If you suffer from headaches, you are not alone. Over 50 million of us experience some form of a severe headache at some point in our lives. Whether you experience minor head pain or severe migraines, headaches can take valuable time out of your day and your life, and leave you searching for relief.
Many seek relief by reaching for drugs and other medications. This may work temporarily and can help you get out of pain fast. Unfortunately, common headache medications do not address the root cause(s), and when used over long periods of time can cause unwanted side effects.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offer a safe and effective approach to relieving headache pain without causing harmful side effects. These healing modalities provide a comprehensive diagnostic protocol that can help your acupuncturist understand and address the root cause(s) of your headaches.
Causes of Headaches: There are many factors in TCM theory that may play a key role in the root cause(s) of a headache. These include body constitution, emotional health, excessive work, social activities and exercise, improper diet, physical trauma and hormones. Headaches can also be diagnosed according to specific symptoms, times of occurrence, location, type of pain, and triggers.
A natural path to relief: Acupuncture and TCM take a holistic, or whole-body approach to health. Your practitioner will take a detailed health history, and perform a physical exam to determine how and why your body’s vital energy, or Qi (pronounced chee), is out of balance and identify what type of headache you are experiencing. To determine the most effective care, he/she will focus on illuminating the root cause(s) of the problem.
Slow and Steady Wins the Headache Race
It is important to remember that acupuncture is not a quick fix. Changes may occur quickly or over a longer period of time, depending upon your overall constitution and health. An average course of treatment in China is 10 treatments in 10 days and then we reassess. In the US we find this largely unnecessary and virtually impossible - I see most patients once a week for 6 treatments to begin and then we reassess.
Your course of treatment, however, will always be unique. Whether it is one visit to address an acute problem, or several visits to address a chronic problem, it is suggested to closely follow care recommendations of based on your individual diagnosis to maximize your healing potential.
Simple Ways to Alleviate Headache
Below are a few ways that you can make simple lifestyle changes that may help alleviate or even prevent headaches:
Want to Know More? Contact me!
If you want to know more or have questions about Acupuncture for Headache relief, feel free to contact me or book an appointment or free consultation. You can also leave questions in the comments section below and I'll be happy to answer you to the best of my ability!
Until next time, Yours In Health,
Its the first day of the new year, a time when many of us take a moment to review the past, take stock of the present and make plans for the future. New Year Resolutions about health and fitness are the most common resolutions made in the New Year, so I thought today I’d offer some Chinese Medicine based advice.
This year, resolve to look at your wellness differently by taking a preventative approach. Think beyond what you can do get well - resolve to achieve wellness and stay there. With over 3,000 years of data on achieving and maintaining wellness, Chinese Medicine is the perfect method to help you reach your health and wellness goals in the New Year.
East and West - Different Perspectives on Wellness
You have to realize that paradigm of Chinese Medicine is quite different from Western Medicine. Traditionally thousands of years ago, the neighborhood Chinese doctor got paid on a retainer to keep you well. If you got sick you actually stopped paying the doctor until you were well again! Can you imagine if medicine still worked this way?
When most people think of Chinese Medicine compared to Western Medicine, the first thing they think of is needles and Qi; that Chinese Medicine is an energetic medicine while Western Medicine is a scientific medicine. I believe this long standing focus on preventative medicine and wellness, however, is actually the most fundamental difference between the two.
These differences actually make Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine work very well together. Even though Chinese Medicine developed thousands of years ago to be very complete - I can actually treat everything from acute injury and infection to colds, back pain, headaches and more - Western Medicine is much better at treating acute problems. I really don’t want someone to show up broken and bleeding in my office because I’m just not going to be able to patch them up as efficiently or effectively as an ER doctor.
If you have chronic back pain, knee pain, headache, menstrual issues, or you’re just looking for help maintaining health and wellness - I’ll most likely be able to help you more effectively and naturally than your average allopathic doctor. In this way, East and West make a fantastic team and I always love the chance to work with my patient’s physicians.
Wellness in the New Year
Chinese Medicine has very subtle diagnostics for assessing health. The color and coat of your tongue, the quality of the pulse in different positions, the health of your digestion and the quality of your sleep. All this and more ads up to create a physical and energetic picture that gives clues to your constitutional strengths and weaknesses. Chinese medicine works to keep everything in balance together to get you well and keep you there.
If you’re making resolutions about your health in the new year, consider adding Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine into your plan to help you achieve and maintain optimal wellness. Whether you are dealing with chronic pain, recovery from an acute illness or surgery, or just trying to stay at peak performance for your sport, I’ve got a plan that will work.
The frequency and duration of treatment are unique for every person, but an average course of treatment is once a week for 4-6 weeks to start and then we reassess. For general health maintenance I always recommend treatment once a month along with considering herbs and supplements for health and wellness, such as those in my All Ways Wellness program.
Free consultations are always available. Book online 24/7!
Wishing you Health and Wellness in the New Year!
According to a recent article in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL, rupture is “one of the most physically, financially, and emotionally devastating sport-related knee injuries,” which is something I can personally attest to.
I tore my ACL in 2003 and had reconstructive surgery because I wanted to return to sport which, at the time, was martial arts. I had good insurance then as well so my out of pocket costs were manageable, but I remember seeing the hospital bill - $50,000.
It took an entire year of weekly acupuncture and Physical Therapy for me to participate in my sport at the level I wanted to, and it was two years before I didn’t notice my knee feeling different during activity.
I am proud to say, however, that one year after my surgery I successfully completed a very vigorous 24 hour martial arts test including 12 hours of continuous fighting, running and forms. A decade later, my ACL repair is still holding strong with no concerns.
What I didn’t know until I read this article, was how rare my case is. Only 44% of athletes successfully return to sport after an average 3-1/2 years following an ACL repair. When quizzed about their subjective experience of performance after a successful ACL repair and return to sport, only 50% percent of high-school and college athletes indicated that they were able to perform at their pre-injury level.
Furthermore, up to 30% of athletes who return to sport after an ACL repair re-injure their ACL or tear the ACL on the opposite knee due to a number of factors, neuromuscular weakness and asymmetry primary among them. Due in part to the increased joint laxity and increased angle between hip and knee, female athletes with previous ACL repair are 4 times more likely to re-injure their knees after returning to sport compared to their male counterparts!
My ACL repair actually puts me in the top 5% of female athletes who have an ACL repair. I absolutely credit my success to the individualized and dynamic Physical Therapy I received along with consistent Acupuncture treatments. I actually started acupuncture two days after my surgery and continued treatment every week for an entire year, and then every other week for 2 years thereafter. Even my surgeon was amazed with my recovery (and he was the surgeon for the Blazers here in Portland).
Preventing an ACL Injury
So if you are engaged in sport, how do you prevent an ACL injury? Sometimes you just can’t, life happens, but you can greatly decrease the possibility of injury with proper neuromuscular training. According to this research article, of primary importance are the following:
Regular acupuncture is also recommended. Acupuncture can decrease and resolve minor aches and pains, keep muscles physically loose and energetically balanced, and cause natural endorphins and anti-inflammatories to be released by the body improving performance and recovery rates for minor injuries.
Recovering from an ACL Injury
If you are unfortunate enough to experience an ACL injury or tear, there is still a lot you to can do to ensure a strong recovery and decrease your likelihood of experiencing a secondary ACL injury.
My go to Physical Therapist for knee injury prevention, knee injury, ACL injury and ACL surgery recovery is my husband - Brian Kitzerow, DPT at Goodell Physical Therapy. He always keeps up on the latest research and has a thoughtful and thorough approach to every patient.
According to the Oregon Department of Transportation there were 49,798 car accidents reported in 2012 and 36,085 people were injured in those accidents. That is an average of 136 crashes PER DAY in Oregon alone! And did you know that the highest incidents of crashes occurred on Fridays and in October? [Note to self; try not to drive on Fridays in October!]
All levity aside, a car accident is no joke, as the 36,000 injured people in 2012 can attest. The force of impact that the body is made to endure in even a minor car accident causes a ripple effect of muscular tension which can result in whiplash, headache, back pain, decreased range of motion and sciatica to name just a few.
None of these things should be left untreated and the sooner you get in for treatment, the sooner you can head off pain and injury in the early stages and avoid major problems down the line. Some of these effects such as whiplash are immediate, but others occur due to compensation over time and the best remedy is to get treatment early - within the first two weeks of an accident ideally.
Acupuncture for auto accident recovery is highly effective, and if you combine acupuncture with Physical Therapy and Massage your recovery is expedited even more.
Acupuncture by itself gives great hope for recovery. It can:
Testimonial from an Auto Accident Treatment Patient
After my auto accident, my pain levels made it hard for me to both concentrate and to physically sit long enough to do my work. My acupuncture treatments with Rebecca were and continue to be a critical part of my recovery from the accident, as they provided immediate relief for the acute pain and gave me three or four days of respite from it after treatment. Of all the healing modalities I tried - massage therapy, chiropractic treatment, physical therapy, and acupuncture - acupuncture proved to be the one that was the best at keeping pain to manageable levels, thus allowing me to get back to the work I love doing.
Combining Modalities in Car Accident Treatment Gives Best Results
Massage or foot reflexology is something I add into all of my acupuncture treatments for at least 5-10 minutes, but I encourage all patients who come in for auto accident treatment to come in for 90 minute acupuncture + massage sessions so we have more time to spend on bodywork (massage). It helps that if you have an auto accident in Oregon, acupuncture and massage are covered 100% by your auto insurance without a referral!
I often incorporate Cupping and Gua Sha - traditional Chinese myofascial release techniques to relieve pain and stagnation - into car accident treatments as well. This too, I find, helps patients recover faster after an auto accident or MVA (motor vehicle accident) by helping the body relieve tension and flush out toxins that may be associated with tense guarded muscles.
Lastly I always recommend patients see a Physical Therapist as part of their car accident treatment plan, because while acupuncture can help balance the body, reduce and often completely relieve pain from whiplash, headache, back spasm, sciatica and certainly helps to increase range of motion, it can’t assess your posture or potential repetitive motion injury sources in your daily life that could aggravate your pain and delay healing.
In my experience as both a motor vehicle accident treatment patient AND a provider, no one is a better mechanic for the body than a Physical Therapist, and when you combine the pain relief and Qi balancing of Acupuncture and massage, with the mechanical reprogramming of physical therapy exercise, your results are quick and long lasting.
The most important message here is that no matter what you do, get treatment early. Ideally within those first two weeks of having a car accident. Sometimes it takes 10-14 days for the full effects of a car accident to “wear in” to the body, so if you can get in before your body really sets into the pain, you have a much better chance of heading it off and avoiding the worst effects the injury has to offer.
If you have questions please don’t hesitate to contact me via email or book a free consultation anytime. If you’ve had a car accident and are looking for treatment, please book in for a new patient 90 minute appointment so we can assess your situation and we will take it from there! I have excellent Physical Therapists in SW, SE and downtown that I refer to for auto accidents regularly and I would be honored to help coordinate your care.
Until next time,
As a Licensed Acupuncturist with a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture treatment is a central focus of my practice. One of the most common questions a new patient asks beyond “does acupuncture hurt?” and “what can acupuncture treat?” is “how can acupuncture help me?”
This question is so common that today I’m going to do my best to answer it for some of the more common complaints I see in the treatment room.
Its important first to realize that 3,000+ years ago, acupuncture and Chinese medicine were the only medical options available in China, and therefore they were used (and still have protocols today) to treat everything from colds to acute infections, back pain, and more. With the advent of modern medicine, it is clear that some things - especially anything that would warrant a trip to the ER - are best suited to Western medical treatment while other things are treated very successfully and naturally by Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Here is a short list of some of the ailments best suited to acupuncture treatment:
There’s quite a bit more, but these are most common ailments I see in my clinic. The top two complaints I see are Pain - especially Neck, Back, Knee and Auto Accident Recovery - and Women’s Health Issues.
How Can Acupuncture Help My Pain?
The benefits of acupuncture for pain treatment have been widely researched and show that acupuncture can cause the body to release pain-relieving endorphins and cause the brain to change the way it perceives pain by changing opiate receptor sites. Neither of these completely explain all the benefits of acupuncture, but acupuncture has received endorsement from the National Institute of Health for pain treatment.
Acupuncture uses hair-thin needles strategically placed along meridians and around the site of pain or injury to balance the meridians. When we balance the energetic body, the physical body follows suit finding a physical state of balance to match the energetic one and in so doing returning the body to a pain free state.
Even when meridians, or energetic channels, are treated locally, the whole meridian from its branches connecting internal organs all the way to the skin layer are affected.
This means that the benefits of acupuncture are widespread - not only will acupuncture treat and resolve the pain, but it will also balance the body on a deeper level in order to maintain the pain free state. Many other things are improved as a by-product of acupuncture treatment such as enhanced immunity and stress reduction - two of the most common acupuncture side effects.
This is true for any type of pain, but is especially successful in treating auto accident recovery. After even a minor car accident, your body is in a state of distress - whiplash, rib subluxation, back spasm. You can also suffer from high stress associated with dealing with the aftermath of an auto accident such as managing multiple appointments and dealing with insurance claims.
Acupuncture will treat the physical pain - relaxing muscles, moving stagnation, decreasing inflammation - and also the stress and physical effects of the trauma such as insomnia and anxiety.
How Can Acupuncture Benefit Women's Health Issues?
The same is true in the treatment of Women’s Health Issues such as PMS, menopause and infertility. Not only can acupuncture balance hormones and reduce cramping, irritability, insomnia, hot flashes etc., but it can also help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with difficult or irregular menstrual cycles.
Indeed, I’ve seen patients with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome who haven’t had a regular cycle or unmedicated period in a decade return to normal cycles in as little as 3 months using acupuncture and herbal treatment alone.
How Can Acupuncture Help Me?
So the short answer to the original question, “How Can Acupuncture Help Me?” is that it can help you by balancing your meridians. This resolves both physical and energetic imbalances which can relieve pain and hormone irregularities. Common acupuncture byproducts include stress reduction and immune enhancement so acupuncture can benefit you on many levels, even ones you may not be actively seeking assistance with. Once balanced, acupuncture can help you maintain a healthy state for years to come.
If you have questions or want to know more please don’t hesitate to contact me or book a free consult anytime!
This is a short excerpt from Dr. Oz demonstrating a simple acupuncture and moxabustion treatment for back pain. Back pain is the MOST common complaint that people seek acupuncture for and I promise you that any acupuncturist worth their salt is proficient at treating it!
The thing I like best about this video and why I posted it today, is because they do a brief consult with an MD and a Chiropractor before demonstrating the acupuncture treatment, so you get to hear together and compare the methods and recommendations of the MD, the Chiropractor and the Licensed Acupuncturist for treatment.
The MD option? Differential diagnosis (what type of pain is it? spasm, muscular, disc, bone, nerve, etc.), imaging, followed by physical therapy and or cortisone shots, pain medication, possible surgery.
The Chiropractic option? Chiropractic adjustment, perhaps soft tissue (massage) work, and supplements
The Acupuncture option? Acupuncture + heat therapy (moxa in this case, though heat therapy isn't always recommended) for 30 minutes, possibly chinese bodywork therapy (massage) in addition.
Acupuncture for Back Pain in Portland, Oregon
Indeed, back pain is something I see week in and week out in my clinic. I always use a combination of acupuncture and bodywork therapies to treat back pain, including cupping, gua sha and Tuina (chinese therapeutic massage) and sometimes heat therapy in the form of a TDP heat lamp depending on the case.
I usually recommend a course of 6 weekly treatments to start and then we reassess to see if further treatment is indicated or necessary. Some people are better in 2 or 4 while others require 12 or more - it depends on the severity and acute or chronic nature of the pain, in addition to lifestyle, work and repetitive use factors. All of these things are assessed repeatedly along the course of treatment to ensure that we are making the most progress possible at every stage, and that we are working towards a pain free state!
As someone who has suffered from back pain myself due to injury I know how debilitating it can be and I am well familiar with both the energetic and muscular structures of the back, hips and abdomen that interplay to create and sometimes sustain back pain without intervention.
If you're interested in booking or learning more, please go to my online schedule and book an appointment or free consult today!
For those of you that don't know what Diastasis is you're lucky, and probably represent a majority. If you DO know what Diastasis is I am happy to report a viable, successful and research proven approach to recovery that I can now say I have experience with myself! Its called the Tupler Technique and I'll tell you a little bit about it and the acupuncture and supplements I am combining it with to aid in recovery. Before I get to that, however, let me explain what diastasis is and why I am dealing with it.
What is Diastasis?
Diastasis is separation of the abdominal muscles, the Rectus Abdominis specifically. It happens most commonly in women post partum though it can happen to anyone male or female for a variety of reasons.
The linea alba (as in the picture at left) is the connective tissue that holds the rectus abdominis together and everyone has a gap of about 1 finger width between those muscles. If you lay down and lift your head off the bed/floor with your fingers on your midline you will feel your rectus abdominis lift on either side of your finger and you can measure that gap yourself.
If you have more than two finger-widths between your muscles at any given point from the ribcage down to the pubic bone, you've got a diastisis or a larger than normal gap that may need repair. Very large diastasis' can be healed surgically, but it is always recommended to start with a rehab program before you pursue a surgical option.
I developed a small diastasis during my first pregnancy, and having a C-Section delivery after 36 hours of labor only made it worse. Luckily for me, it was small and healed on its own with little to no intervention on my part.
Fast forward two years later to another labor and deliver (successful VBAC, woohoo!) leading to another diastasis. While recovering from a vaginal birth is much easier and quite preferable to C-Section recovery, I had a 2 year old son at home who was 35 pounds and wasn't going to stand for not being carried around by mama. I did my best with posture and position, but I lifted my son daily and often and he was FAR beyond the 10 lb weight limit my midwife attempted to impose on my postpartum.
With a belly still stretched from pregnancy, this gave my abdomen no chance to heal and the result was a diastasis almost 5 finger widths across at my belly button a year later that was not going to heal on its own.
So here is a picture of my diastasis belly before I started the Tupler Technique program:
(Yes, I'm in my pajamas, wasn't really thinking about sharing the photos when I took the picture…)
As you can see, the top of my belly button kind of protrudes a little bit. I used to have a true "innie" before, and above my belly button is this strange pouch that I assure you I didn't used to have. This is me comfortably back to pre-pregnancy weight, fyi. The crazy thing is that when I would tense my stomach muscles or try to suck them in, I would still have that strange upper belly bulge. After I ate it would stick out even more like my stomach was physically protruding, and I was experiencing some regular back pain from the abdominal weakness. Not fun, folks, not fun.
I waited until the weather got a little colder here in Portland because the Tupler Technique involves exercises, movement modifications (sitting, standing correctly etc) and wearing a specialized splint (read "girdle") to physically hold the separated halves of the muscle closer together so the connective tissue in between has a chance to shorten up without being overstretched again and again. The splint is thick and heavy and warm and I knew I couldn't wear it in the summer months.
Okay, so now I am 3 weeks into the process and here is what my abdomen looks like:
I haven't weighed myself but I think I have gained some weight - the program involves NO EXERCISE aside from brisk walking until you get farther along so you don't risk stretching your tenderly healing connective tissue, and since I live on spinning and aerobics this is affecting me quickly. Still, I know the wait will be worth the reward and that I can lose what little I might gain in a few more weeks with focused effort.
You can see the splint marks there on my abdomen, but I am very impressed with the results thus far and feel very confident that my tummy will go back to its previous diastasis-free state once I am done. I've already had to order a second splint in the smaller size this week because my abdomen has come together so much that the arms of the splint wrap all the way around to my back, where they used to wrap only to my hips just a few weeks ago. To make it to 6 weeks and beyond I will therefore need a smaller one.
I know my success is also due to the added alternative medicine steps I am taking to give my body the best chance possible to heal.
The full Tupler program is actually 18 weeks if you stick with it religiously. It takes a minimum of 6 weeks for your transverse abdominis muscle (your internal muscular girdle if you will) to strengthen enough to start supporting you appropriately and for the connective tissue to heal enough to hold well, so depending on the severity of your diastasis you may be able to shorten the term of the splinting, but it is recommended to go a full 18 weeks if you want the best results from the program.
Rebecca's Diastasis Rehab Program
Three weeks in and 9-15 to go depending on my perseverance, and here is what I am doing to heal my diastasis on all fronts:
The Tupler Technique program also called "Lose Your Mummy Tummy" can be ordered on Julie Tupler's website - she is the RN who developed and did the research to prove its effectiveness.
If you have a severe diastasis it is highly recommended to work with a certified professional to get sized right for your splint and have help with the exercises. You can find a list of licensed therapists on Julie's website. Here in the Portland area, the "Tummy Team" is the best known group who specialize in diastasis though I don't know that they are actually Tupler certified.
I freely admit that I ordered the kit and have been pursuing it on my own. My body awareness is fair and I have a physical therapist husband at home to assist me, so I feel confident in my ability to follow the directions of the program without going to the Tummy Team myself.
Next, on my program above is Acupuncture focused on the Dai Mai along with Chinese Herbs appropriate to my pattern, and I'll tell you a little more about that.
According to TCM theory, connective tissue weakness is related to blood deficiency and weak Liver function. Indeed, Blood and Yin are deeply depleted in pregnancy and birth due to the needs of the fetus and the challenge and vigor of labor. I always recommend women eat chinese herbal soup or congee post partum to help rebuild their Qi and Blood post partum in addition to getting regular Acupuncture.
For Diastasis specifically, it is important to focus Acupuncture treatment not only on the Liver and Spleen to help tonify and build blood to strengthen the connective tissue, but also on the Dai Mai a.k.a. the Belt or Girdle channel (as seen at left).
This is an extraordinary meridian that encircles the waist exactly where the worst of a diastasis is found, and the presence of a diastasis means a weakening or disruption of proper Qi flow in this meridian. Like the Transverse Abdominus muscle - the only muscle that encircles the waist, the Dai Mai is the only channel that travels horizontally across the body instead of vertically. This means it has a very difficult job to do and it must do this job alone - just like the transverse abdomens!
Chinese Medicine is also hallmarked by what is called "syndrome differentiation" which translates as individual treatment for individual needs. I have an energetic baseline of Spleen and Heart Qi deficiency with Dampness so I am taking herbal tonics specific to this pattern and I believe treating my constitution this way is further helping me to recover and rebuild well.
The western nutritional supplements I am taking are a basic protocol I recommend for everyone - multi vitamin and fish oil/EFA in particular, B vitamins, green food - with the Ligaplex which is a whole food supplement specifically for ligament and connective tissue rebuilding and repair. Standard Process supplements are very tried a true - a company from the 1920's with a strong track record of success. I have taken the Ligaplex before for heart palpitations related to leaky (weak connective tissue) heart valves and found it helpful. Indeed, my regular heart palpitations related to a congenital murmur have actually decreased over the past 3 weeks as well.
The result so far is what you see in the pictures above - at only 3 weeks in my abdomen is drastically changed, and my back pain is also gone. How much the back pain is gone because I am effectively wearing a brace 24/7 and how much it is gone due to strengthening is yet to be seen, but I can tell that my transverse abdominus is noticeably stronger, so I am hopeful that the weak-ab related back pain is going to go away as well as my "mummy tummy" as part of this process.
I hope I will make the full 18 weeks of splint-wearing but I am not sure. It already feels tedious to wear it and dress around it, and my abdomen is healing rapidly, so my goal at this point is to make it to 12 weeks and then reassess. Even if I don't wear the splint 24/7 anymore I will definitely continue with the increasing transverse abdominus exercises for the full 18 weeks.
Julie Tupler has a saying that "every belly should be checked" and as I move ahead with this process, I think she is right. Even if you don't have a diastasis, learning to do these kinds of transverse abdominus exercises and learning to engage that muscle consciously during all strenuous activity is very valuable - I can already tell that my back is much safer for learning to use my abdomen this way. I feel very confident recommending her program and I will definitely be educating more of my pregnant and postpartum patients about it as time goes on, because even a mild diastasis deserves care and attention. After all, all mom's want to be able to lift and carry their children safely without compromising their backs and essentially, that is what this program will allow you to do - for as long as your children let you pick up and cuddle them!
As I continue with this journey I will post about it more, and if you have any questions or know someone who might have a diastasis or is struggling to heal a diastasis, please send them my way. I would be overjoyed to help other people heal from this uncomfortable weakness and learn how to "lose their mummy tummies!"
Until next time,
This alligator in Sao Paulo, Brazil is getting regular acupuncture for scoliosis related back pain and the veterinarian in charge of his treatment reports that acupuncture has been a huge success. How cool is that?
I love positive reports about animal acupuncture because people who try to debunk acupuncture's effectiveness often say that the only reason acupuncture works is due to the placebo effect. But if acupuncture can make a marked, noticeable and measurable difference in the pain and activity level of an alligator - who cannot consciously expect or intellectually believe that sticking needles in his back is going to change his pain - I feel very safe in saying that acupuncture works on a physiological level to change what the alligator is experiencing and how he is functioning. Wouldn't you agree?
Acupuncture for Back Pain at All Ways Well
I see a lot of back pain in my clinic, it is something I treat every week in and out without fail, and something I have been treated with acupuncture for myself on many occasions thanks to my past martial arts (injuries) and cardio kickboxing history.
In Chinese Medicine pain is always caused by stagnation in the local area and a main thrust of treatment is moving Qi and Blood to relieve pain. The stagnation can be caused by many factors - injury, energetic deficiencies especially in the Kidney as well as energetic excesses - and for long term relief and resolution a specific individual diagnosis and treatment plan must be formulated taking all of these things into account.
When I was a student we learned that a standard course of treatment for anything in China is 10 treatments in 10 days and then you reassess. Here is the US we find that virtually impossible and largely unnecessary. I usually see the average back pain patient once a week for 6 weeks and then reassess our treatment plan.
Acupuncture treatment for back pain often involves needling directly into the area of pain but not always. In my clinic, if something is very acute and painful I usually prefer distal (energetic indirect) treatment until the pain level is a 6/10 or below. Using TAN acupuncture methods I can balance the painful meridians, essentially emptying the excess fullness in the painful area, and can usually relieve pain by at least 50% in one session, sometimes 100%, though somewhere in the 60-80% range is more common. I have had rare occasions where one treatment takes care of the pain completely and it stays away, but it is more common to see relief after treatment and then a slide back towards pain in between. Our goal is to continue that stair step progression until a pain free plateau is reached and then we can decrease treatment and see how little treatment it takes to maintain that pain free state.
Something else I always recommend to back pain patients is Physical Therapy. I find both personally and professionally that nothing takes care of back pain faster than the combination of Acupuncture and PT. Acupuncture helps you get out of pain faster and balances your energetic body while PT ensures that you are not setting yourself up for repetitive motion injury in the future and that your core and posture are strong and correct to both resolve your pain and prevent recurrence.
My go to Physical Therapist is my husband, Brian Kitzerow DPT at Goodell PT in SW Portland though I do have contacts downtown and in SE for those who aren't in the SW area. What I really appreciate about my husband's approach is his strong background in Neurology and Biochemistry which allow him to see the body as an integrated neurological and biological whole beyond the anatomy and physiology which is the baseline for his profession. That plus his continuing education in manual therapy make him a highly effective therapist, especially for chronic pain conditions, and I find it very exciting what we can achieve together.
Do you know someone who has back pain or do you have questions about back pain treatment yourself? Please feel free to contact me anytime with questions or for a free consultation.
~Rebecca Hurwood, LAc
When I first saw this acronym and heard about MTHFR from my dear friend Cathleen my first thought was, "you have the Motherf***er disease?" I mean, if someone texted you the letters "MTHFR" you could think that was the word they were communicating, right? Hm...
I was admittedly embarrassed that my first gut-shot interpretation of this acronym was such a dirty word and did not share that with her for a while, but as her symptoms progressed and she shared more of her story with me it actually seemed like a reasonable correlation so I did tell her eventually. Luckily she found it pretty amusing so we are still friends and general health-focused mommy co-conspirators.
[Picture by chagniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
The more I learn the clearer it becomes that MTHFR is a missing piece of a huge portion of the population's health puzzle - its estimated that 30% of people carry the gene mutation though not everyone expresses it (high stress events such as pregnancy, childbirth, trauma etc. can epigenetically trigger the change) - and the more motivated I feel to learn more and explore how Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can help.
My goal with this post today is simply to raise awareness, communicate my (limited) experience in treating MTHFR with Acupuncture in the Portland area, and ask for any and all local resources and connections for people with MTHFR or suspect MTHFR.
What is MTHFR? How does it affect me? The short answer.
If you don't know what MTHFR is, the short answer is that it is a gene mutation which results in a lack of the MTHFR (Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase) enzyme which deals with methylation in the body. Methylation plays a role in how the body deals with environmental stressors, how it detoxifies, adapts and rebuilds. MTHFR is therefore essential for processing a number of things in the body, primary among them B vitamins such a B12 and Folate. There are many resources online that give you the long answer so I won't belabor that here. If you want more details try one of these links below:
Loving Our Guts
Life With Spirit
A MTHFR genetic disorder can cause or contribute to a myriad of symptoms and disorders including:
If you want to know if this could be affecting you, the best way to find out if you have this genetic glitch is to get simple and inexpensive genetic testing done. It costs $99+ if you do it independently of your regular physician depending on the vendor you go with. Here are a couple resources for testing:
23 and Me $99
Lab Testing Direct $149
Holistic Health International $495 (much more comprehensive test)
If you have a combination of the disorders above, or especially if you are fatigued all the time, have tried taking B vitamins but find that they don't help or make you feel ill, you could very well have an MTHFR gene mutation and testing might help you get answers and guide you on a new path to wellness. Oh yeah, getting tested can make you feel less like a crazy person too because you aren't insane or just overly stressed - you may have a genetic disorder that you can do something about.
Knowledge really is power and even though it can be scary to think that you might have a genetic disorder, it is better to get tested and find out sooner rather than later. If it is MTHFR, lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Testing can also help you avoid a misdiagnosis of something else from your western physician such as Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue which might herald pharmaceutical interventions that may or may not be favorable to your constitution over time.
Current Treatment for MTHFR
Treatment for MTHFR is varied depending on the severity of any individual's symptoms, or so it seems from what I am learning slowly but surely. It is clear, however, that there are a number of lifestyle changes that can help you manage the cascade of symptoms, heal, recover and find a new healthier more manageable baseline.
There is an exhaustive list HERE on the MTHFR.net site. It starts with a list of 30 dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health with relation to MTHFR and is based on Dr. Lynch's experience treating patients with this disorder and I trust his recommendations.
Some of the items on this list are understandably specific to MTHFR, such as supplementing specific forms of B12 and Folate and limiting your protein intake to 0.7 grams per kilogram of weight per day, but many others are good recommendations for basic health and for decreasing general inflammation in the body such as:
1. Find a physician - MD, ND - who is experienced in treating this disorder
Your symptoms and journey, or that of someone you know or love, with MTHFR is going to be unique. You need a guide to recovery and care who is going to listen to you and recommend reasonable interventions based on your symptoms and your lifestyle.
MTHFR & Acupuncture Treatment
At this point there is no research or evidence supporting acupuncture treatment for MTHFR specifically. I have literally found one article which mentions an increase in MTHFR mutation found in patients who have migraine with aura, which mentions acupuncture as a known favorable treatment for migraines - but does not specifically link acupuncture with MTHFR.
I have one confirmed MTHFR patient right now, one who has been told by her ND that MTHFR is highly suspect but isn't recommending testing and a dozen more that I suspect based on their symptom pictures. I don't consider myself an expert, but I'm setting out to become one so I want to share what I see and how I think acupuncture can help. I hope to have the opportunity to treat more confirmed MTHFR cases in the coming years so I can compile further data and case studies.
As a 3,000+ year old traditional medicine, Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine has a lot going for it. While no single mechanism of action has been identified by western science for its efficacy, there have now been over 10,000 scientific acupuncture studies. It is increasingly accepted that acupuncture is worthwhile in the treatment of pain, in down-regulating the sympathetic nervous system or "fight or flight" reaction, in treating migraine, PTSD, fertility, gut issues from inflammation to constipation, diarrhea and gut motility disorders and more.
Even this short list shows a correlation between these accepted issues for acupuncture treatment and the list of disorders that MTHFR can produce. This, combined with the hallmark of Chinese Medicine as a tradition which treats every individual uniquely based on energetic diagnosis, makes it a natural fit for the MTHFR road to recovery.
Thus far I feel that my clinic experience shows the same. My confirmed MTHFR patient often comes in with insomnia, back pain, anxiety and nervous energy, high stress, headache and fatigue. I generally see her walk out of treatment with a different gait and posture and she reports feeling better than when she walked in. There have been a couple instances of a detox-type reaction to treatment where she will feel worse for a day but when it happens it does pass and there has always been a net positive response over the course of the week in-between treatments. I see her sleeping better, feeling less anxious and experiencing fewer headaches in particular.
My highly probable yet unconfirmed MTHFR patient right now saw a marked difference after just one treatment. Her symptoms are highly stress related/stress activated - high stress type A personality and high pressure job, neck and shoulder pain, insomnia, anxiety, gut issues clearly increased with stress - and she walked out of treatment feeling relaxed which she found very surprising with a marked decrease in her pain.
Stress is one of my primary specialties, both from a lifestyle perspective and a nervous system perspective. I work hard with my patients to help them identify stressors in their life and make a plan to deal with them while using acupuncture and Chinese Medicine including herbs, dietary and lifestyle changes and general supplementation to create change physically, energetically and emotionally.
In the case of MTHFR, I feel like the MTHFR itself is such a huge stressor - having it, dealing with the lifestyle changes that accompany it and the healthcare journey associated with it - that one of the best things I can provide is a safe space to be heard, to be present, and to receive treatment that doesn't require you to actively *do* anything in the moment.
Part of acupuncture is just resting on the table and letting the needles do their work to rebalance the body energetically - i.e. stopping for a moment and just allowing yourself to *be*. When you are pursuing a health journey like MTHFR which has a steep learning curve, you can feel like you are spending all your time running from one test and doctor and obligation to next with your already limited reserves dwindling as you try to put the puzzle of your health and your needs together. The experience of acupuncture is one of relaxation and restoration - hard to come by in the heat of the healing journey, but so necessary.
As I continue to see and treat more MTHFR patients I will write more about the specific types of energetic diagnoses I see and treatments that are successful, but at this point I don't have enough cases to draw any correlations or conclusions. Suffice to say that at this stage, I feel that the theory and practice of Chinese Medicine can be a strong addition to managing MTHFR on many levels - from the mental emotional piece to the physical symptoms themselves - and I am clearly seeing results in my practice from the limited cases I can draw on.
Share Your Resources - Come In For Treatment!
Do you have MTHFR or know someone who does? Can you share specific resources or health care professionals you feel know their stuff in the comments section? I am looking to build a good referral network for MTHFR patients and cases and I would love to know who you feel is really listening to and working for you in the local area.
I am also interested in treating more MTHFR cases so I can compile data and information to share about Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in the management of this disorder. I feel very strongly that Chinese Medicine is a great fit, but I need more experience and data. I would also love to be a partner in your care or that of a loved one with this disorder. I bill lots of insurance!
I have not been tested myself and I know I handle B vitamins well so I believe I am low on the possible MTHFR mutation spectrum, but I do have IBS gut issues, gluten intolerance and a strong history of Heart Disease in my family. Its possible that I have poor methylation ability myself so I am going to pursue testing as well. We'll see what I find out.
If you have resources or a story to share please post it in the comments section or email me directly - I'd love to hear from you - and stay tuned! As I learn more I will continue to post on my blog about MTHFR.
Thank you for listening,
Its National Psoriasis Awareness Month, hooray! And I've definitely found that people don't often realize that acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can be an effective treatment for this condition. Did you know?
The video above doesn't get into the details of diagnosis and treatment, but it is a nice little into to what the beginnings of an acupuncture treatment for this condition might look like, and a good reminder about that hallmark of Chinese Medicine - syndrome differentiation. Namely, that everyone presents with their own unique set of signs and symptoms associated with any given condition and that each individual will therefore be treated individually and uniquely. There may be some general guidelines or points that are commonly recommended for any given illness, but since different people with the same illness will have different tongue and pulse pictures and other associated symptoms, their energetic diagnosis and treatment will therefore be unique.
But enough about that - Psoriasis is our topic of the day!
In Chinese Medicine all skin conditions have a connection to the Lung meridian, so they often go hand in hand with things like asthma, allergies and acne and thanks to the magic of energetic medicine, these things can therefore be treated concurrently. The Lungs also receive their energy from the Spleen (read "digestion") so digestive issues are also commonly seen in combination with psoriasis and other skin conditions. This means that diet and lifestyle are important factors to look at as part of an overall treatment plan.
Blood heat is also a common underlying energetic cause or factor, and when you add in the Spleen/digestive connection, hot and spicy foods are often found to be aggravating. Avoidance of these foods is recommended during a flare up in particular.
Also associated with psoriasis can be joint pain in the case of psoriatic arthritis and I have to say that this is a place where acupuncture really shines as a treatment. Electro acupuncture in particular has been well researched for the treatment of joint pain, especially knee pain, and when you combine the western scientifically verified endorphin and anti-inflammatory release associated with electro acupuncture, with the energetic benefits of meridian balancing associated with all acupuncture, the effect can be pretty amazing over time.
A course of treatment is recommended - as a natural method of health care acupuncture and Chinese Medicine work with the body's natural rhythms so it can take time to create change - but an average course of treatment in my clinic is 6 treatments over a 6 week period. Generally noticeable results begin to be seen after 2 treatments, if not immediately, but creating lasting change takes time. The longer you have suffered from a condition, the longer it can take to treat as well, so if you have suffered for many years you can expect several months of treatment before it is recommended to reassess success and re-evaluate your treatment plan. If your condition is chronic you may also want to plan regular acupuncture tune ups into your wellness plan every 4 to 6 weeks once your symptoms are under control to keep flare ups at bay.
I also always recommend topical castor oil to all of my patients with psoriasis and eczema. With the soothing emollients and the natural anti-inflammatory effect inherent to this compound, it is an excellent topical treatment for these kinds of skin conditions. Its a little sticky, so I generally recommend using it at night and letting it soak in while you sleep. After a couple weeks of daily use, the effect can be drastic from this alone.
If you're interested in learning more please don't hesitate to contact me or book an appointment or consultation online any time. Chinese Medicine has over 3,000 years of experience behind it in treating a variety of conditions, including many things you might not think of when you hear the word "acupuncture" so if you aren't sure what may or may not be helped by this natural, gentle and effective medicine, please don't hesitate to drop me a line and ask!
Until next time,
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.