30 plus years. There have been fad diets from low fat diets, protein diets, paleo diets, vegan diets, and even breathatarianism! Things have gotten out of control and the problem with weight gain all starts with the big conglomerate food companies.

These companies such as kraft, general mills, and Gordon food center have been selling food devoid of any nutritional value and filled with filler that is harmful and actually exacerbates weight gain. Most of these companies use natural flavors (MSG) to make you addicted to the food and want to eat more.

If you buy more of these food corporations’ products because of an addiction then these companies make more money for their shareholders at the expense of the customer’s waistline and health. Food devoid of nutrients will make you sick sooner or later, we have to eat certain foods to get all the vitamins and mineral to have a fully functional body. If you eat packaged or fast food for your main source of nutrients, then not only will you see weight gain but your health is in serious risk as well.

In Chinese medicine we believe that eating healthy is very important we still look at weight loss in a much different way than western nutritionist or doctors. As Chinese medicine practitioner, we will ask many questions about you in general then check the tongue and pulses. This will give an overall diagnosis of the body. Usually the diagnosis for weight loss is considered “Spleen Qi” deficiency. This basically means that a person’s digestions is very weak and the body is not absorbing the nutrients from the food they eat.

Spleen qi deficiency diagnosis typically makes a person feel fatigued, gas or bloating, loose stools, the arms and legs may feel like they lack strength, the voice is weak, easily bruised skin, hemorrhoid issues, sugar craving, allergies, obesity, pale complexion, weak immunity, and possible irregular periods. These are general symptoms and you do not have to have all of these to have spleen qi deficiency.

I would say sugar cravings would be a big telltale sign that the spleen is weak. If the body is not receiving enough energy from food, sugar fixes will give a quick boost but is very harmful in the long run. If the spleen is functioning properly, the sugar craving will stop.

Another common pattern is called damp or phlegm blocking the spleen. This presents with reduced appetite, congested feeling in the chest, profuse saliva or mucous is the mouth, heavy feeling or sluggish body with diarrhea. When phlegm start to accumulate, it can be very difficult to expel from the body. These people typically crave greasy fatty foods along with sugary foods such as ice cream. Dairy products of all types is very detrimental to this pattern so the less you eat the better you will feel.

Not that we have looked at the major patterns for weight gain, no its time to set up a plan that is tailored towards the patients specific pattern. Instead of having the patient start a fad diet, I would have them get regular acupuncture and start taking an herbal formula to get the spleen strengthened to function properly. During the acupuncture sessions we will start going over a plan to start eliminating foods that have tendencies to cause weigh gain as well and add foods that will help get proper nutrients and help strengthen the spleen as well.

Some great foods that help strengthen the spleen is amaranth, millet, bitter green, cooked celery, turnips, asparagus, yams, pumpkin, garlic, cooked carrots and sunflower seeds. Some other good tips for weight loss is drinking water that is either warm or room temperature. Iced water hurts the spleen and makes digestion very sluggish so avoid eating raw vegetables for the same reason in the beginning while getting the spleen in shape. Raw foods are better to eat in the summer when the body is warm compared to the winter time. Cooked vegetable is much easier to digest because they’re half way broken down.

The last element of weight loss is exercise. One should be exercising in the beginning a minimum of 30 minutes a day. Walking is very low impact, so I recommend do this until you feel comfortable do more high impact activities. This is adding positives to your life and when your energy level is higher you will feel good and want to keep making strides toward your goal.

Remember, losing weight is a process. It may take you 6 months or 10 years to get to your goal weight but learning how to be healthy is a lifetime practice. The beginning is the hardest part but when you start things will get better and better.

Quit Smoking With Acupuncture

FINALLY! I can quit smoking without the terrible withdrawals!

There seems to be a stigma with acupuncture and quitting smoking. Most people in the western world believe that acupuncture does just a few things, helps with pain and decreases you urge for cigarettes.

This is far from the truth, acupuncture has been around for at least 3000 years, some would say 5000 or more years. This ancient medicine has been helping with just about every ailment known to man. Colds, flu, hepatitis, broken bones, stomach issues, gynecological issues, pain and so much more.

It is true though, acupuncture does help adjust the cravings for cigarettes and any other addictive substance as well. The NADA protocol which stands for National Acupuncture Detoxification Association has been helping people quit unhealthy habits since the 70’s. This protocol consists of putting 5 small needles on tiny points within the ear. Each point has a specific purpose which helps cravings and detoxification.

The first point is called Shen Men. Shen men first puts the patient in the state of receptivity to the treatment. It also helps ground the patient, calm stress and anxiety and sedates excessive sensitivity.

The second point is called the autonomic point. This helps balance out the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system along with helping the blood circulation. When balancing out the sympathetic nervous system, we are helping to stabilize the “fight or flight” reaction by calming the body.

Most people that are highly stressed out have a hyper sensitive sympathetic nervous system. When something goes wrong in life, such as stress or arguments people tend to either push back by fighting or running away. If its flight, then usually the smoker will go somewhere to light up a cigarette to relieve the presume threat. What the parasympathetic nervous system does is let you “rest and digest”.

If the body is always in fight or flight, then the body is not allowing itself to get good sleep or digest their food properly. This will cause a perpetual loop going back to over stimulating the sympathetic causing more stress due to being tired. Then, the body will require caffeine to stay awake and we all know how good a cigarette and coffee taste! So, balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system will help you sleep and keep the stress levels down.

The 3rd point that would be needled is called Lung 2. The lung point has the function to detox the body but also has an emotional component within the Chinese medicine theory as well. This emotional factor explains that the lungs hold “grief”. Some smokers may have emotional baggage from their past which they are trying to suppress or push down by smoking.

Unconsciously, the smoker could be pushing down the emotion of grief with the smoke and not letting whatever the grief being held in to surface. The cigarette is a crutch to alleviate the pain the grief is causing. This is a much more esoteric way to thing about this but from my own experience of quitting smoking, I needed to let go of some of my own demons before wanting to quit as well. The Lung 2 point is great for detoxing and releasing grief.

The fourth point is the liver point. The liver is the largest organ in the body that helps detoxification. By needling this point, it is helping the liver detox the blood for all toxins. Also, the liver holds the emotions in general but specifically irritability and stress.

This goes back to the sympathetic nervous system as well. Fight or flight is a stress issue. If the liver is congested then the body becomes stressed and when the body is stressed is caused congestion which causes the qi to stagnate. Smooth Qi means less stress and better flow of blood.

The last point is the Kidney point. What the kidney does in the western sense is detoxify the blood through the urination function. So, the lung, kidney and liver are all helping rid of toxicity. Also, in the Chinese theory, the kidney stores our life essence which correlated to the bones, reproduction, growth, brain function and aging. Most of these are affected if you smoke for long enough.

In general, this is a great point for all. What I want to make clear is that acupuncture will not be the sole factor in quitting smoking.

Acupuncture and the NADA protocol is a tool to help facilitate the process. Quitting smoking is a process and most people do not quit on the first try. When I first wanted to quit, I relapsed several times before I finally was able to kick the smokes to the can.

I also have a behavioral psychology degree so I implemented those ideas for myself to move in a positive way towards my goal of quitting. Always, remember baby steps are key to being smoke free.

Adding positive things to your life to cancel out the negative behaviors will help keep your mind of smoking as well. Adding exercise, meditation, group support or a psychologist will help tremendously as well.

Just remember, quitting smoking is a process and you must be ready to quit for acupuncture or any other tool to work.

Infertility & Acupuncture

Fertility issues have been a growing concern in American society for the last 20 years or so and it seems to be getting worse. There are many theories to why this is happening and now with a few major studies on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) we may have a better understanding of why the high rate of infertility. The study came to the conclusion that after the third generation of rats eating strictly GMO foods the rats became sterile. We are now into the third generation of people eating GMO food so most likely we are going to see infertility get much worse. The other condition that is affecting men and women with infertility problems is the lack of exercise and over worked and stressed from life.

Infertility is not only affecting women but men as well. GMO foods are affecting peoples immune system make them more likely to be sick more regularly, age faster, and making it more difficult to get pregnant and stay pregnant. My first recommendation to get pregnant would be to look at your diet and see what you can change to abstain from GMO foods. The biggest culprits are soy, corn, potatoes, and high fructose corn syrup. The other foods to avoid are salmon (farm raised), canola oil, most dairy that is not organic due to the GMO feed that is fed to the cows, and most processed foods. After looking at your foods, start replacing with organic whole foods, meats that are grass fed and avoiding fast food and processed foods all together.

While changing the diet, the next step is to start acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas. What the practitioner will do is find out what pattern is causing the infertility. Many times irregular periods will be a major concern. What needs to be done is getting the cycle to be in the range of 28-30 days, pain free ovulation at mid cycle, no PMS signs, and a pain free period with moderate flow of fresh red blood.

The main patterns with infertility in women with Chinese medicine are blood deficiency, cold in the uterus and liver qi and blood stagnation.

Blood deficiency can look like very minimal period, pale blood, delayed cycle, tiredness, depression, dizziness, pale complexion and possible blurred vision. With this pattern typically the digestion is very weak or possibly the patient is a vegetarian or vegan.

Red meat and beets are very good to help build blood. Chinese formulas also help tremendously with building up the blood in the body as well.

Cold in the uterus looks like a delayed cycle, minimal period, small clots, painful period, feels better with heat, the body feels colder during the period, pale face, the whole body always feels cold and possibly a sore lower back. Adding some foods that have warming qualities such as ginger, cinnamon, and garlic may help some this pattern really needs herbal formulas and warming herb that you burn called moxa to really help the basal body temperature raise.

Liver qi and blood stagnation looks like irregular periods, premenstrual tension, painful periods with stabbing sensation, breast distention, irritability, larger clots and darker menstrual blood. This is a very common pattern with women with high levels of stress. Acupuncture is very helpful to relieve stress. Exercise and meditation along with turmeric will help move some qi and blood. Lastly, Chinese herbal formulas are also very important with all of these patterns and need to be taken to get the desired goal of getting pregnant.

There have been several studies that show acupuncture and In-vitro fertilization have a symbiotic relationship. One study by “fertility and sterility” found that 20% of women undergoing IVF became pregnant following the procedure compared to 43% who received acupuncture before and after IVF. This is nearly a 50% increase in effectiveness with IVF and acupuncture. Another study by “Medical acupuncture”, said that acupuncture may stimulate egg follicle development in women undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

What needs to be done to get results to promote fertility is get the digestion working optimally, balance the hormones, eating healthy and eradicating GMO foods out of the diet and adding organic foods to the diet. Manage stress and get more exercise. Lastly, chart and understand the 4 phases of the cycle and get acupuncture and Chinese formulas to help the body balance itself out.

Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after 2 years of trying, so you must be patient and willing to give Chinese medicine time to work.

Back Pain & Acupuncture

Did you know that about 80% of all humans suffer from low back pain? Did you know acupuncture can help relieve that nagging dull ache or sharp stabbing pain? Acupuncture can help by stimulating our nervous system and bringing blood to affected areas. It can provide both short term and long term relief. Acupuncture has been a practice for over 2000 years, much older than our own medical practices!

Check out this article from webMD.com about acupuncture being used in the medical community for back pain! 

My First Experience With Acupuncture

I’m not a big needle fan so I have not been interested in acupuncture at all. However, with age and a desire for a much more natural holistic way of healing myself, I started to research all kinds of natural non-invasive ways to heal my body. Acupuncture happened to be one of the items that came to surface in my research. I finally went to have my first experience after several friends told me how much it helped them.

I was suffering from perimenopause and severe stomach pain. When I went into my first appointment, it was with a lovely little Asian woman who I know knew her stuff. Although I couldn’t understand what she was saying, she set me down and did an examination to find out what was going on within me. She then had me lay down and started to insert needles in me. Some created a twinge within me. I didn’t know what that was and because of the language barrier, I couldn’t ask! Although this was somewhat of an issue, I did fall immediately asleep for an hour! She woke me up and pulled the needles out and that was that!

Sleep for me has been elusive, so to fall immediately asleep was amazing. Yes, I would pay for a nap and some healing! However, I just couldn’t take the language barrier because I want to know what is going on and that I can ask questions that will be answered as the acupuncture is being performed.

I then went to Black Sun Acupuncture (now Berkley Acupuncture), and was able to openly communicate my problems or issues with Matthew. As well I was able to understand why there were certain twinges. Which was a sign of area that is stagnated, and the needle is helping open those areas up. The twinge should dissipate within a few seconds.

I suggest that if you do see an acupuncturist, make sure that they clearly communicate with you, so you can feel comfortable with the services performed.

Does Acupuncture Help With Stress?

One of my favorite things to help people with using acupuncture is Stress. I can relate to the patients that I help because I use to be one big ball of stress myself. During 2007-2009, I worked in Chicago while the mortgage and housing crisis happened. This was one the most stressful times of my life and that is also when I realized that my health is much more important than a job I could not stand.

During this highly stressful time I started to notice things in my body that didn’t feel right. My circulation to my hands and feet were terrible (cold), I had severe irritability, headaches near my temples, constipation which led to hemorrhoids (ouch!) and terrible urinary problems. This was the worst I ever felt in years. I was always very healthy and rarely got sick. I felt like I was falling apart.

Five years later I can say most of my stress and the issues that accompanied them are gone thanks to acupuncture, meditation, healthy diet, exercise and finding my true calling on this earth. Chinese Medicine!

Acupuncture and herbal medicine is one of the best ways to manage stress. When stress is not released and keeps accumulating from life, the energy of that emotion gets trapped in the body just like pain would. We call it stagnation of blood or Qi. When this energy does not move it causes pain or worse, many of the symptoms I mentioned above will show up. When the acupuncture needles are inserted in specific points on the body it helps move the stagnant energy and that is when you start to feel more light and able to function again without screaming at the next person to look at you wrong. The stagnation was released and now the energy is moving smoothly. You can take a deep breath!

Some other symptoms that women might experience from severe stress would be; PMS, irregular periods, painful periods, clotting, breast tenderness and did I mention severe irritability.

If you have a stressful life then acupuncture will help manage things but to really knock it out, you may have to use an herbal formula such as xiao yao san or check into Ashwaganda. Other modalities that can help with reliving stress is meditation, Qi Gong, exercise, yoga and deep breaths.

Sometimes stress can be debilitating so if it’s extreme, take time for yourself. Try to get out into nature and get clear about the path of life you chose. Sometimes staying in a career or a relationship that has run its course could be telling you subtly that you need to make a change.

Magnesium & Pain

Magnesium deficiency is rampant in most of the modern world. Due to industrial farming, the soil is not getting re-mineralized and causing havoc to the population that eats big agricultural food. Unfortunately, it goes much deeper and darker but for this topic we’ll stick with Magnesium and food.

If you aren’t sure if you have magnesium deficiency here are the main symptoms:Twitches, muscle tightness, cramps, back pain, neck pain, headaches, TMJ, constipation, menstrual cramps, decreased night vision, insomnia, anxiety, restless leg syndrome, panic attacks, numbness and tingling and palpations. Also, craving salt and carbohydrates.

A couple of early signs of magnesium deficiency is eye twitching, neck/shoulder tension and headaches. This sounds like 85-90% of the population out there dealing with stress. For most people magnesium needs to be taken every day. I have had a few people try magnesium for their insomnia but they usually fall short by not taking it long enough and then they don’t believe it will work. There is no magic bullet when supplementing with herbs, vitamins or minerals. It takes time, but using magnesium oil will get it into the body faster. This goes for pain in the back as well, it takes time to saturate the cells with magnesium so don’t give up after a week or so.

If you were wondering if there are any good foods that have magnesium in it there are a few:Kale, baby spinach(cooked), swiss chard, brazil nuts, cashews, flax seed, salmon, halibut, avocados, banana’s and dark chocolate.

A product that I like is 'Calm' Magnesium powder if you were wondering what to buy. It is a powder form that you put in water. It actually tastes pretty good too, if you like the taste of lemonade. Also, it is best to take at nighttime since, like its name, will calm you down.

If you have had long standing pain, then just taking magnesium probably will not completely fix the problem but the combination of acupuncture and magnesium will do wonders.

PMS, Cramps & Acupuncture

From my experience with Chinese medicine and acupuncture, most women have no idea that there is a better way to treat PMS than using pain killers. Most woman, if having severe cramps will go to the doctor and will find themselves being told the same things, its normal and here is a prescription. This will help but I know more people in general are tired of taking pills for every little thing. This is also not helping the baseline problem of why you are having severe cramping in the first place.

Typically, stress is going to cause many PMS signs. So this is typically the underlying problem. In Chinese medicine terminology, this is called liver qi stagnation. When you have this diagnosis, you will see headaches near the temples, irritability, breast tenderness, pain in the rib area around the lower abdomen. During the period there can be larger clots, dark blood,irregular cycle, and heavy flow.

Liver qi stagnation is very common in men and woman especially in the States due to the hectic lifestyles. First, acupuncture works wonders while dealing with all of these symptoms. Usually if you come into my office with cramps the pain will most likely be gone by the time you leave my office. Most of my patients are incredibly thankful when they leave. There are also a few good herbal formulas that can help with keeping the liver qi moving smoothly and keep those symptoms to a minimum. The best formula is called Xiao yao san. This can be taken for months at a time due to the mild herbs that are in the formula. I don’t recommend going out and buying this formula until you have been diagnosed by a trained Chinese medicine practitioner. There may be other things going on that must be addressed as well.

Lastly, to keep the stress at bay I recommend exercise, meditation, yoga, or qi gong. These all help move the qi and keep you feeling good physically and emotionally.

Health Insurance & Acupuncture

It seems that most people with health insurance have no idea what is covered when it comes to alternative health care. Usually, there is a surprised look on peoples faces that acupuncture, chiropractic and massage can be covered and have a low co pay for the service.

The insurance companies that I know of for sure that have plans that cover alternative health care are; Blue Cross Blue Shield, United, Cigna, ASHN, Aetna, Cofinity and Banner health. What you need to be aware of is that not all plans have alternative coverage. At this time, the more expensive plans typically will have the coverage. The other thing that you need to be aware of is if your plan does cover acupuncture it most likely will only cover pain issues and headaches (migraines).

This is a good start but we need more awareness to people with health insurance so they can demand better coverage concerning alternative health care to there providers. If we demand this then sooner better than later we could get not only pain related issues covered but flu, colds, infertility, gastrointestinal issues, stress, urinary problems, PMS, menopause and so many other issues covered.

If you’re not sure if you have coverage for alternative care, call your insurance company or have your acupuncturist call. They will no the right questions to ask so that there’s no surprises later on.