The prevalence of back pain and the number of patients seeking care with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies in the US has increased.
Evidence suggests complementary therapies like acupuncture, spinal manipulation, massage, yoga, tai chi, chiropractic, biofeedback and mindfulness-based stress-reduction treatments can be helpful for back pain without drugs or surgery.
These therapies can help ease muscle tension, relieve pain, and correct posture while strengthening muscles and improving joint stability.
The most prevalent CAM therapies for back pain in the US are spinal manipulation, acupuncture, and massage.
Acupuncture and Back Pain
Lower Back Pain (LBP) is one of the most common types of chronic back pain and is often caused by lumbar muscle strain and sprains. Adults between the ages of 18 to 64 years represent 72% of all low back pain healthcare visits.
Naturally, there are many studies on treatment methods for lower back pain, including the efficacy of acupuncture in managing this pain.
In a comprehensive study, 454,920 patients with at least one of the three chronic pain conditions including headache, low back pain and osteoarthritis were treated with acupuncture. Effectiveness of acupuncture was rated as marked or moderate in 76% of the patients.
A meta-analysis reviewing nearly 20,000 people for chronic pain, including chronic back pain, found that those who received real acupuncture compared to those who received sham acupuncture or no acupuncture, experienced 50% improvement in chronic pain.
The study concluded, “Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option.”
More recently, a systematic review and meta-analysis of effects of acupuncture on pain and function in non-specific low back pain, found that acupuncture is more effective at pain relief than sham acupuncture or no treatment at all. Acupuncture with usual care methods for back pain is more effective than just usual care alone, making acupuncture an important supplemental treatment to usual care methods, according to this study.\
“My, what big ears you have!”
“ All the better to hear you with!”
Or, if you’re a Chinese Medicine practitioner: “All the better to live a long, healthy life with!” That’s because the ears are a manifestation of the kidneys which hold our essence (jing), our genetic potential, and large ears can be an indication of health and longevity.
Acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists have long understood this connection between the ears and the kidneys, relating issues such as hearing loss, tinnitus, and ear infections to imbalances of the kidney qi. In clinical practice we will treat the kidneys while working with these types of disorders. Interestingly, Western medicine also recognizes a relationship between the kidneys and the ears. The inner ear and the kidneys develop at the same time in utero, so if a baby is born with hearing issues, a good doc will know to immediately check the kidney function. Ongoing research is still exploring the parallels of specific aspects of the inner ear to renal function.
The ears are also a valuable microsystem in Chinese Medicine practice. Being a manifestation of the kidneys which govern our development, the ears are actually a map of our development. They reflect the whole body and have their own complete acupuncture point system as such. Picture an upside down fetus when looking at the ears in this way, with the head at the lobe and spine curving up to the little baby bum at the top, with internal organs on the inner portions of the external ear. Paul Nogier, a French Neurologist, is actually considered the father of auricular medicine, as he measured the electrical conductivity along the skin of the ear and recorded the specific points as a reflexology system, which was then incorporated into Chinese Medicine texts. He based his understanding of this system on the correlating tissue types and innervation between various parts of the ear and the parts of the body they represent.
“The ear is one of the few anatomic structures which are built up of tissue from each of these three primary tissue types to be found in an embryo. Paul Nogier maintained that each tissue type in the ear had a link to the various somatotopical reflections and to the innervation related to that part of the ear.”
Many Chinese Medicine practitioners diagnose and treat the whole body just using the ears. Abnormalities, tenderness, discolorations, etc. on the ear can signal issues in the correlating part of the body. There have been studies done to test these practitioner’s accuracy. In one study, pre-established medical diagnoses matched with auricular diagnoses over 75% of the time. Treatment can then be done with needles or ear seeds. The benefit of ear seeds is that they can stay on the ear for up to a week, providing continuous stimulation of the ear acu-point. Practitioners can also train patients in administering their own ear seeds for home use. Ear treatments have been used successfully in the treatment of addictions, chronic pain, anxiety and weight loss among many other conditions.
A simple way to experience the amazing healing potential of your own ears is to massage them! In addition to all the acupressure points you will be activating, the ears are actually the only external access (via the auricular branch) we have to the Vagus nerve (the longest nerve) in the body. Stimulation of the vagus nerve has tremendous benefits, including relaxation, improved digestion, cognitive function and calming inflammation. So go ahead and give your ears some love and attention… and respect for the amazing body parts they are!
Schedule today, and ask your acupuncturist to include an ear seed or two if appropriate for you. This can help direct your ear massage to points personalized for you and what you need!
Migraines are the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Among women, they rank #1. It is certainly a disabling disease. For those who suffer, ( at least 12% of the global population ) they know all too well the harrowing marathon of pain and discomfort that migraines bring. They can spend as long as 5.3% of his/her lifetime going through an attack.
The symptoms can begin 1-2 days before the actual migraine, with signs of it’s impending arrival including thirst, fatigue, frequent urination, constipation, and neck stiffness (especially on one side). Some victims experience “aura” at the onset of the migraine, which involves visual disturbances such as floaters and bright sparks, auditory hallucinations, difficulty speaking and/or swallowing as well as weakness and numbness. The actual attack can last up to 3 days and can bring with it nausea, vomiting, dizziness and sensitivity to light and sound. Most migraine sufferers will retreat to a dark quiet room to weather the storm.
Biomedical explanations for what causes this suffering is limited. It has been described as a complex combination of neurologic, hormonal, vascular, and metabolic malfunctions. Genetics may play a role, as many mothers and daughters share the affliction. It is thought that female hormone fluctuations contribute to the higher incidence in women, with one observation being that a drop in estrogen (associated with the menstrual cycle and menopause) can cause blood vessels to constrict.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at both internal and external factors when sorting through causes and types of migraines. There may be external factors like wind, cold, heat, and damp environmental conditions that trigger changes in the body affecting qi and blood flow. Internal factors are more lifestyle issues that offset the body’s natural yin yang balance. What we eat, how we sleep, the stress we are exposed to and how we cope with it all play into that balance.
Yang energy flows upward in the body and the yang channels intersect in the head, so blockages and deficiencies can cause pain, confusion and dizziness. These blockages and deficiencies often, at their root, involve yin organs of the body including the liver, spleen and kidney. Some of the TCM approaches, depending on the individual pattern of the person being treated, include: Expel Wind-Cold, Anchor Liver Yang (& Nourish Kidney Yin), Sedate Liver Fire, Transform Phlegm (& Support Spleen), Nourish Qi, and/or Move blood.
In treatment, we often try to address the underlying pattern that is contributing to the chronic nature of the disease. Acupuncture can also be very effective at alleviating symptoms or shortening an actual attack. We can work with moving the local stagnation of the affected channel, which often involve yang channels of the body such as the Gallbladder, Bladder, and San Jiao channels.
While treatment from an acupuncturist will be customized for each person, there are some common acupuncture points for migraine that can be useful self-administered acupressure to help with the symptoms of an attack.
GB 20 (wind pool): the meeting place at the base of the skull and top of the neck, in the soft depressions just past the bony prominence behind the ears.
Taiyang (supreme yang): in the temple area, in the depression between the outer corner of the eye and the hairline.
UB 2 (drilling bamboo): in the depression in the bone just under the inner corner of the eyebrow.
In addition to a hot compress on the neck, some magnesium supplementation and ginger tea (for nausea), someone experiencing a migraine can also gently massage these acupressure points for 30 seconds at a time in repeated intervals to ease some of the tension brought on by this debilitating disease. For added relief, you can even add a little lavender or peppermint essential oil.
Don’t wait for a migraine to rear its painful head! Get in for regular acupuncture treatments to help reset the organ and channel balance needed for your body to function migraine free!
Anxiety is an increasing problem worldwide.
A 2009 WHO World Mental Health Survey found that anxiety was the most prevalent form of mental health disorder. According to the most up to date evidence, acupuncture is an effective treatment for anxiety.
According to the most up to date evidence, acupuncture is an effective treatment for anxiety. In 2017, The Acupuncture Evidence Project, co-authored by Dr John McDonald, PhD and Dr Stephen Janz, was published, providing an up-to-date comparative review of the clinical and scientific evidence for acupuncture.
This comprehensive document, updating two previous reviews, determined that acupuncture is moderately effective in treating anxiety according to high level evidence. Their evidence included a 2016 systematic review with over 400 randomized patients that concluded that ‘the effects from acupuncture for treating anxiety have been shown to be significant as compared to conventional treatments.
The largest of these studies, which included 120 randomized patients, found that acupuncture had a large effect on reducing anxiety and depression compared to conventional treatment involving pharmacological approaches and psychotherapy, with over twice the reduction in symptoms.
A more recent systematic review published in 2018 found that all 13 included studies “reported an anxiety decrease for their treatment group relative to the control groups.” Three of these studies used pharmaceuticals as controls.
Source: Errington-Evans N. (2015). Randomised controlled trial on the use of acupuncture in adults with chronic, non-responding anxiety symptoms. Acupuncture in medicine : journal of the British Medical Acupuncture Society, 33(2), 98–102. https://doi.org/10.1136/acupmed-2014-010524
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.