One of the theories scientists have held for many years as to why acupuncture works to alleviate chronic pain and other ailments is called the Vascular-Interstitial Theory. This theory describes the idea that acupuncture works by affecting the electrical system of the body, the network of currents conducted by our cells. Electricity is vital for sending information through the body to the brain and vice versa, as well as in order to conduct currents to the heart, which allows it to pump at the right times.
A disruption to any of these electrical currents can cause illness. The Vascular-Interstitial Theory of acupuncture suggests stimulating acupoints affects these electrical currents in our bodies, facilitating healing by allowing the transfer of blood, organic matter and electrical energy between healthy and injured tissues.
Research published in March 2018 in Scientific Reports offered a significant contribution to our understanding of the interstitium, and therefore sheds new light on the Vascular-Interstitial Theory.
Previous research on the interstitium suggested it was a layer of densely packed connective tissue lining the digestive tract, lungs, urinary systems and surrounding veins and fascia between the muscles. New and increasingly powerful microscopes now allow scientists to look inside living tissues. In this case, the authors of the research were able to look inside the interstitium for the first time, and rather than a web of densely packed connective tissue, they found the space is a network of interconnected, fluid-filled compartments. This finding may help to explain why placing acupuncture needles at specific points on the body creates healing elsewhere in the body.
In an article for The Cut, reporter Katie Heaney interviewed one of the authors of this new research, Neil Theise, a clinician and professor of pathology at NYU Langone Health and a proponent of alternative medicine. While the research paper itself did not discuss acupuncture, Heaney asked Theise to weigh in on the possible connections. Theise posited it was possible the research had implications for understanding acupuncture. The layer of skin into which acupuncture needles are inserted is the interstitium, Theise explained.
“There’s fluid in there,” he told Heaney. “When you put the needle [into an accu-point], maybe the collagen bundles are arranged into a channel through which fluid can flow.”
The research shows the interstitium is a structured and organized system in the body. It may be that stimulating true acupoints allows interstitial fluid to travel throughout the body, explaining why acupuncture has far-reaching effects, not just offering pain relief at the site where the needles are inserted. Channels of interstitial fluid may be responsible for facilitating the transfer of blood, organic matter and electricity between healthy and injured parts of the body. These findings also offer a possible explanation as to why other research has shown sham acupuncture points have some pain-relieving effects where the needles are inserted, but true acupoints go a lot further in offering system-wide relief.
As always, this research is inconclusive on its own. It will require more research to further explore the connection between the interstitium and acupuncture, but it is undoubtedly an interesting idea.
Statistics show that almost eight out of 10 people experience low back pain at some point during their life. Seeking medical treatment for back pain is very common. Typically back pain is fleeting and can be easily resolved with rest, heat and an occasional anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen. However, once the damage is done, the recurrence of back pain can be as high as 50 percent. Part of this is because as we age, things like muscles and tendons become less flexible and pliable. This can also be attributed to the fact that many people suffer from low-grade dehydration because they don’t drink enough water and they don’t ingest enough healthy fats that keep the muscles and tendons loose. It is also very well known that in the United States, people are too sedentary, and this leads to excess weight gain that can create added pressure on the body, especially the low back.
Studies have shown acupuncture stimulates the body to produce natural steroids that reduce inflammation. Acupuncture also increases the production of endorphins, which are helpful in reducing pain. In this way, acupuncture can be very helpful in preventing costly surgeries or prescription pain medication addiction. If a person seeks out acupuncture treatments when the low back pain is acute, it can potentially help them avoid chronic pain.
Along these lines, there are also some things that can be done at home to help with low back pain. Acupressure uses the same concept of acupuncture without the needles. By applying pressure to specific acupoints with either a finger or a smooth rounded instrument, it is possible to decrease low back pain until an acupuncture treatment can be scheduled. Here are three acupoints that can be used to help with low back pain.
• Large Intestine 4 – This point is located bilaterally on the back side of the hand, in the webbing between the forefinger and the thumb. When the hand is made into a fist, the point can be located in the center of the mound of flesh that is created. This point is used for relieving pain anywhere in the body.
• Gallbladder 34 – This point is found bilaterally on the outer side of the lower leg. It can found in the depression that is in front of and below the head of the fibula. This point is known as the influential point of the tendons.
• Urinary Bladder 40 – This point is located bilaterally on the crease behind the knee, right in the center, directly behind the knee cap. This point helps relieve pain along the spine. It is helpful for relieving muscle spasms and reducing pain associated with sciatic nerve involvement, which stems from the low back.
Self-acupressure is an effective way to help relieve low back pain when you are unable to get in for a treatment. These three points can also be used on a regular basis in between acupuncture treatments to help keep low back pain at bay. Regardless, chronic low back pain should be evaluated to make sure that there are no structural issues that may require surgery. Ask me about acupressure if you’re curious!
In April 2019, a team of Italian researchers published a study in Medical Acupuncture that suggests acupuncture may be effective for reducing symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a natural disaster. The research team looked at residents of Amatrice, Italy, were a 6.0-magnitude earthquake in 2016 left nearly 300 people dead and almost 30,000 homeless. Natural hazards, like earthquakes, that are unpredictable and wreak widespread havoc on communities, have been shown to cause psychiatric disorders in survivors, including PTSD.
The participants in this study received five weeks of acupuncture treatments starting about a month after the earthquake. Researchers used patient-reported numbers on a pain scale to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatments. Before the treatments, 68 percent of the patients reported having psychological and pain symptoms associated with PTSD. Already after the third treatment, 54 percent of patients reported improvements in their psychological symptoms and 60 percent reported improvements in their pain symptoms. Using a statistical analysis, researchers measured a significant reduction between the initial reported psychological and pain scores and the scores after the third treatment. The researchers did not report any adverse side effects or events.
In the aftermath of natural disasters, communities are thrown into stress-provoking situations for myriad reasons, including loss of life, loss of property, loss of job, other economic losses, loss of community in the case some members move away and loss of infrastructure like schools or restaurants, among other things. Studies show individual mental health plays an important role in the success of communities rebuilding efforts after a natural disaster.
Although more research is needed to bolster the findings of this study, it suggests acupuncture can be an effective therapy for communities in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Studies show acupuncture is effective at balancing hormone levels that contribute to moderating stress levels in the body. The most significant body of research on acupuncture is in the field of acupuncture’s ability to reduce physical pain. This study suggests the effects of acupuncture extend to stress and pain brought on by a natural disaster.
Statistics show eight out of 10 people will experience low back pain at some point during their life. Seeking medical treatment for back pain is very common. Typically back pain is fleeting and can be easily resolved with rest, heat and an occasional anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen. However, once the damage is done, the recurrence of back pain can be as high as 50 percent. Part of this is because as we age, things like muscles and tendons become less flexible and pliable. It is also very well known in the United States, people are too sedentary and this leads to excess weight gain that can create added pressure on the body, especially the low back.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a medical system that dates back nearly 3,000 years. But despite its age, TCM has a lot of validity to offer in the age of modern medicine. Thousands of studies have proven acupuncture, just one of the modalities used in TCM, can be very beneficial in the treatment of low back pain. Here are five reasons why someone should consider getting acupuncture to treat low back pain.
1. Acupuncture has no harmful side effects. In comparison to most Western medical approaches to treating low back pain, acupuncture is the clear winner. There are no real negative side effects associated with acupuncture treatments. There can be a bruise or a little tenderness after the treatments, but that pales in comparison to the side effects from most pharmaceuticals or surgical procedures. Even regular ingestion of ibuprofen can deteriorate the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, eventually leading to ulceration.
2. Acupuncture is personalized healthcare. One thing truly different about TCM is every patient is treated differently. There could be 10 people with the exact same Western medical diagnosis in an acupuncturist's’ office, but they may all be treated differently. This is because not everybody’s root cause of the ailment is the same. This makes acupuncture treatments very personalized.
3. Acupuncture reduces inflammation. Back pain is frequently accompanied by joint inflammation in the spinal column. Acupuncture promotes the release of vascular and immune-mediating factors that actually decrease inflammation. Usually when inflammation is decreased, so is pain.
4. Acupuncture improves sleep. Low back pain can frequently disrupt sleep. With regular acupuncture treatments, not only is the pain and inflammation of back pain decreased, but so is the sleep interruptions due to the aforementioned pain. This is just one of the positive side effects of acupuncture.
5. Get your life back. Regular acupuncture treatments can improve a person’s overall well-being. And when it comes to low back pain, life can be changed dramatically. People sometimes have to miss work due to the pain and lack of sleep caused by the pain. But acupuncture can change all of that, allowing people to resume regular everyday activities.
For anybody who has ongoing low back pain, the five reasons listed above should give you hope acupuncture can provide relief. Let us help you along your path to wellness.
There are many factors involved with fatigue. If you are overtired, Traditional Chinese Medicine might be able to pinpoint the culprit, give some extra pep and help you kick those afternoon blues.
In TCM the idea of treatment is to find the root of the problem instead of simply treating the symptoms. In the case of fatigue, there are many possible root causes to feeling tired including: stress, depression, over exercising, lack of sleep, poor diet, poor absorption of nutrients and vitamin deficiency. Of course, these can overlap and one can exacerbate the other.
In TCM, there are a few basic syndromes associated with fatigue.
-Spleen Qi deficiency and dampness: This mainly comes from poor digestion and malabsorption of nutrients from an insufficient diet. Associated symptoms are a pale complexion, gas and bloating, to name a few. Dampness is excessive mucus and a feeling of heaviness in the head and body usually seen in overweight individuals. Since food is not transformed and transported well, food is not being absorbed adequately, which can lead to feeling sluggish. Treatment focuses on digestive issues and lifestyle choices to increase energy.
-Blood deficiency: Similar to anemia, symptoms are pale complexion, dizziness and fatigue. Treatment focuses on building blood,herbal formulas and dietary advice.
-Yin or yang deficiency: The body continually strives to achieve a yin and yang balance, as does everything in the universe. If there is an imbalance in one of these, there will be a relative change in the other. For example, if one is yin deficient the symptoms would include heat, dryness, sweating, irritability and thirst. This is seen typically in menopausal women, as the yin declines with hormone changes and normal aging.
On the other hand, yang deficiency (common in male aging and low testosterone) would have cold signs such as feeling cold, having low energy, weakness in the legs and wanting to curl up. The lower yang energy influences the balance of yin. This is so the yin is relatively higher. Treatment consists of building the deficiency and balancing your yin and yang.
In other terms, if it is a hormone imbalance, treatment would safely adjust hormone levels with safe and effective herbal formulas and acupuncture.
-Shen disturbance: Shen refers to the mind and spirit. If one is stressed, angry and having anxiety, it may disrupt sleep patterns, which would cause fatigue. Unhappiness with one’s situation causes great emotional fatigue and lethargy. Feeling stuck causes stagnation in the liver channel and disrupts the free flow of energy. Treatment would include calming the mind and adjusting lifestyle choices.
Temporomandibular disorders refers to a group of conditions that affect the joints of the jaw or the temporomandibular joints. These joints are located bilaterally on the face, in front of the ears and connecting the jaw bone to the skull. These joints are complicated, allowing for movement in multiple directions.
For some, temporomandibular disorders (TMD) can be caused by trauma such as a car accident or a hit to the face. But for most, these issues seem to appear out of nowhere. Many people do things on a daily basis or have underlying conditions that can cause or contribute to the development of temporomandibular disorders. Things like teeth grinding, gum chewing, excessive stress, malocclusion of teeth and even arthritis can all be reasons that TMD occurs. The most common symptoms of TMD include pain, headaches, muffled hearing, earaches, pain when chewing, dental pain, chipped or worn teeth, jaw clicking, dizziness, neck pain and difficulty moving the jaw.
Conventional treatments for TMD vary from eating soft foods to taking over-the-counter pain medications and using hot or cold packs. Often, mouth guards and physical therapy are also prescribed. Sometimes specific dental work may also be suggested. And as a last resort, steroid injections and jaw surgery may be used. Unfortunately, the success of these treatments is limited.
Traditional Chinese Medicine can be a great alternative. Acupuncture, moxibustion and electroacupuncture can be especially beneficial for people with TMD.
Numerous studies have shown acupuncture can reduce pain and inflammation caused by TMD. Acupuncture reduces the sensation of pain by directly stimulating the nerves, which changes the signaling to the brain. Acupuncture stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins in the body. These are naturally occurring substances that help decrease and block pain perception by the brain.
Placing acupuncture needles directly into the belly of the jaw muscle can also elicit a muscle twitch. This muscle twitch can then release the built up tension throughout the muscle, allowing it to reset. When the muscle tension is released, so too is the pain and tightness. By adding in electroacupuncture, the muscle is then reminded of how it is supposed to act.
Acupuncture is also proven to help reduce stress that is often associated with painful disorders like TMD. When people feel stressed, the brain releases a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol can alter the way the brain perceives pain, and it can also cause involuntary muscle spasms in the jaw muscles. This can lead to excessive pain in the temporomandibular joints.
If you or somebody you love is facing the pain of TMD, consider utilizing acupuncture and the other modalities of TCM to treat the issue. It is a much safer alternative, it can save a lot of money and these modalities offer improved overall health.
A 2018 study published in the World Journal of Acupuncture-Moxibustion looked at the effect of acupuncture treatments on rectal cancer patients who were experiencing hand-foot syndrome caused by their chemotherapy treatments. Hand-foot syndrome is a known side effect of chemotherapy characterized by redness, swelling, tingling, numbness, itching and pain in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
The researchers found acupuncture significantly reduced all of the symptoms associated with hand-foot syndrome to the extent they considered 17 percent of patients completely cured and the treatments were significantly effective in 70 percent of patients.
To conduct the study, researchers from Chongqing Cancer Institute recruited 60 patients with rectal cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Half of the patients received acupuncture and half were treated simply by taking B6 vitamins. Their hand-foot syndrome was scored using two internationally recognized scales indicating symptom severity and physical disability.
The patients in the acupuncture group received 30-minute treatments every day for two weeks. The patients in the B6 vitamin group took the supplement daily for two weeks.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, hand-foot syndrome indicates poor qi and blood circulation, a deficiency in qi and blood or dampness leading to a blockage in qi that prohibits nourishment from reaching the skin and muscles, causing numbness and pain. The acupuncture treatments were directed at promoting blood and qi circulation and removing stagnation.
After the treatments, patients in both groups showed improvement, but symptoms and physical disabilities for the patients in the acupuncture group decreased significantly more than for the patients in the B6 vitamin group. Based on the analysis of the scores, in the acupuncture group, the treatments cured five patients were effective for 16 patients, meaning their symptom score was downgraded to the lowest possible number on the scale and their physical ability score increased to between 80 and 89 out of 100 possible points. The treatments were effective for 70 percent of patients compared with 36 percent of patients in the B6 vitamin group.
The report concludes, “The results demonstrate that an integrative model of patient care utilizing acupuncture as a treatment modality produces significantly less adverse effects associated with chemotherapy.”
Research consistently shows acupuncture is effective at increasing circulation throughout the body, improving the flow of blood and therefore nutrients to injured cells, muscles or tissues.
The season of fall brings cooler weather and shorter days. As with any season, the world adjusts accordingly. Plants begin to go dormant, animals begin scrounging for food to store to get them through the upcoming winter months and humans start winterizing everything.
As fall descends on the land, it reminds us we need to start cutting back on the numerous cooling foods that are consumed during the summer months. Things like raw foods, salads, juices and fruits should be decreased because they can create too much cold in the body, according to traditional Chinese medicine.
There are many facets to traditional Chinese medicine and nutrition is one of the most important. The ancient Chinese observed what took place in nature and followed those cues accordingly. So when the season changed to fall and the amount of daylight decreased and the temperatures cooled, the Chinese began to eat what was available. This is what it means to “eat for the season.” By eating according to the season, we can avoid many illnesses and diseases. If we continue to eat raw, cold foods during the cooler fall and winter months, then we set ourselves up for digestive problems, colds, sinus infections and even painful joints. When a person eats seasonally, they will inevitably notice that certain foods are no longer abundant or available. During fall, one should fill his or her cupboards with dried foods, heavy grains, seeds, roots and squashes. In TCM, these foods help move the body’s energy or qi (pronounced “chee”) inward.
Fall is also a time to slow down. This means that we should cook food for longer periods of time on lower heat. How we cook food will affect how the body tolerates it and how the energy is used. For fall, TCM suggests making soups and stews, using a crockpot or slow cooker, roasting and baking foods. These methods create a deeper warmth and supply greater energy from the food.
Foods that are nourishing to the lungs are very important during fall. Since many people get sick during these months, lung tonifying foods can be very beneficial. This includes foods like ginger, onion, garlic, pears, walnuts, miso, navy beans, almonds, asparagus, broccoli, apricots, bananas, apples, plums and grapes.
The drier weather can also cause chapped lips, a dry nose, an itchy throat, rough skin and even dry stools. To counter these issues, it is recommended to eat foods that promote the production of bodily fluids, such as nuts, seeds, pears, pumpkins, honey and a traditional Chinese porridge known as congee.
When we follow the cues given to us by nature, we can maintain a very healthy existence. Ask me to learn more about eating according to the seasons in TCM.
In 2016, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine published a study that looking at the efficacy of acupuncture in managing acute pain for patients in the emergency room when compared to intravenous morphine. The researchers looked at 300 patients who presented to the emergency room with acute onset moderate to severe pain. Half of them were treated with acupuncture and half were given intravenous morphine. To measure their pain reduction, they asked patients to report their pain score before and after the treatments, and considered a reduction of 50 percent or greater to be a significant reduction.
The study showed the patients who received acupuncture treatments for their pain saw pain reductions of 92 percent compared to 78 percent in the morphine group. The acupuncture also seemed to work more quickly than the morphine, lowering patients’ pain scores in an average of 16 minutes compared to 28 minutes for the morphine group. Additionally, 89 patients who received morphine experienced minor adverse side effects while only four of the patients who received acupuncture did. Overall, this study showed acupuncture worked better and more quickly than intravenous morphine for reducing people’s pain in a medical setting.
This study joins a growing body of literature suggesting acupuncture is very effective at reducing pain and/or changing how our bodies experience pain. The lack of adverse side effects associated with acupuncture treatments presents a strong argument for its use, especially as synthetic medications are associated with many negative side effects and people are often allergic to the medications.
Because acupuncture affects our brains, stimulating the release of natural pain-reducing hormones, it can be used for any number of afflictions that cause pain. Acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins – neurotransmitters responsible for blocking the sensation of pain. The stimulation also releases other chemicals that either change how the body experiences pain or triggers the release of other chemicals that activate the body’s internal regulating system. It is thought that acupoints are more densely packed with nerves than other points on the body, so stimulating these points sends more signals along the nerve networks in our body to cause this release of chemicals.
This process has a normalizing effect on nerves and hormones. By bringing the body into better biochemical balance, acupuncture promotes physical and emotional well-being and supports the body’s natural healing abilities.
Acupuncture and TCM also address the root causes of pain rather than just masking the symptoms. We develop treatment plans that are unique to each patient because each patient comes in with a unique body, health history and root cause behind their pain. By addressing the root causes, we create more lasting healing and bring your body back to a place where it can function optimally, using its natural healing processes to help you stay well.
Autoimmune diseases are a collective group of disorders that plague nearly 50 million people in the United States today. When a person suffers from an autoimmune disease it means their own immune system is attacking the body and altering or destroying the tissues. Autoimmune diseases include things like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, pernicious anemia, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Conventional medicine can diagnose 100 different autoimmune conditions. Unfortunately, the treatments available to people with these disorders is not as plentiful through conventional medicine. It typically involves the use of pharmaceuticals that can have side effects that are as bad, if not worse, than the symptoms of the disease itself. And even worse, many people are told they have no options. This is where Traditional Chinese Medicine can be beneficial.
Acupuncture treatments are completely customizable. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners don’t treat based on the Western medical diagnosis. They attack the disease based on its diagnosis in Chinese medicine. This means that they not only want to treat the symptoms, but also get to the root of the problem. This is much different from Western medicine with its one-size-fits-all type of treatments. The ability to treat each person as an individual with their own unique diagnosis is why traditional Chinese medicine is so successful.
Many factors play into an autoimmune disease. Traditional Chinese Medicine looks at the body as a whole, allowing the patient to get a more complete treatment, usually with better results. Since autoimmune diseases are thought to be a deficiency in people’s immune-system responses, TCM practitioners will work to restore and rejuvenate the factors that are vital for good immunity. These things include blood and the energetic life force known as qi (pronounced “chee”). There can also be underlying genetic factors involved in autoimmune diseases, so acupuncturists may also work on building up a patients essence or jing. Research has shown that acupuncture causes responses in nerve cells, as well as in parts of the brain. By utilizing acupuncture, those suffering from an autoimmune disease can, over time, reprogram their brains and cells to perform as intended.
The use of electroacupuncture may prove useful for people suffering from autoimmune diseases too. Electroacupuncture emits mild electrical stimulation to acupuncture needles. These light shocks trigger the body to produce hormones that suppress pain and inflammation. This helps raise endorphins circulating in the bloodstream. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers.
Chinese herbal formulas can also be very effective in the treatment of autoimmune diseases. Chinese herbs have specific qualities that can help boost blood, qi and jing. When acupuncture and Chinese herbs are combined, the effects can be quite favorable. The herbs will actually compliment the acupuncture treatments by extending the effects of the needles. Many times this will shorten the number of treatments required, as the patient will start to see results sooner.
Many people dealing with autoimmune diseases also experience high levels of stress because of their disorder. It can be very stressful trying to lead a “normal” life with severe pain and other symptoms. Studies show acupuncture is very relaxing, and it helps reduce excess cortisol levels in the brain that contribute to chronic stress.
As autoimmune sufferers start to see improvements with acupuncture treatments and herbs, they may also be able to do things they couldn’t before, like exercise. Exercising not only improves blood flow, but it also increases immunity. Exercise also increases the amount of endorphins in the body. So just by receiving regular acupuncture treatments and herbal supplements, those suffering from autoimmune diseases may be able to lead a much more normal life with a lot less pain and suffering.
If you are dealing with some type of autoimmune disease, consider giving Traditional Chinese Medicine a chance. The outcomes may be life changing.
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