Acupuncture

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.

 

 

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How to Treat Headaches with Acupuncture and TCM

Chronic headaches can disrupt your life
Chronic headaches can disrupt your life

Headaches are extremely common. Virtually everyone gets a headache occasionally. But many people experience chronic and/or severe headaches that regularly disrupt their lives. With acupuncture and TCM, it is possible to get to the root cause of your headache without relying on pain medications that only mask the problem and can cause side effects.

The first U.S. survey study to examine the prevalence of different types of headaches showed that about 4% of the general population suffers from chronic headaches (defined as experiencing headaches about 180 days per year – or half the time). Half of those surveyed demonstrated characteristics of tension-type headaches, while roughly a third met the criteria for migraines.

In fact, headaches are one of the conditions most commonly seen in acupuncture clinics today. TCM doctors using acupuncture can offer relief headache without the side effects that prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause.

Headaches that can be treated with acupuncture include migraines, tension headaches, headaches occurring around the menstrual cycle, sinus headaches and stress-related headaches.

In this article, we will analyze the various types of headaches and their causes, discuss how they can be treated with acupuncture and TCM, demonstrate scientific evidence of the efficacy of those treatments, and offer some great tips for how you can prevent and manage headache pain with lifestyle modifications.

 

Seven Types of Headaches

Points for headaches
Acupressure can help relieve the pain

When treating with acupuncture, headaches are often classified by their location. This is only a broad guideline which needs to be further refined and integrated into the treatment for each individual, but this shows meridians and patterns that affect each area of the head.

  1. Top of Head: liver Meridian (Liver Blood Deficiency, Liver yang Rising)
  2. Sides of Head: Gall-Bladder Meridian (Liver-yang, Liver-Fire or Liver wind Rising)
  3. One Side Only: Gall-Bladder Meridian (Liver-Yang or Liver-Fire Rising)
  4. Temples: Gall-Bladder Meridian (Liver-Yang, Liver-Fire or Liver Wind Rising)
  5. Behind the Eyes: Liver Meridian (Liver Blood Deficiency, Liver Yang Rising)
  6. Forehead: Stomach Meridian (Stomach Deficiency or Stomach-Heat)
  7. Whole Head: Kidney-Essence Deficiency or External Wind 

Many variables are taken into consideration in order to properly diagnose and successfully treat headaches. Each individual is treated differently depending on their unique symptoms.  

Some of the factors that will determine what acupuncture points and other treatment techniques are used include: what triggers the headache; the location, frequency and intensity of the headaches; the quality of the pain; the time of day that they occur, what helps the headaches and what makes them worse.

 

What Causes a Headache?

Sleep position is important
Your sleeping position can trigger a headache

A patient’s answers to the questions above help the TCM practitioner decide whether the headache stems from internal factors–such as emotions, hormone imbalance, lack of sleep or nutrition–or from external factors–such as toxins in the environment, or pinching in the neck due to pillow positioning. The presenting symptoms, quality and location of the pain, also help to clarify whether there is a deficiency (tiredness) or an excess (feelings of anger). Often, there is a combination of various contributing factors, and the practitioner tailors the treatment to address them in concert. 

 

 

Acupuncture and TCM Herbs for Headaches

Once the practitioner has determined the root causes of the headache, she will choose a combination of points to stimulate with acupuncture treatment. Many migraine headaches are associated with the liver, for example, so points might be chosen to cool yang fire in the liver. Tension-type headaches may be related to tension in the neck and shoulders, so the acupuncturist will work to release blockages in those areas. Usually, patients are encouraged to get two treatments per week for eight weeks. 

Systematic reviews published by Cochrane in which the results of several scientific trials were consolidated demonstrate that acupuncture is an effective treatment for prevention and relief of 

Acupuncture point LI4
Acupuncture for treating headaches

both tension-type headaches and migraines. They showed that patients receiving acupuncture treatment had on average about half as many headaches as those patients not receiving acupuncture. The results were also long-term, lasting for months beyond the cycle of treatment.

In addition to acupuncture treatment, the practitioner will likely recommend an herbal formulation that will address the patient’s specific needs. The daily use of the herb formula works to regulate the qi, balance yin and yang energies in the body, clear blockages and disperse stagnation. Studies have shown that consistent use of herbs over a period of several weeks can help significantly reduce headache pain.

 

Eight Self-Care Practices for Headache Prevention

Healthy habits can help prevent or reduce the frequency and severity of headaches. Focus on what you can do to “get ahead” of your headaches.

  1. Nutrition – Eat meals and snacks at regular times (every 3 hours or so) to maintain steady blood sugar levels. Avoid foods and drinks that are known to trigger headache attacks, including: processed meats, aged cheese, alcohol, and items sweetened with aspartame. Dehydration is a common cause of headaches; be sure to drink plenty of pure water throughout the day in addition to other liquids.
  2. Sleep – Establish and maintain a regular sleeping schedule – rising and retiring at about the same time each day – including weekends and vacations. Sleep needs vary from person to person; figure out how much is optimal for you, and then strive for that nightly.
  3. Stress – Stress is one of the most common headache and migraine triggers. Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your daily life. Set firm boundaries about taking on extra commitments, set aside time for meditation or other quiet activities that help you unwind and focus, such as knitting, reading, cooking – whatever brings you peace. Avoid screen time in the hour or two before bed, and establish a grounding morning routine that you practice before looking at email and rushing to get somewhere.
  4. Activity – Cardiovascular exercise stimulates the body to release endorphins, which are brain chemicals that improve mood and relieve stress. Walking or hiking in nature is a great choice. Gentle stretching exercises such as yoga can help you become aware of tensions and release them. Massage is also helpful.
  5. Acupressure pointsFor tension type headaches, try a pressure point called “Large Intestine 4.”  This point is located between the thumb and forefinger. Apply firm pressure, squeezing deeply into the webbing there.

    Acupressure point LI4
    Acupressure point LI4
  6. Headache Diary – Keep a diary of when your headaches occur, along with any triggers, and share the information with your healthcare provider.
  7. See your healthcare provider – Make an appointment with your healthcare provider to specifically discuss your headache.
  8. Be a partner in your headache care – Be informed, be a participant in your treatment and be an advocate for your headache care.

Don’t let chronic headaches keep interfering with your life. Talk to your TCM provider, and get started on a treatment regimen that will help you live more days headache-free. 

For more information, see our previous article about different types of headaches and triggers and this article about how acupuncture can treat migraines.

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Five Self Care Tips for Winter

Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that humans should live in harmony with the seasons. According to traditional Chinese medicine there are five seasons: winter, spring, summer, late summer and fall. Each season has many associations that help us change our habits, allowing for a more balanced mind and body. When these systems were being developed, people were living in harmony with nature. People rose with the sun, ate what was available during the different seasons and they were much more aware of their natural environment. What to wear, when to wake up, when to go to sleep and what activities to engage in were all dependent on the weather and the environment. Because of this, people were capable of staying healthy throughout the year and their immune and organ systems were strong enough to ward off disease. continue reading »

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Acupuncture for Kids

Most kids, as well as a lot of adults, are afraid of needles. So the pairing of acupuncture and kids might not be an obvious one. However, more and more parents are seeking alternative methods of treatment for their children, because our conventional medical system is faltering a bit. Pharmaceuticals are proving to be more harmful than beneficial for many people, especially kids, whose brains and bodies aren’t yet fully developed. continue reading »

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What is Multiple Sclerosis and How to Manage MS with TCM & Acupuncture

Multiples Sclerosis is autoimmune disease,  Traditional Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture are very helpful to improve these condition.

 

Rocks Balanced Traditional Chinese Medicine
Rocks Balanced

 

Dr.Tan’s Case and Testimony

 

Mr. M- a healthy 50-year old Caucasian gentleman—first visited my office Art of Wellness Acupuncture a few years ago. As an attorney, he had been working very hard to support his two daughters, who were both in college. About four months ago, the onset of serve lower back pain along with tingling in his left leg changed his life completely. He saw several doctors, had a number of x-rays and an MRI which revealed a moderate bulging disk on L4-L5. He tried different pain pills, NSAIDs, and underwent three months of physical therapy, none of which had helped. Recently, he had been experiencing numbness and weakness in his left leg, and was suffering from depression due to his inability to carry on with daily work and regular activities. When he talked to me, I noticed that he constantly rubbed his eyes. I asked if he felt any abnormalities in his vision. He answered yes, and that he had periodic occurrences of blurred vision. When I suggested that he showed me how he walks, I noticed his poor balance. He tended to fall on his left side because his left leg did not seem to follow his motion. Then I checked his knee and ankle reflex and found that they were excessively active. I was almost certain that the condition that made him suffer so much in the last few months was not a simple bulging disk or sciatica; it was a disorder of the central nervous system-Multiple Sclerosis. Immediately, referred him to a neurologist and suggested that he have a brain and cervical MRI. Two weeks later, he came back to my office with a confirmed diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.

Mr. M. is just one of 200 patients who are diagnosed with MS every week in the United States. There are about 400,000 people in the U.S. and 2.5 million patients who are suffering from this disease in the world.

 

Cause of MS

MS is an autoimmune disease in which infections or environmental changes can confuse the body’s defense system. Sometimes a foreign antigen mimics a group of the body’s own proteins. When the immune system response by mounting an attack against these foreign invaders, it inadvertently destroys the foreign antigen along with any similar antigens, including the body’s own tissues.

 

A recent study shows that a virus called adenovirus type 2 looks remarkably similar to the composition of the protective covering around the spinal cord and parts of the brain—the myelin sheath cells. The attacks of the immune system of this virus along with the mistaken attack on the myelin sheath is believed to be the ultimate cause of multiple sclerosis。

 

Common symptoms of MS

  1. numbness or tingling, usually in the leg or arm
  2. muscle weakness
  3. dizziness
  4. spasticity
  5. pain (moderate to severe)

    Neuron surrounded by mylin sheath near brain
    Neuron surrounded by mylin sheath near brain
  6. Ataxia
  7. Tremor
  8. Slurred speech
  9. Blurry, double vision or blindness
  10. bladder malfunction
  11. bowel dysfunction
  12. sexual dysfunction
  13. depression
  14. euphoria
  15. cognitive abnormalities
  16. fatigue

Most commonly, MS first manifests itself in a series of attacks followed by complete or partial remission as symptoms mysteriously lessen. These symptoms, however, will return later after a period of stability. This is called relapsing-remitting (RR) MS.

Treatment of MS

Unfortunately, there is no cure for MS yet. In Western Medicine, the treatment focuses mainly on decreasing the rate and severity of relapse. Beta interferons, anti-cancer drugs (to weaken the immune system), and steroids are commonly used for the treatment of MS. These medicines can reduce the number of MS lesions, delay the progression of the disease, and provide symptomatic relief for the patient.

 

In TCM, a condition called “Wei Syndrome” with symptoms similar to MS, was documented 2000 years ago in a classic Traditional Chinese Medicine book called Emperor Classic Medicine. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine has been involved in the treatment ever since. MS patients who have tried acupuncture report improvement in pain, spasticity, numbness and tingling, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and bowl, bladder function.

 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important for the MS patient. This includes:

  1. Getting enough time to sleep and rest. Go to bed early
  2. Exercise regularly. Tai Chi and Yoga are very good to help patient relax, balance and with muscle strength
  3. Balanced diet, a lot of vegetables and enough protein from white meat
  4. Stress management
  5. Daily meditation and positive thinking
  6. Staying connected with friends and joining a support group
  7. How to reduce and prevent inflammation 
                                   

Patient Story- Gilly

I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS in 1991 and I had no idea what a crazy, unpredictable journey I was about to embark on.

I woke up one morning, tried to get out of bed but my legs were like jello, I had no balance and had double vision.

I was given a spinal tap and MRI and lesions were detected on my brain & cervical spine.

When first diagnosed, my neurologist put me on one of the few FDA approved medicines for MS which don’t cure the disease, but delay the progression. For that I inject myself daily and have done so for 17 years

For the first 7 years after being diagnosed, I experienced relapses (flare up of symptoms) on average twice a year. The treatment for relapses was a 5 day course of steroids administered through IV, followed by 12 days of oral steroids.

The relapses affected my motor skills the most, especially walking but after a treatment of steroids, I was almost as good as new.

My friends suggested I try acupuncture. I was recommended to Dr Tan because he had studied MS in China. *

Dr Tan has been monumental in my life. He has given me treatments for a multitude of injuries I’ve suffered over the years due to frequent falls and is an expert in pain relief. He treats me for stress relief which contributes my general wellbeing. Dr Tan is very knowledgeable about Western medicine and MS treatments so I always ask his opinion.

I’ve been diagnosed with MS for 21 years and feel fortunate that Dr Tan has been treating me for a large part of that time. Although I partake in Western medicine, I know that Western medicine only treats the symptoms but Eastern medicine treats the cause of the symptoms.

My MS has progressed to the stage that I now use a wheelchair full time.

I go to acupuncture for preventative care. My immune system needs extra help especially during cold & flu season.

I am very aware that MS is a ‘designer’ disease, and no two people have the exact same symptoms. I would encourage anyone with MS to avoid stress, keep up a healthy immune system and try to stay positive and happy, because your emotional state affects your physical being.

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