How to Treat Fatigue with Acupuncture and TCM

By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. and Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

fatigue
Feeling like you can’t get out of bed and face the day?

With so much going on in our lives these days, it is no wonder that many of us feel exhausted and tired all the time. Stress and lack of sleep are so common now that many people are easily tired. But when it gets to the point that a person is always tired, so much that he or she never feels rested and has trouble engaging in normal daily activities, fatigue becomes a serious health concern that requires attention.

Extreme fatigue is a mental and/or physical lack of energy that goes beyond normal tiredness. Physical or muscle fatigue prevents a person from engaging the body in the ways he or she is used to being able to, while being mentally exhausted causes sleepiness and an inability to focus the mind enough to perform one’s usual tasks. Transient or acute fatigue occurs when a person is deprived of sleep over a few days. In general, it is recommended that adults get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. However, a large published report showed that more than a third of Americans regularly sleep less than seven hours per night. Poor sleep habits do more than cause excessive tiredness; they can lead to all kinds of chronic health problems.

Conventional medicine has a limited understanding of fatigue causes, and does not offer much in the way of solutions for fatigue symptoms. Whether fatigue is acute or chronic, acupuncture and TCM offer proven benefits without any negative side effects.

Causes of Chronic Fatigue

Constant fatigue and extreme exhaustion that last for more than three to six months may be signs of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). As a syndrome, CFS/ME is a collection of symptoms that are often seen together, but is not fully understood by the medical community as a disease. CFS symptoms include:

  • Extreme exhaustion that is made worse with physical or mental effort (post-exertional malaise, or PEM), i.e., feeling completely spent after any exercise or mental stress
  • Sleep is not refreshing
  • Foggy head, cognitive impairment
  • Joint pain
  • Constant sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Severe headaches
  • Extreme sensitivity to lights, noises, smells, foods and chemicals

It can be difficult for doctors to come to a firm diagnosis for different types of fatigue, partly because the symptoms are “invisible” and subjective, but also because there are other health conditions with similar symptoms, in particular fibromyalgia. The causes of chronic fatigue have not been fully identified, but it is believed that CFS can be triggered by infections, immune dysfunction, nutritional deficiencies, extreme stress, or a combination of these factors. Some studies have indicated that people who experienced childhood trauma may have increased risk of developing CFS, and that psychological stress due to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is linked to CFS.

As of now, conventional medicine has no officially approved treatment protocol for chronic fatigue. Generally, patients are instructed to rest, pace themselves while practicing gentle exercises, and learn to avoid triggers that make their fatigue worse. Doctors may offer medications to help insomnia and antidepressants to help with emotional instability, but these types of drugs can have negative side effects and create dependency. Traditional Chinese Medicine works on a deeper level to address headache, dizziness, fatigue, muscle and joint pain with fatigue, and eye strain symptoms.

Sometimes constant tiredness is attributed to adrenal exhaustion. Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is not a formally recognized medical diagnosis, but this, too, is a collection of symptoms that is theorized to be related to chronically low levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol. Cortisol is produced in short bursts when we are under stress; this is often called the “fight or flight” response. Going through an extended period of stress might lead to the adrenal glands becoming depleted. People with adrenal fatigue symptoms like tiredness, trouble sleeping, and cravings often rely on caffeine and sugar to help them get that burst of energy. Adrenal fatigue treatment by TCM helps to naturally balance the hormones, while lifestyle modifications implemented over time help resolve feeling so tired all the time.

How Is Fatigue Related to Stress?

daytime fatigue related to insomnia
Fatigue can impair daytime functioning.

Clearly there are links between stress and fatigue. Stress is the body’s reaction to difficulties and situational changes. When stress builds up over time, the body and mind become exhausted. Chronic stress can lead to emotional exhaustion. Lack of focus and motivation leads to poor decision making, and then a person can no longer take proper care of herself and her loved ones. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression become intrusive and disruptive to daily life. In today’s world, we are all subjected to many stressors every day. Simply processing a constant onslaught of new information on top of all of the other things we are expected to manage is bound to cause mental fatigue. Feeling overwhelmed is the new normal, but in order to prevent it from becoming a serious health problem, we need to address emotional fatigue.

How Is Fatigue Related to Sleep Problems?

We need nourishing food and restful sleep to function optimally. If an individual does not prioritize healthy eating and getting enough sleep, eventually the body becomes seriously depleted. Feeling tired after eating is a sign that one might be eating the wrong foods, or at the wrong times. Extreme fatigue after eating is also an indicator that when a person does sleep, he or she is not getting good quality sleep. Working on behavioral modifications to improve sleep quality is certainly an important part of addressing fatigue, as is finding a physical activity program that improves energy.

How Is Fatigue Related to Hormones and Women’s Health?

Women often experience fatigue as they go through hormone changes. Feeling lethargic due to PMS fatigue or period fatigue is common. Fatigue during pregnancy can cause women to feel weak and tired. Women going through menopause commonly feel over tired. These types of hormone related fatigue can be helped by balancing the hormones with acupuncture and herbs.

How Can Acupuncture Help to Fight Fatigue?

The most fundamental concept of Traditional Chinese Medicine is that of “Qi,” the life force energy that flows through the body. According to TCM, fatigue is related to the quantity and quality of Qi a person is able to maintain. Qi deficiency, then, is the primary cause of fatigue. Deficiencies can show up in different ways:

  • Spleen-pancreas – This is the organ system that directs digestion. When this is weak, people might feel bloated after eating, tend toward loose bowels, feel weak and depressed, and bruise easily. This can be due to erratic eating patterns, especially too many sweets. Worrying or over-thinking can also be part of the problem. Many people go through stressful periods when they exhibit these behaviors and symptoms.
  • Lung – The lungs do the job of extracting Qi from the air we breathe. Sometimes lung Qi is weakened when we do a lot of talking as part of our work without taking enough breaks. Emotions of grief and sadness can also weaken the lungs. This may present as being prone to coughs or colds.
  • Blood Deficiency – This often goes together with Qi deficiency. A heart-related blood deficiency can lead to feelings of anxiety and restless sleep. A liver-related blood deficiency can cause eye strain symptoms.
  • Yang Deficiency – Lack of heat energy in the body causes weakness with body aches and fatigue. This differentiation can cause menopausal fatigue and low back pain.
moxibustion
Moxibustion cultivates heat energy

An acupuncture practitioner will first perform a thorough consultation and exam to identify the specific symptoms of fatigue and the factors potentially causing them. A course of treatment might include not only acupuncture to stimulate points along the meridians, but also moxibustion, a topical therapy used to cultivate warm energy.

One formal study of patients diagnosed with CFS showed significant improvement in both physical and mental fatigue among participants who received daily acupuncture over the course of ten days.

Another study of chronic fatigue patients who were given acupuncture as a complement to conventional treatment showed greater improvement over patients who did not receive acupuncture.

Acupuncture has been shown to increase serotonin levels, which help improve sleep and mood. This means it can be an effective treatment for fatigue and depression, without the side effects and dependence that are often caused by SSRIs (antidepressants that work on serotonin levels in the brain).

Chinese herbs are used in customized combinations to address imbalances in the organ systems. TCM herbal remedies are an integral part of treatment for chronic fatigue, and should be combined with your acupuncturist’s nutritional recommendations to nourish Qi and reverse fatigue.

Top 10 Tips to Beat Fatigue 

While acupuncture treatment and herbal support will go a long way to combat fatigue, it is critical that patients make meaningful lifestyle modifications. New habits will not only improve symptoms of fatigue, but prevent exhaustion in the future.

  1. Timing is everything – The adrenal hormones will be more balanced if you follow natural circadian rhythms. This means, ideally, rising with the sun and going to bed well before midnight. Exercise early in the day rather than stimulating the body with activity in the evening. Stick with the same sleep routine, even on weekends and holidays.
  2. Cut caffeine – Drinking coffee or sodas to stay sharp is actually very detrimental to your health. Think of it as borrowing energy; you’ll have to pay it back later, with interest. If you are used to multiple caffeinated drinks per day, start by reducing them gradually. Then, take at least a few weeks off of caffeine entirely. 
  3. Avoid Alcohol – Even though it may feel like a glass of wine helps you relax in the evening, alcohol has a negative impact on the quality of sleep, often causing you to sleep lightly and wake in the night. Again, start by cutting back, and try to abstain entirely until fatigue has improved.
  4. Drink more water – Dehydration reduces mental alertness and physical stamina. Drinking 8 glasses of water per day ensures that nutrients and oxygen are moving smoothly through the bloodstream and that toxins are being excreted properly. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty; by then, you are already dehydrated. Remind yourself to drink at regular intervals.
  5. Eat more frequently to maintain blood sugar levels and energy. Smaller meals eaten every 3-4 hours throughout the day
    walnuts omega 3
    Walnuts are a great source of Omega-3s

    are better than 2-3 large meals. 

  6. Get enough Omega-3 – Fatty acid supplementation has been shown to reduce symptoms in CFS patients. Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include: fish, fish oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts.
  7. Short bouts of exercise – Even when the mildest exertion can be exhausting, it’s vital to establish and maintain regular physical activity. A short 15 minute walk outdoors will help get the blood pumping, and exposure to sunlight is crucial for getting Vitamin D to boost immune function.
  8. Qi Gong – This gentle form of exercise is part of the holistic health care system represented by TCM. The focused breathing and subtle movements of Qi Gong are designed to nurture Qi. Specific exercises will help to bring in more Qi, encourage Yang fire energy, and relieve stress.
  9. Yoga – Another practice that goes beyond physical exercise, yoga encourages specific breathing and meditation techniques that harness “Prana.” Similar to concept of Qi, Prana is life-giving energy that we can take into the body from the environment through deep breathing.
  10. Rest – Prioritizing rest means more than getting enough sleep at night. Change your mindset from one of constant “busyness” and productivity. Give yourself time to rest, read, meditate, listen to music, laugh, and just do nothing. If you have to convince yourself, remember, “doctor’s orders–I have to rest!”

Acupuncture Near Me for Dealing With Fatigue 

Now more than ever, extreme stress, lack of sleep and activity, and constant triggering events can cause chronic fatigue. Fatigue is feeling more than tired; it can become a real health concern if you are so physically and mentally exhausted that you cannot get up and face your day. Do not hesitate to reach out for help. The doctors at Art of Wellness are TCM experts with over 30 years of experience helping patients heal unresolved traumas, restore balance and replenish their energy. Call today to get started with a treatment plan to banish fatigue.

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How to Treat Shoulder Pain by Acupuncture and TCM

By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

 

Shoulder pain
Shoulder pain can make the simplest activities difficult to perform

Shoulder pain is one of the most common types of musculoskeletal pain amongst adults, affecting about one in four people in their lifetime. Almost 20% of disability cases related to chronic pain are due to disorders of the shoulder, such as frozen shoulder (also known as adhesive capsulitis), torn rotator cuff, and tendonitis in shoulder. Neck and shoulder pain can be caused by injury, overuse, arthritis, or degeneration of tissues over time. 

Shoulder pain is usually treated first with medications to reduce pain and swelling, and suggested activity modifications. Often people are referred to physical therapy (PT) or sports medicine specialists, so that a specific regimen of exercise can strengthen and stabilize the joints. In more severe cases, surgery may be required to repair torn tendons or cartilage. Acupuncture and other TCM modalities can be used to complement these conventional treatments, helping to reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, speed healing and improve range of motion.

In this article we will discuss some of the causes of shoulder pain, how it is usually treated with conventional methods, and how acupuncture and TCM can help reduce and prevent recurrence of shoulder pain.

Anatomy of the Shoulder

The shoulder is generally thought of as a “ball and socket” joint, but in fact, this part of the body has such a high level of utility and mobility because it is made up of several bones and a complex system of muscles, tendons, and bursae–little fluid-filled sacs that provide cushioning between the bones. 

There are really three joints that make up the shoulder: the acromioclavicular joint (AC joint), where the collarbones (clavicle) and shoulder blades (scapula) meet, the glenohumeral joint, where the ball-shaped head of the long arm bone (humerus) fits into a shallow socket (glenoid), and the sternoclavicular joint, where the clavicle meets the sternum. These bones are held together by the “rotator cuff,” a collection of four major muscles and tendons.

The unique construction of the shoulder allows for a wide range of motion, including flexion and extension, adduction and abduction, and both medial (internal) and lateral (external) rotation of the socket joint. The scapula joint allows for protraction and retraction, elevation and depression. All of this amazing mobility comes at a price, however. It is up to the muscles and tendons to provide stability, and when these soft tissues are injured or weakened, the shoulder can become unstable and/or lose part of that mobility.

The 10 Most Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

The most common cause of shoulder pain is a problem with the rotator cuff. When the tendons are torn, or even just inflamed, it can be difficult and painful to lift the arm. This can be caused by repetitive motions executed during manual labor (especially overhead motions, as with painting or construction) or sports-related injuries (especially common with baseball and tennis). In some cases, the tendons of the rotator cuff tear, either due to a sudden injury (acute torn rotator cuff), or degeneration of tissue that occurs over a long period of time (chronic shoulder pain). Other causes of shoulder pain can be related to the bursae, or a disorder of the way the tendons and bones fit and move together.

shoulder anatomy
Anatomy of the Shoulder

Common causes of shoulder pain include:

  1. Torn rotator cuff – A tear or tears in the muscles and/or tendons of the shoulder joints generally causes a dull pain that worsens when you sleep on it. It can cause difficulty performing simple actions such as combing your hair, and all of the actions of the arm may be weakened. A tear can be caused by a sudden injury, but is more commonly due to repetitive motions related to physical engagement in work or sports over a long period of time. Rotator cuff problems should not be ignored. Some tears are best treated with surgery before they become larger. Without adequate treatment and changes in movement behaviors, torn rotator cuff tendons can lead to serious degeneration of the tissues and permanent loss of mobility.
  2. Frozen Shoulder – Also known as adhesive capsulitis, which refers to the capsule of tissues that surrounds the shoulder joints. When these tissues tighten and become more rigid, it creates a stiffness and severe pain in the shoulder and arm, making it increasingly hard to move without shoulder pain lifting arm. This condition is more common in women, and is seen more often in people between the ages of 40 and 60. PT can be effective for improving flexibility.
  3. Tendonitis – this refers to inflammation of the tendons that attach the muscles to the bones of the shoulder joints. When the tendons become inflamed, the area feels tender and achy, and normal activities can be difficult.Tendonitis in shoulder can often resolve itself with rest and reduction of the inflammation.
  4. Bursitis – this occurs when the small, fluid-filled sacs called bursae become inflamed, again, either due to injury, repetitive movements, or other conditions that cause inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis. This can cause even small movements, like pushing open a door, to hurt. Usually patients are cautioned to rest, and perhaps even wear a brace to restrict movement until the inflammation is resolved.
  5. Arthritis – when cartilage and the synovial lining that lubricates the joints begin to wear away over time, the bones of the joints begin to rub against each other. This generally happens in older people, and they begin to feel deep aching that sometimes gets worse when the weather changes. Along with rest, PT, and anti-inflammatories, patients are often treated with corticosteroid shots to temporarily reduce pain and inflammation.
  6. Shoulder Impingement – Some of the muscle and tendon tissue of the shoulder is sandwiched between the bones. When the movement of the shoulder causes parts of the soft tissue to be pinched by the bones, causing pain, it is called subacromial impingement. This can be caused by swelling of those tissues due to overuse, or because of a tear in a tendon or the labrum, or because of arthritis causing a change to the shape of the bone. In some cases the congenital shape of the acromion or coracoid bones can make someone more susceptible to impingement. The development of a bone spur could also cause this problem. In these cases, surgery to remove bone and create more space in the joint may be indicated.
  7. Dislocation – This occurs when the upper arm bone (humerus) pops out of the cup of the socket bone (glenoid). This can happen when the arm is suddenly pulled or twisted sharply, or when a person falls on their outstretched arm. The shoulder is the joint most commonly dislocated, and this injury happens more often in young people. It causes severe pain, swelling, bruising, and loss of mobility. Once the displaced arm bone is reset in the socket, mobility returns, but it can take a long time to regain strength. A person may be prone to dislocating the shoulder again without physical therapy, and in some cases, reconstructive surgery is required. 
  8. Separation – This is an injury that causes AC joint pain, in which the ligaments that connect the collarbone to the shoulder blade are torn. This most commonly happens because of a fall right onto the shoulder. This often causes a bump or bulge on the top of the shoulder, where the clavicle is sticking up at an odd angle while the scapula drops down. A mild sprain causing clavicle pain may be healed with rest and restriction of movement with a sling. More severe cases may require surgery. Either way, physical rehabilitation is indicated to help restore mobility and strength.
  9. Broken collarbone – The collarbone/clavicle, which connects the arm to the ribcage, is a fairly exposed and delicate bone. It commonly breaks due to a fall. This injury causes collarbone pain and makes it hard to move the arm, causes the shoulder to sag, and creates a lot of bruising and swelling. If the break is clean, the shoulder can be immobilized with a sling until it heals. If the broken ends of the bone have shifted apart, though, surgery may be necessary to realign them. PT rehabilitation will then help through a long healing process.
  10. Labral tear – the labrum is a rounded rim made of cartilage that helps hold the top of the arm firmly in the shoulder girdle. Sometimes the labrum is stretched or torn due to injury or overuse, causing the joint to become loose and unstable. This can feel like a gentle shoulder pop or locking sensation when you move, or it can produce a severe pain when you try to lift the arm. A labral tear can cause loss of strength and range of movement. This condition is usually diagnosed by a specific imaging technique called an MR arthrogram. A labral tear may be helped by lifestyle changes to prevent aggravation, anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone, shots, and physical therapy. In some cases, a severe or complicated case may require surgery to repair the tear or tighten the joint capsule.

Other types of sore shoulder include: a pinched shoulder nerve in the neck area that can cause radiating neck and shoulder pain, or a muscle pull in the upper back or top of the arm, as in trapezius pain, rhomboid pain, or deltoid pain.

Acupuncture and TCM for Shoulder Pain

Chinese herb liniment and capsules
Chinese herbs in liniment, capsule, and pill form

As you can see, resolving shoulder pain relies heavily on the reduction of inflammation. It may be that inflammation with a separate root cause (such as heart disease or an autoimmune disorder) created a problem with the soft tissues of the shoulder joints in the first place, or it may be that an injury to the shoulder is the primary source of the inflammation. Either way, reducing the inflammation is the key to relieving shoulder pain and restoring mobility to the joints. 

Acupuncture is a highly effective modality for reducing inflammation, without the sometimes severe side effects that can arise from other conventional treatments like steroid injections. Cortisone shots can reduce pain and swelling temporarily, but repeated shots can cause damage to the area, and in some cases, infections at the site. Cortisone can also raise blood sugar levels, increasing the risk for diabetes. 

Scientific evidence suggests that acupuncture treatments reduce inflammation by stimulating the pituitary gland to release more cortisol naturally. It is also hypothesized that acupuncture affects the release of neuropeptides from the peripheral nerve endings, which is a key part of the body’s inflammatory response.

In TCM vocabulary, we consider inflammation to be due to a stagnation of Qi and blood, not only in the area immediately affected, but also in related organ systems. In the case of the shoulder, the corresponding organ system is often that of the large and small intestines. To relieve shoulder pain and restore freedom of movement, it is also necessary to “re-train” the shoulder muscles to move together smoothly. Physiotherapy can be very helpful for this, but there are also TCM practices that can be integrated to help achieve better mobility. One study compared patients with frozen shoulder who were performing exercises to improve the condition with patients who exercised and received regular acupuncture treatments. The patients treated with acupuncture scored significantly higher in improved mobility and reduced pain, and the positive effects lasted for months after treatment ended.

Tuina and Gua Sha, specific forms of therapeutic massage administered by doctors of TCM, can also be used as part of comprehensive treatment for relieving stiffness in the shoulder.

Chinese herbs have been used for thousands of years to help reduce inflammation in the body.More recent scientific studies have demonstrated the direct anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of Chinese herbal formulations. Specifically, herbs have been shown to inhibit the swelling caused by cytokine production that is typical of chronic joint diseases.

Top 3 Tips for Relief and Prevention of Shoulder Pain

acupressure for shoulder pain
Apply gentle pressure

The best way to relieve and prevent shoulder pain from recurring is to manage inflammation. Regular acupuncture treatments are beneficial, but there are also some excellent self-care techniques you can use to relieve pain and improve function.

  1. Acupressure point for shoulder pain: LI10 (large intestine meridian). Find this point on the front side of the forearm, about three inches below the elbow. Apply gentle pressure while breathing deeply to relieve stiffness and pain in the shoulder, neck, and elbow. 
  2. Practice stretching and strengthening exercises for the shoulder joints. Start slowly, with gentle movements to improve range of motion, then move up to using some light weights to help strengthen the muscles. 
    1. Pendulum – Lean forward with one arm hanging loosely. Use the other arm to brace against a chair for support. Gently swing the hanging arm from side to side, forward and back, and in a circular motion. Slowly return to a standing position. Repeat on the other side.
    2. Wall angels – Stand with your back to a wall, with the arms at your sides, whole arm and back of the hand pressed to the wall. Slowly raise your arms, keeping them pressed to the wall, and lower them in a “snow angel” motion. 
  3. Follow an anti-inflammatory food program – avoid foods that cause inflammation, including fried foods, refined carbohydrates (flour, sugar, etc.), red meat, and processed fats like margarine and shortening. Consume lots of leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, fresh fruits, especially berries and cherries, emphasize fish as a primary protein source, and use high quality olive oil. Your acupuncture provider will be able to give you more specific directions for how to eat best to improve your condition.

Acupuncture Near Me for Shoulder Pain

Art of Wellness Acupuncture & TCM in Santa Monica, California, was recently chosen as one of the top 20 acupuncture clinics in Los Angeles. Our doctors have over 30 years of experience both in China and here in the United States. Dr. Tan is a specialist, with training in both TCM and conventional medicine, in orthopedic, musculoskeletal, neurological, and chronic pain disorders of all kinds. We work in an integrated fashion with your other medical practitioners to help you achieve the best results. If you or someone you know is suffering from shoulder pain, call us at 310-451-5522 to schedule a consultation.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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Acupuncture and TCM for Cancer – Integrative Oncology

By Dr. Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. and Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

acupuncture treatment
acupuncture treatment for cancer support

Until very recently, it seemed cancer was the one illness that had touched everyone’s life in some way. Cancer is the leading cause of death in the world. Almost 40% of the population will be diagnosed with some form of cancer at least once in their lives. We have all lost friends and relatives to this seemingly relentless form of disease. Doctors, scientists, researchers, and organizations have worked tirelessly in recent decades to develop life-saving treatments, and millions of people go on to live full lives as cancer survivors. 

Cancer is a broad term that refers to the unchecked growth of abnormal cells in the body. When the body’s mechanisms for getting rid of old cells begins to break down, these damaged cells begin to divide, in some cases forming masses, or tumors. These types of cancer are usually classified by the organs affected by the tumor, including gynecological cancers such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, and endometrial cancer, as well as prostate cancer in men, lung cancer, cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (pancreatic, stomach, esophageal, colon, rectal), thyroid, brain, spine, bladder, liver, and kidneys. Carcinomas refer to cancers affecting the skin, and sarcomas to cancers affecting the musculoskeletal system. Hematological cancers involve the proliferation of abnormal blood cells, including leukemia, lymphomas and multiple myeloma.

Written records of Traditional Chinese Medicine detection and treatment of cancerous growths go back over 2000 years. In recent decades, TCM has become more recognized as a way to complement and enhance contemporary methods of treating cancer. Integrative Oncology, in which the latest technological and pharmacological advances are combined with Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques and philosophy, forms a holistic way of working with cancer patients.

Cancer Treatment Options

chemotherapy
chemotherapy treatment

Cancer screening is a vital component of modern health care, as early detection offers the best chances for successful treatment. Data show that of the 18 million new cases detected in 2018, 5 million could have been discovered sooner and treated more effectively if we had higher rates of screeningUnfortunately, almost half of colorectal and cervical cancers and a third of breast cancers are not diagnosed until the disease is already in later stages, which makes them harder to treat.

When a cancerous growth is still localized, surgery and/or radiation treatment can remove or destroy much or all of the abnormal growth. When cancer has advanced to a later stage, and cells have spread through the body, then more systemic treatments are used, such as:

  • chemotherapy, which uses cytotoxic drugs to kill tumor cells
  • immunotherapy, a newer type of treatment, uses specifically designed synthetic antibodies to boost the body’s immune system. 
  • targeted therapy seeks to destroy the cancer cells without harming healthy tissues surrounding tumors. 

New treatment options are constantly being researched and tested, giving patients a better chance at stopping the cancer in its tracks.

However, most cancer treatments themselves can cause serious side effects that dramatically impact quality of life. Positive outcomes also vitally depend on a person’s ability to strengthen the body’s immune system while fighting the disease, as well as coping with the severe emotional stresses involved. Research has shown that acupuncture can significantly mitigate side effects of chemotherapy, radiation treatments and other conventional methods of treating cancer. 

Chemotherapy and radiation work by killing cancer cells. As these chemicals do not distinguish between normal and malignant cells, they can also damage surrounding tissues, creating more blockages. The synthetic drugs used also increase toxicity levels within the body. Acupuncture can help increase the production of white blood (immune) cells, detoxify the body and increase energy, so that the cancer can be eradicated, and new, healthy cells can flourish. Acupuncture can also improve sleep and relieve anxiety, so that hope and confidence can outweigh fears and exhaustion.

Acupuncture and TCM can be valuable for cancer patients throughout every stage of treatment, recovery and beyond, not only alleviating the pain and nausea associated with cancer treatments, but also boosting  immune function, relieving anxiety and depression, and even helping to prevent the cancer from coming back.

How Can Acupuncture Help with Cancer Treatment?

white blood cells
TCM can help improve white blood cell count

Acupuncture operates based on the philosophy that the body is powered by Qi – a life force energy – that runs along pathways throughout the body called meridians. Pain and diseases are caused by blockages in these pathways that prevent Qi and nutrient-rich blood from reaching and adequately supplying the organ systems of the body. When the body is balanced and functioning smoothly, the immune system is able to detect and eradicate pathogens on its own. Our bodies do this all the time. While genetic predisposition may increase some people’s cancer risk, the truth is everyone is susceptible to the formation of cancerous cells. When the body is healthy, it can sweep away mutated cells. But when the body is in a weakened state and energies are blocked, cancer cells are able to take hold, multiply, and grow.

Acupuncture can help relieve symptoms caused by the disease itself, as well as the side effects of treatment, including but not limited below:

  • neuropathy 
  • pain
  • nausea/vomiting 
  • dry mouth
  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • depression & anxiety

In addition to providing palliative care for these symptoms, acupuncture treatment works on a deeper level to strengthen Qi, revitalize blood, and restore healthy functioning to the organ systems. The combination of acupuncture treatment to stimulate specific points and herbs to act on chemical/elemental imbalances can approach the root cause of the abnormal cell growth.

Acupuncture for Cancer Treatment Side Effects

acupressure point p6 for nausea
acupressure point P6 helps relieve nausea

The most common side effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy are gastrointestinal in nature. Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea are caused by the medications involved, which may be administered intravenously or by mouth. The extent to which a patient feels nauseated depends on many factors: the location of the cancer being treated in the body, the dosage of the medications, the timing of administration, and a person’s prior susceptibility to nausea and vomiting. Treatment for tumors in the brain, liver, or gastrointestinal tract–such as esophageal, pancreatic, colon, or stomach cancers–is more likely to cause vomiting. Women, in general, are more likely to experience severe nausea. Antiemetic drugs or stomach acid-reducing medication like Esmeprazole can sometimes help with the nausea, but they don’t work in many cases. One controlled study showed that acupuncture given to patients undergoing chemotherapy reduced the duration and frequency of unpleasant gastric upsets. The TCM providers in this case used acupuncture points to reduce spasming of the stomach and intestines, while strengthening liver and spleen function to improve digestion and absorption. The patients given acupuncture ended up spending less time in the hospital.

Using acupressure point PC6, located below the wrist on the inner forearm in between the two tendons, is very effective for controlling nausea. Relief of retching and vomiting helps patients withstand chemotherapy sessions better and helps keep appetite and proper nutrition up.

Another side effect of chemotherapy is neutropenia, or low white blood cell count. This is especially prevalent amongst patients being treated for bone marrow cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. The low level of bacteria-fighting immune cells puts people at higher risk for developing infections during the course of their treatment. A study involving women with ovarian cancer suggested that acupuncture treatment helped patients maintain higher levels of white blood cells and neutrophils. The study also suggested that acupuncture measurably reduced cortisol levels, positively impacting patients’ stress.

Protecting cancer patients from side effects of chemotherapy such as neutropenia and severe nausea allows them to adhere more closely to their treatment programs, which can improve outcomes.

Acupuncture for Late Stage Cancer Pain and Neuropathy

Pain is, unfortunately, the most pervasive symptom experienced by people with cancer, yet this pain is often inadequately treated with analgesics. Recent epidemic-level problems with opiate use mean that doctors and patients are hesitant to use these powerful medications, which can lead to addiction. Acupuncture offers an alternative method for reducing pain naturally, without any additional risks involved. 

Cancer pain can be pathophysiologically caused by tumorous growths themselves causing compression around other tissues and nerves. It can also be caused by secondary tissue damage created by chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, or surgeries. When nerves are damaged, neuropathy pain can result.

To manage all of the different types of pain, patients are often prescribed some combination of acetaminophen, opiates, anti-inflammatories, anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, and antidepressants. All of these can cause serious side effects, and some patients will build up a tolerance to the medications, reducing their efficacy. Some people develop a dependence or addiction.

Pain, as a subjective experience, affects emotional and mental health as much as it does the physical body. Pain can be amplified by the very real fear that it will only get worse or never end. Adequate pain management is vital to keeping a positive frame of mind and hopeful attitude. When pain is reduced, attention and energy can be freed up for increased healing and motivation to maintain healthy behaviors that will improve the chances for recovery and prevent recurrence.

Most people who seek out acupuncture do so for chronic pain conditions. While much of how TCM works is still unproven by scientific study, many research studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective modality for pain relief, such that it is now widely accepted as an adjunct by the medical community. Acupuncture treatment can be used on its own to help alleviate pain, or in addition to pain medications, in which case it will help both to address the pain and to mitigate the side effects of the drugs.

Top 3 Tips for Cancer Prevention

green cruciferous vegetables
Eat plenty of greens & cruciferous veggies

TCM is preventative medicine. It is always best to manage lifestyle for maximum health in order to prevent disease from forming in the first place. While some people are more at risk for developing certain kinds of cancer than others, everyone can benefit from healthy habits that reduce these risks. Regular acupuncture treatments help balance Qi and maintain good flow between the organ systems of the body. But it is up to each individual to eat in such a way that the cells receive abundant nutrient-rich blood, to avoid toxins whenever possible, and to move the body frequently and with intention.

  1. Green tea contains chemicals called polyphenols, especially EGCG. These antioxidants inhibit the kind of cell damage that leads to cancer growth. Green tea has less caffeine than coffee or black tea, and can be drunk throughout the day.
  2. Exercise – Many studies have shown that increased physical activity reduces the risks of specific types of cancer, such as: pancreatic, endometrial, breast, colon cancer, esophageal, kidney, and stomach cancer. Exercise prevents cancerous growth by helping to regulate hormone levels, preventing high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and obesity, and reducing inflammation throughout the body.
  3. Healthy diet – A well-rounded food program lowers the risk of cancer. Focus on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to help fight cancer. Other fish that can help reduce the risk of endometrial cancer in women include halibut, sardines and tuna. Cruciferous vegetables are especially full of nutrients and fiber. Included in this family of vegetables are broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy. Cruciferous vegetables are high potent anti-cancer phytochemicals. Studies have shown that this vegetable group has the ability to stop the growth of cancer cells for tumors in the breast, uterine lining, lung, colon, liver, and cervix. And studies that track the diets of people over time have found that diets high in cruciferous vegetables are linked to lower rates of prostate cancer. Eat fruits and  vegetables raw or only lightly steamed so they retain their cancer fighting phytochemicals. Go for at least one of these greens on a daily basis: arugula, beet greens, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, Napa cabbage, collard greens, daikon, rutabaga, chard, watercress, pea shoots, spinach.

Acupuncture Near Me for Cancer Support

Acupuncture provides palliative care for the many intense discomforts of cancer and cancer treatment. But TCM goes beyond pain relief. Regular acupuncture treatments combined with lifestyle changes can improve patients’ ability to defeat cancer now, and to prevent cancers in the future.

When you or a loved one is fighting cancer, building a team of doctors who will work together to provide integrative health care can increase the chances of survival and recovery.

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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How to Treat Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) With Acupuncture and TCM

By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

abdominal pain PCOS
PCOS causes irregular and painful periods.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition that affects 10-20% of women during their reproductive years. PCOS is also one of the most prevalent causes of infertility among women. The primary problems of PCOS are hormonal imbalances and dysfunction of the ovaries. Women with PCOS have irregular or missing periods, anovulatory menstrual cycles, and elevated androgen and/or testosterone levels. 

Medical interventions for PCOS often involve using birth control pills to stimulate regular menses, but this treatment does not address the issue at its source. Additionally, many women struggling with PCOS are actively trying to get pregnant, so contraceptive medications are not useful in these cases. TCM and acupuncture are able to help resolve many women’s health problems, including PCOS and the resulting infertility, restoring normal function to the female reproductive system without the side effects that medications can cause.

What Is PCOS?

PCOS is a syndrome, which means it is a collection of symptoms that occur together and help to define a disease even though its medical causes are not completely understood yet.

Most women with PCOS ovulate infrequently or not at all. Women with PCOS also might experience:

  • Irregular Periods
  • Heavy and/or painful periods
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity
  • Excess hair on body and face (hirsutism)
  • Thinning hair on head
  • Acne, oily skin

PCOS is considered a disorder of both the reproductive and endocrine systems. The majority of women with PCOS also exhibit hyperandrogenemia – an excess amount of androgen hormones. In many cases, this condition starts early, when a girl is going through puberty. The problems begin to manifest shortly after a girl gets her first period (menarche).

Androgens are commonly referred to as the “male” sex hormones, although they naturally occur in both men and women, just in differing amounts. The primary androgens are testosterone and androstenedione. In women, androgens are produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands, whereas in men they are produced in the testes, usually in larger quantities. Hyperandrogenemia can be helped by weight loss, because adipose tissue (fat) itself is hormonally active, meaning the fat cells themselves also produce excess androgens.

Insulin resistance is also widespread among women with PCOS; about 85% of women with PCOS are insulin resistant, causing them to be at risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Sometimes women are prescribed Metformin to lower insulin and blood sugar levels.

PCOS Diagnosis

polycystic ovaries
polycystic ovaries

PCOS often goes undiagnosed for years. In many cases, women do not find out they have it until they are trying to get pregnant and then seek help for infertility. For most women, PCOS causes irregular periods. In these cases, women may go months without having a period, and then have a very heavy, painful period. Often, PCOS begins when girls are teens, and this condition causes them to struggle with being overweight, prone to getting pimples, and having extreme period pain (dysmenorrhea) and heavy periods that can cause embarrassing accidents. Girls may not realize that their experience is not normal, and may not talk to anyone about it. When they do seek help, they are usually prescribed birth control pills. 

Birth control pills “regulate” the menstrual hormone cycle, causing a period to predictably start every 28 days. This use of contraceptives to “correct” menstrual problems and help clear acne during the teenage years leads to the masking of PCOS for many years–often until a woman is well into adulthood and ready to conceive. Then, when the birth control is stopped, the PCOS symptoms appear, which generally means that regular periods stop.

At this point, a firm diagnosis of PCOS is often reached after an internal ultrasound reveals the phenomenon which gives the syndrome its name: multiple small cysts forming around the edges of the ovaries. These fluid-filled bubbles, only a few millimeters in diameter, are partially formed eggs that have not been released. These cysts do not in and of themselves cause problems. Blood tests are done to find the high levels of androgens (testosterone) and also to measure the hormones involved in egg production and release. Women with PCOS often have higher levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), which triggers ovulation. The ratio of LH to FSH (follicle stimulation hormone) is higher in women with PCOS.

Conventional medicine provides the means to pinpoint the manifestations of PCOS in the body, hormonally and physically, but it does not offer much in the way of causal understanding or effective treatment. 

TCM Perspective of PCOS

5 elements of TCM
5 Elements in TCM

Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the concepts of Qi, life force energy that travels through the body along meridians, and the balanced energies of Yin and Yang. Elemental pathogenic factors such as Wind/Cold, Dampness, Fire/Heat and Dryness come into play.  Disease is created by either external or internal factors and can be discovered through diagnostic techniques of observation, inquiry, and palpation. 

In a sense, TCM looks at all diseases as “syndromes.” In TCM, we do not look for one single cause of the symptom for which the patient is seeking relief. We look for other signs and symptoms that the patient may not have realized were related. We study the whole collection of indications and look for a pattern. An illness can be the result of any one of several different patterns.

When working with a patient who is experiencing reproductive and hormonal problems, a TCM provider will take into consideration the lab results of blood tests showing hormone levels, but will also be looking for clues as to what is happening throughout the organ systems of the body. In TCM,  PCOS is categorized as a “Zheng Jia” diagnosis. Zheng Jia means “masses” (tumors), and includes uterine fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and even reproductive cancers.

Internal factors are at the root of PCOS and other Zheng Jia disorders. Most clinical manifestations of PCOS arise from patterns of too much Dampness and Phlegm in the reproductive organs, which is what causes the fluid-filled cysts to form. This excess dampness is also what causes weight gain. Kidney deficiency contributes to the imbalances in hormone production. Blood deficiency causes absent or scanty periods, while blood stasis leads to painful periods.

Acupuncture and TCM for PCOS and Hormonal Imbalance in Women

Standard medical treatment for PCOS and infertility in women involves using medications to alter hormone levels: either OCP to regulate periods, Metformin to lower insulin, or Clomid or Letrozole to stimulate ovulation.

Acupuncture and TCM treatment for PCOS focuses on clearing excess dampness and phlegm from the uterus and other female reproductive organs, tonifying and nourishing the kidneys, invigorating the blood and clearing blood stasis. Electro-acupuncture has been shown to help facilitate natural ovulation.

A TCM provider will also focus on lifestyle and nutrition changes that will help alter the internal factors involved. Tracking basal body temperature can help both doctor and patient understand what is going on during the follicular and luteal phases of the menstrual cycle in each individual. Specially chosen combinations of herbs can be very helpful for making the subtle adjustments needed to normalize the hormones, increasing blood flow, and even balancing the emotions. 

PCOS and Endometriosis

Endometriosis is another common women’s health problem in which uterine lining tissue begins growing outside of the uterus. It is estimated that about 10% of reproductive-age women have endometriosis, although we cannot be sure because, like PCOS, endometriosis is also often undiagnosed. It is not uncommon for women to have both conditions. When women with endometriosis have a menstrual period, there can also be bleeding in other parts of the abdomen. This can cause severe pain and create a lot of scar tissue in the pelvic region. Sometimes surgery is recommended to remove this scar tissue. This can help alleviate pain and increase the chances of conception, but it does not address the root problem, so the bleeding often recurs. Like PCOS, endometriosis can be a cause of infertility, making the use of birth control pills to control the hormones far from ideal. 

According to TCM, endometriosis and PCOS are both Zheng Jia disorders; they are part and parcel of the same root problem. An acupuncturist can help correct both of these disorders, and the related infertility, all at the same time.

Integrative Medicine for PCOS and Infertility in Women

TCM has been using acupuncture and herbs to help women’s reproductive disorders and increase fertility for many centuries. In the past few decades, it has become increasingly common for patients to seek out acupuncture to help address infertility due to PCOS, both on its own and as an adjunct to Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). Studies have shown that acupuncture and herbal supplementation used in concert with infertility procedures such as Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) improve outcomes. Acupuncture treatment also helps to reduce the pain and anxiety many women experience while undergoing ART procedures.

Top 5 Self-Care Tips for PCOS

icy drink and cold foods
icy cold drinks and foods are not beneficial

One of the main internal factors causing the excess dampness and stasis of PCOS is too much cold in the body. Maintaining your warm energy is key. Habits like drinking ice cold beverages and eating ice cream, especially around the menstrual period, can really have a negative impact. It may seem old-fashioned, but a lot of the advice we associate with our grandmothers’ time still applies today. 

  1. Dress appropriately for potentially chilly weather. Always bring your jacket with you.
  2. Avoid exercising to the point of sweating and then allowing yourself to get chilled. Change into dry clothes right after your workout.
  3. Keep the abdomen covered and warm. 
  4. Don’t wear sandals or go barefoot when it is cold outside.
  5. Don’t go to bed with wet hair. 

Acupuncture Near Me for PCOS

At Art of Wellness, our doctors have over 30 years of experience in the successful management of women’s health issues, including PCOS and infertility. In China, Dr. Cai practiced and taught at Chengdu University’s TCM Hospital as a gynecologist. During a two-year period of specialty training, she had the opportunity to study and work with some of China’s foremost experts, pioneers in integrative medicine for reproductive health.

Since 1997, Drs. Cai and Tan have brought their unique experience to Santa Monica and Los Angeles. Their knowledge of both Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine allows them to recommend, when necessary, a mixture of medical modalities and to advise whatever course of treatment is most beneficial for each patient.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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How to Get Rid of Neck Pain With Acupuncture and TCM

By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

acupuncture treats neck pain
Neck pain relief with acupuncture and TCM

Neck pain, or pain that occurs or originates in the cervical spine, is a common complaint among people of all ages. Neck strain due to everyday repetitive motions, posture while working on the computer, or an odd sleeping position is something everyone can relate to. Acute neck pain or whiplash can be caused by an injury, like a sudden fall or car crash. Chronic neck pain arises because of any one of a number of degenerative disorders affecting the upper seven discs of the spinal column. Acupuncture and other TCM treatments for neck pain and other musculoskeletal disorders have been shown to be highly effective for relief of pain and stiff neck.

A sore neck can come on quite suddenly, or it can slowly develop over months or even years. The nature and exact location of neck pain can vary widely: neck strain, spasms, neck pain and headache, neck pain right side, along one side or both sides of shoulder blade, neck pain that refers to arm/hand pain/tingling/numbness, or pain in back of head and neck. Signs and symptoms associated with neck pain may include: stiffness, immobility, general soreness, sharp, stabbing pains, and pain that radiates into the shoulder and down the arm.

Neck pain can be debilitating and get in the way of daily activities. When people seek medical care for neck pain, doctors often find it difficult to pinpoint the exact source of the stiffness and discomfort. Generally, patients are prescribed pain medications and muscle relaxers to alleviate soreness and restore some mobility until the situation resolves itself. This does not address the root cause, however, and the pain may return or worsen. In some cases, patients might be referred to PT (physical therapy) and/or a chiropractor to help strengthen the muscles, or adjust structure, and relearn habituated movement patterns.

Acupuncture provides relief of neck pain and tightness  without habit-forming drugs that can cause unwanted side effects. We see many people who have tried PT and even surgery to treat neck pain but are still suffering, looking for an alternative method to address their symptoms.

In this article, we will discuss neck anatomy, how TCM views neck problems, how to treat neck pain with acupuncture, and offer some neck strengthening exercises you can do at home to help alleviate pain without side effects.

TCM View of Neck Pain and Diseases of the Cervical Spine

the cervical spine or neck bones
Vertebrae of the cervical spine

The neck has a big load to carry, and yet it is, in fact, the most delicate and potentially the weakest portion of the body because it connects the head to the trunk with only seven relatively small vertebrae. 

The average adult’s head weighs between ten and fifteen pounds. The head, housing the brain, is arguably the most important part of the body. Many nerves and blood vessels that support fundamental functions within the head run to the rest of the body through the narrow pathway of the neck. The neck anatomy must structurally support the skull and safely house all of these crucial tissues. 

The seven vertebrae that comprise the cervical spine support the major arteries that nourish the brain and all of the other important organs of the head. Bundles of nerves that send communications from the brain to the rest of the body also run along the spinal column. If the blood vessels or nerves that run through the cervical spine get twisted or blocked, it can cause compression that affects the ears, eyes, and mouth. Sometimes people may not realize that problems such as blurry vision, a burning sensation in the mouth, high or low blood pressure, tingling in the arms, tinnitus, dizziness, and headaches can all be due to deeper neck problems related to the blockage of nerve impulses or blood flow to the head.

Neck pain and headache are often signs of something deeper going on. Pain in the side of the neck and sore neck muscles are a signal to pay attention to the health of the spine.

  • Nerve compression – causing sensations of pain, tingling,or numbness in the neck, shoulder or arm, decreased mobility, stiffness, muscles atrophied or spasming, can cause radiating neck and shoulder pain.
  • Artery blockage – constricting blood flow, affects the sensory organs of the head, causing dizziness, lack of balance, pressure in the head, eyes fatigue, hearing loss, tinnitus.
  • Spinal cord damage – a serious injury, such as from a car accident or fall from a horse can permanently damage the spinal cord, sometimes causing partial or total paralysis.
  • Bones/Joints – the vertebra is a long series of fine joints; these can degrade over time, the bones becoming misshapen, discs becoming enlarged or calcified or bulging.
  • Soft tissue – the muscles supporting the cervical spine weaken, sometimes due to injury or posture. The ligaments thicken and stiffen. Over time, the alignment of the spine is compromised. 
muscles of the neck
Muscles of the neck

Pain in the muscles of the neck can be due to old injuries, the aftermath of working out or playing sports. Repetitive motions at work – lifting objects, bending the head forward, looking down or to one side constantly – can cause stiff neck pain, tightness, and tenderness. As we age, the muscles simply become fatigued more easily. Rest can help these mechanical problems, but lack of use can also cause more stiffness. 

Facet joint syndrome occurs when the small joints of the spinal column become stiff and swollen due to inflammation. We see this condition even among young adults and teenagers. Facet joint syndrome causes a significant lack of mobility, making it hard to turn the head, get up and down from a seat, or stand without hunching forward.

Bulging discs are a chronic condition, while herniated discs are usually caused by a sudden injury to the spine.

Anterior oblique muscle syndrome typically presents with shallow breathing, emotional, a hard time turning the head, pain gets worse if the arm goes up, accompanied by numbness or tingling in the arm. 

Neck pain, then, can be a symptom of any number of problems related to the neck and spine. This is why it can be so difficult for medical doctors, even with the use of advanced diagnostic testing and equipment, to determine the exact cause of the pain. 

How Acupuncture Treats Neck Pain

free from neck pain
Acupuncture and TCM can restore freedom of movement in the neck.

TCM views all health problems holistically. A qualified acupuncturist can not only treat the symptoms of neck pain and stiffness, often providing relief of sore neck and muscle spasm in neck, but will carefully consider the whole picture of symptoms and lifestyle habits that are contributing factors. A TCM practitioner will look for the root cause of neck pain and address that, so that the pain does not return again and again. An acute condition that involves neck strain and soft tissue injury will be treated differently than a chronic condition related to the vertebrae and discs.

Patients who are new to acupuncture may be surprised when their practitioner begins inserting needles, and none of them are going into the area that hurts–in this case, the neck. But acupuncture often does not work in such a direct way. To treat neck pain, a qualified acupuncturist might be working on points in the abdomen that reduce inflammation throughout the body while strengthening Qi and Yang energy.

Acupuncture treatment is sometimes enhanced by the additional use of electrical stimulation. Wide-ranging studies have shown that many people feel an immediate improvement after the very first session, with even more significant positive effects on pain and mobility accumulating after several treatments.Other TCM modalities can also be incorporated into the treatment regimen, especially forms of therapeutic massage such as Tuina, Gua Sha, Moxibustion (burning of warming herbs near acupuncture points), and Cupping (use of glass cups to create suction) may also be used to help move stagnant Qi and blood.

Acupuncture is safe, natural and has no such side effects—unlike many of the medications often used to treat pain.

TCM Herbs for Chronic Neck Pain

Chronic neck pain conditions involving radicular (radiating pain) symptoms can be alleviated by the use of specific Chinese herbal formulae. Chinese herbs, both in oral and topical formulations, have been shown in some study to be better at relieving neck pain stemming from degenerative disc disorders or cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerves or nerve damage) than NSAID type medications. Topical pain relievers such as liniment (woodlock, or Huo Luo oil) or analgesic patches can be very effective for pain relief, with no or less side effects.

Top 5 Tips for Neck Pain Relief  

Besides acupuncture treatment, you can also get some stiff neck relief by improving your posture, sleeping position and by practicing neck pain exercises. Here are some of the best neck pain remedies you can achieve through self care at home.

  1. Acupressure Points for Neck Pain – Luo Zhen is located in the hollow on the back of the hand between the second and third knuckles. Effective for sore neck and whiplash. Gently move the head and neck to determine which side is more stiff and painful. Choose that hand, then apply gentle pressure, making small circles, pressing deeper into the tenderness, for a few minutes. Check again for improved mobility. Repeat on the other hand if necessary. GB21 – Gall Bladder meridian point, for neck pain, shoulder tension, headaches, located on the shoulder. Find by moving your finger lightly from your shoulder towards your neck until it stops and then pressing down where it is most tender.

    Luo Zhen acupressure point
    Luo Zhen point for neck pain relief
  2. Improve Your Posture – The muscles of the neck must work in tandem to hold the head steady as it bends and turns in all directions. When the head is bent forward at a 45 degree angle, as it so often is these days as you look down at your devices for hours at a time, the strain of carrying the weight is increased dramatically. You may not be able to get away from this problem entirely, but becoming aware of the way you sit, stand, and tilt your head downward can help improve the situation. Set up your desk with the best ergonomics you can manage, ensuring that your screen is level with your eyes. Try holding your phone higher when scrolling. Take breaks often; look up, and gently stretch the neck to release tension.
  3. Exercise to Stretch and Strengthen the Neck Muscles – Flex your neck to point of gentle tension in each direction: first bending the head all the way down and forward, then all the way back (not so far as to cause discomfort), then tilting to the right side and the left side. Hold in each position for five breaths. This will help stretch the neck muscles and improve your range of motion. After you’ve been sitting at your desk for a while, take and break, stand up, clasp your hands behind your back and look over each shoulder toward your heel.
  4. Best Way to Sleep with Neck Pain – The correct positioning of the head and neck during your night’s sleep is key to preventing neck pain. It’s best to sleep either on your back or side. Sleeping on your belly forces your head to turn one way or another. Most important is making sure that the neck is supported by your pillow. People often prop the head up too high on multiple pillows. If you sleep on your back, you might want to use a roll-shaped cushion under your neck and then a flatter pillow under your head. Pillows that conform to the shape of the neck and head can work well for side sleepers; you might choose a feather or buckwheat-filled pillow, or one made of memory foam. Aside from positioning, the ability to get a good night’s rest is vital for healing and preventing all types of musculoskeletal pain and inflammation. If you are having trouble sleeping, your acupuncturist may help with that at the same time as treating neck pain.
  5. Stay Hydrated – The cartilaginous discs in the spine are made up of 80% water. As we age, we tend to lose precious water from the discs, which can contribute to Cervical disc degeneration. Drink plenty of body-temperature water throughout the day.

Pain Clinic Near Me for Neck Pain

Even though some neck pain conditions may resolve themselves, it is best to seek treatment for acute neck pain after an injury right away before it becomes something more serious. If neck pain is recurrent or chronic, don’t suffer any longer. Find the best acupuncture near me to get neck pain relief and resolve the long-standing issues that are causing your sore neck once and for all.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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