Acupressure

How to Treat Lower Back Pain with TCM and Acupuncture

Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain can feel like a real burden.

by Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.d.

That sudden, scary sensation of pulling in your lower back that lets you know you’re in for more pain later. The nagging, daily ache that develops over time. Lower back pain can really feel like a burden, holding you back from enjoying your life. If you are searching for how to reduce low back pain,  Acupuncture and TCM can provide real relief.

Pain in the lower back is one of the most common complaints heard by healthcare practitioners. The vast majority (80%) of adults experience at least one episode of low back pain at some point in their lives. For some people, lower back pain becomes a chronic condition. It is the second most common cause of disability among adults in the United States.

This article will address the types and common causes of lower back pain, how to treat low back pain with acupuncture and TCM, and eight excellent suggestions for ways you can reduce low back pain and prevent flare-ups with lifestyle change and self care.

 

How to Treat Lower Back Pain – A Common but Complicated Condition

Lower back pain presents a challenge for physicians, because in many cases, there is no clearly discernible cause. Imaging scans may help us get a picture of structural damage to the spine, but they do not tell us the whole story. Pain is not just about structural or mechanical problems in the body. The problem may be mechanical, but it may also be chemical, emotional, behavioral, sociological, or a combination of any of these.

The American College of Physicians has just recently issued new guidelines regarding the treatment of lower back pain specifically advocating that doctors and patients first choose natural and alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and massage, over pain medications.

Dr. Tan treats back pain
Dr. Tan’s healing hands

Acupuncture does not only address the immediate source of pain. TCM treats the whole person. An acupuncturist will study the different factors of each patient’s unique presentation of symptoms in making a diagnosis and designing a course of treatment. This will include not only acupuncture, but herbal formulae to support the healing of the body, and specific exercise and nutrition advice to strengthen the whole body from the inside. Lower back pain can take its toll on a person’s psychological outlook. Stress and depression can turn an acute problem into a chronic one. Treating the underlying causes of an acute condition can prevent it from becoming recurrent or chronic.

 

Types of Lower Back Pain

Most patients experience a generalized, nonspecific kind of lower back pain. These may be related to muscle strain or stiffness, repetitive movements or unfavorable sitting or sleeping positioning. Other conditions are based on specific injuries or pathologies. Some types of pain, such as sciatica, are rooted in the nerves, possibly due to pinching or other damage. Sometimes the sensation is more like tingling or numbness than fiery pain.

In over 30 years of practice in treating all different types of lower back pain, we have often seen patients who had only minor structural problems but were experiencing severe pain. Many patients who have had surgery to correct a problem; their scans may show that the problem has been “fixed”–but they are still in a lot of pain. In other words, a person’s experience of pain or loss of mobility may not correspond to what we see in an image. 

Common conditions leading to back pain include (but are not limited to):

  • Degenerated disc
  • Bulging or herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spondylolisthesis (slipped disc)
  • Spinal scoliosis
  • Arthritis
  • Muscle strain
  • Muscle spasm
  • Pinched nerves
  • Nerve damage
  • Kidney stones or gallstones
  • Digestive issues (constipation
Lower Back Stretches
Lower back stretch

Eight Tips for Self Care to Reduce and Prevent Lower Back Pain

With TCM, we aim for long-term, lasting results. At the same time, we guide the patient in vital lifestyle improvements, such as regular de-stress meditation, gentle exercise such as Tai Chi or yoga, and an anti-inflammatory diet.  

Here are some specific things you can do at home to help enhance the effects of acupuncture treatment and reduce lower back pain:

  1. Moderate exercise: walk, swim, Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates, and gentle stretching. It might be tempting to spend a lot of time in bed when you have back pain, but in most cases, lack of movement does more harm than good.
  2. Avoid lifting anything heavy; always remember to bend from the knees and not from the back when lifting any kind of weight. Forward bends as part of an exercise routine can also be aggravating.
  3. Weight control
  4. Anti-Inflammatory Diet: avoid coffee, spicy foods, nightshade vegetables (tomato, potato, eggplant and bell pepper). For more anti-inflammation information , read How to reduce and prevent inflammation 

    Lower Back Strengthening
    Strengthen the lower back
  5. Change posture during your work, move around for a few minutes every hour, at least.
  6. Cold and Heat: Use a cold compress for the first three days if there is an acute injury or any time right after exercise. Use heat 3-5 times per day for chronic pain.
  7. Make sure your mattress is medium firmness and comfortable.
  8. Do stretches and gentle strengthening exercises specifically for the lower back. Also work on strengthening all the core muscles. Remember that the lower part of the spine is actually in the center of the body. Using the abdominal muscles to help you move and lift things takes the strain off of the back muscles.

Acupressure for Low Back Pain

Using your opposite thumb or forefinger, locate the crevice between the bones of your 4th and 5th finger, just beneath the knuckles. Press deeply until you feel tenderness there. Hold the pressure while you gently but vigorously move and stretch your lower spine and hips. Then, drag your thumb or finger down, finding another crevice just above the base where the 4th and 5th metacarpal bones meet. Apply pressure, again, while wiggling and turning from the lower back. This will help release tension and tightness and relieve pain.

 

What Do I Do If the Above Does Not Work?

Acupressure Points for Lower Back Pain
Press between the fourth and fifth fingers, beneath the knuckle

If you are in pain, and nothing has helped, you may be wondering how to find acupuncture near me. Look for an acupuncturist who is board certified in your state. A good acupuncturist is highly trained and has experience in integrative medicine, so that they can work with your primary physician if needed. At Art of Wellness, we suggest a first appointment should include an in-depth consultation and exam. Usually an acupuncturist will recommend a course of treatment that include sessions two or three times per week for the first few weeks, then will reevaluate to keep track of progress and improvement. Look for a place where you feel comfortable, listened to, and able to relax. Your acupuncturist will make recommendations for TCM herbal formulae and dietary changes that will help your condition. These may seem difficult to follow at first, but they will help your body heal better and more quickly. New healthy habits can help prevent your lower back pain from coming back.

 

 

How to Sleep Better with Acupuncture and TCM

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

Do you suffer from insomnia or do you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep? Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers many solutions on how to sleep better without sleeping aids. TCM stresses the importance of getting a good night sleep. Chinese medicine has tools such as; exercise, Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, and meditation all which can help you get a good sleep so you can function at the highest potential throughout the day. Below you will read about TCM and the history it provides in regards to sleep and the many tips that can help you get the best sleep tonight.

 

History of Sleep with TCM

Sleep is a part of the interplay of yin and yang: yang energy is dominant when we are awake and active, and yin energy rules sleep. Night is yin; daylight is yang. This is all in keeping with the holistic, universal nature of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) theory. Our bodies are designed to work with the movements of the earth, sun, and moon. When a person experiences insomnia, either hard to fall asleep or wake up often then difficult to fall back to sleep, there is a lack of balance. The body is out of sync with its environment. The yang energy is taking over, or not interplaying with yin appropriately.

Sleeping and Chinese Medicine
Sleeping and Chinese Medicine

In TCM terminology, “Shen” is the spirit, the energy which controls our mental activities and thought. During sleep, Shen “hides” in the organs – predominantly the Heart and the Liver – resting, so that it can function with sharpness during our waking hours. Insomnia, in TCM, is often viewed, then, as a problem of the Heart system, or the Liver system. If one of these major organs is unable to “house” the Shen, then the Shen will wander restlessly, causing sleeplessness.

Protective Qi cycles through the body continuously, but it follows different paths along the meridians at different times of the day and night.  During the day, protective Qi, which fights off pathogens, moves through the yang meridians, and during the night, it flows through the yin meridians. If you find yourself waking up at a particular hour in the middle of the night every night – or feeling sluggish at one particular time every day – it is probably related to some deficiency of Qi in that area.

Between the hours between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m. the liver meridian is actively supplying Qi to the liver system so that it can clean toxins from the blood. Then, between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m., the freshly cleaned blood and energy is being delivered to the organ systems. It is especially important to be sleeping soundly during that time.  The liver does all the heavy lifting of cleaning and detoxifying the blood and therefore, the whole body. If the liver is stinted of its full rest and rejuvenation, night after night, we can be left feeling truly sick and tired.

Sleeplessness may be the central problem for some people; for others, it’s just a part of the big picture. Many people have gone so long without restful sleep that they have become used to it and just consider it their new “normal.” When you come in to Art of Wellness for a visit, our doctors will ask many questions to get a sense of what kind of sleep problems you’re having, including other symptoms that may be related to the same root issue.

  •      Having trouble falling asleep may be related to an excess condition of the liver and/or gall bladder.
  •      Waking easily and then having trouble falling back to sleep may point to a deficiency of the Heart Yin or too much internal heat.
  •      Nightmares may indicate a gall bladder meridian problem, while repetitive, literal dreams (about work, for example) might indicate a heart/spleen problem.

Sleep problems can be related to other conditions, such as depression, menopause in women, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.

 

How to Make Winter A Time of Rest and Renewal

Getting a good night  sleep is always important, but in the Wintertime. Nature and our bodies are really asking us to rest more, and more deeply, than we do during other times of the year.  This is a time for the body to store energy. If we go at a frantic pace, and behave the same way we do in the middle of summer, we will become depleted.

Unfortunately, our current culture does not necessarily support this idea. It seems we are asked to do more and be more than ever during the rush of the winter holiday season. It really is vital to prioritize “doing less” in order to preserve good health.

People with sleep problems seek tips for help. The practices in acupuncture and TCM help you to be calm. Visit the link and read some TCM tips for sleep.

 

Handful of nuts and a small glass of milk before bed
Handful of nuts and a small glass of milk before bed

Top 20 Tips For Creating Calm so That You Can Get A Good Sleep

  1. Choose carefully how many social commitments you make. You don’t have to attend every gathering – only the ones that are meaningful to you. If it feels more like an obligation than fun, make a plan to stop in, extend your greetings, and then leave early. This way, you won’t overeat, drink too much, and you can still get to bed a reasonable hour
  2. Don’t exercise too vigorously close to bedtime. An evening walk, or gentle program of Tai Qi or yoga will help you work out excess energy with stimulating you further
  3. Deep breaking techniques: using you lower abdomen, inhale deeply. Hold it for about 5 seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat ten times. Deep breathing exercises not only relax your mind, but they help to dispel negative Qi from the body before bed
  4. Create an oasis of calm in your bedroom, with good ventilation, restful colors and no devices. Set a time, half an hour to hour before going to bed, when you will discontinue watching TV or looking at your computer and phone. The light stimulus from the screen is not helpful for falling asleep. Reading a book, writing in a journal, coloring in a coloring book, are all activities that help you wind down for the night.
  5. Change your eating habits: many people wake up around 3 AM and find it difficult to fall back asleep. This may be cause by low blood sugar level due to the over activity for the adrenal gland. For a better sleep, try to balance your blood sugar level daily by eating small portions of food about every 3 hours and drinking a glass of warm, low fat milk or eating a handful of nuts—such as raw walnuts or almonds, before bedtime. It helps to balance your blood sugar. Waking up in the middle of the night can be caused by fluctuating insulin levels – the result of too much sugar or alcohol in the evening.
  6. Keep your feet warm by soaking them in hot water for 15-20 minutes before bedtime. Also, massaging the bottom of the feet can help to stimulate key kidney points. Give a good, fast rub to the center of your soles for a few minutes to warm them while getting into bed.
  7. Stimulating acupressure points just before bedtime can be helpful. Use your thumb or fingertip to apply moderate pressure and rotate clockwise for 2-3 minutes.
  8. Shen Men, called the “Spiritual gate” point, releases heart fire, excitement, anger, irritation and anxiety.
  9. Tai Chong, a liver point can help alleviate insomnia due to excessive heat or stagnation in the liver, which can cause feelings of depression, stress, sadness.
  10. Take off any constricting clothing (underwear), and wear loose, comfortable pajamas for bedtime.
  11. There is an old saying: “sleep like the crescent moon.” Sleeping in a fetal position on your right side puts your heart above your liver, which helps drain blood, giving the heart some relief and extra nourishment to the liver. It also helps food move through your digestive system properly.
  12. Keep away from interruptions: Turn off your phone after dinner or keep a note book by your bed. If you keep thinking about sometime important to do, write it down.
  13. Listen to calm and relaxing music
  14. Sleep and wake at the same time every day, yes that includes weekends. Do not stay in bed for too long even when you do not have to go to work. Your body needs to have a regular sleep-wake cycle in order to function at its maximum

    Shen Men Point
    Shen Men Point
  15. Reduce the water temperature for baths and showers: when the water temperature is well about body temperature, your body heat increases. Then when you get out of the water, your body heat decreases. Try to avoid such fluctuation of the body temperature.

    Tai Chong Point
    Tai Chong Point
  16. Keep your bedroom simple and clean: limit the number of electronic devices such as TV’s, computers from your bed room
  17. Do not play video games at night
  18. Obey the 20-minute rule: if you do not successfully fall asleep in twenty minutes, get up and do something else until you feel tired and ready to sleep again.
  19. Waterfall Meditation. In this exercise, imagine yourself at the base of a waterfall. As you breathe in and out, picture the water gently raining down on you, trickling down each route until the tension inside you releases, allowing your entire body to enter a peaceful and relaxed state.
  20. Oneness Meditation. Just as in the Waterfall exercise, picture yourself standing beneath a waterfall. This time, however, instead of relaxing parts of your body one section at a time, allow your entire body to relax simultaneously. Let the image of the water wash away any stress or anxiety that burdens you.

 

If you have tried all of these things are still not sleeping well, please come see us to find the underlying problem. Acupuncture and herbs can help address and correct deeper issues that are affecting your ability to find rest and peace. If you find you are experiencing insomnia or any other sleep disturbance, seek out solutions. Left unaddressed, a sleep problem can become chronic and debilitating. Talk to us, so we can help you pinpoint and fix the problem with lifestyle adjustments, acupuncture treatments, and herbal formulae.

3 Acupressure Points for Low Back Pain

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. continue reading »

Acupuncture: Not Just Needles

Cupping AcupunctureMost people have heard of the field of acupuncture by now, but did you realize the scope of the practice encompasses Chinese medicine, which includes so much more than needles? Let’s explore this ancient therapy.

First of all, the practice of Chinese medicine starts with a diagnosis. The practitioner asks many questions to build a history; this includes the answers to digestion, appetite, diet, sleep patterns, bowel movement urination, pain, lifestyle, and stress level, for example. The acupuncturist will also be noting the voice pitch, hair luster, skin color and tone, as well as posture and mood of the patient and any significant odor. After that, there is a pulse and tongue analysis to determine where the pattern and root are, primarily. Finally, blood pressure is measured and other applicable tests done, including palpation of the body. After this history, a diagnosis and treatment plan is determined. What might be included in this plan? continue reading »