Chinese Medicine

How To Prevent Miscarriage With Acupuncture and TCM

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

Dr. Cai treating a patient
Acupuncture treatment can help prevent miscarriage

Miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of pregnancy. While it is not talked about much, it is very common; 10-20% of pregnancies end in early miscarriage. TCM and acupuncture methods, well-known for helping women with infertility issues, can be used successfully to prevent threatened miscarriage.

Sometimes called spontaneous abortion, miscarriage at 12 weeks or earlier is often due to chromosomal abnormalities in the developing fetus. In some cases, miscarriage or recurrent miscarriages are caused by the mother’s health condition. 

While miscarriage is common, and very early miscarriage, sometimes called chemical pregnancy, may even go unnoticed, women who have experienced this should seek out care. The spontaneous ending of pregnancy is emotionally difficult no matter the circumstances, and hormone imbalances can cause other problems if left unaddressed. Acupuncture treatment and TCM herbal supplements can help support a full recovery and lay a healthy foundation for getting pregnant after miscarriage.

Signs and Symptoms of Miscarriage

While some bleeding in the first trimester is common (about 20% of women experience this), it can be an indication that the pregnancy is at risk. 

Other signs of miscarriage include:

  • Vaginal bleeding that is brownish or bright red
  • Discharge that include clots
  • Cramping or pain in the abdomen or lower back area, similar to menstrual cramps
  • Contractions in the uterus that occur every 5-20 minutes, similar to labor pains
  • Decrease in other early pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea and breast tenderness

In some cases, a miscarriage occurs without any signs of cramping or bleeding at all. Sometimes referred to as a missed miscarriage, missed abortion, or silent miscarriage, in this situation, a woman may not discover that she has miscarried until a doctor finds that there is no fetal heartbeat and checks via ultrasound and/or testing for HCG (pregnancy hormone) levels.

What Causes Miscarriage?

A positive pregnancy test usually can’t confirm a pregnancy until the third or fourth week, once implantation has occurred. It is estimated that miscarriage at 4 weeks or earlier, or when a fertilized egg has not successfully implanted, happens in up to 70% of conceptions. Miscarriage at 6 weeks or later is much less common; only about 5% of pregnancies end once this time when the heartbeat can be detected has passed.

Maternal age is one risk factor (20% of women over 35 might miscarry, while as many as 80% of pregnant women over 45 might miscarry). Chromosomal abnormalities in an embryo are more likely when a woman is older. The other most common reasons for a miscarriage to occur include:

  • Hormonal imbalances – due to PCOS, low progesterone, diabetes, thyroid condition, etc.
  • Thin or nutrient-poor endometrial lining
  • Autoimmune issues
  • Structural issues of the cervix or uterus, polyps, fibroid
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Smoking, alcohol, use of drugs

One of the primary reasons that a woman might miscarry during the second trimester is cervical insufficiency. In this case, there may be no prior symptoms, but the miscarriage begins with pressure or the water breaking. Once this weakness of the cervix has been discovered, doctors can treat this condition and protect subsequent pregnancies by making a “circling” stitch in the cervix at around the 12th week. 

Recovering from a Miscarriage

The extent to which a woman may need medical intervention during miscarriage varies, depending on how advanced the pregnancy. If the pregnancy was still in the very early stages, and there is heavy bleeding, then the uterus may empty itself. However, if things have progressed further into the first trimester, and miscarriage at 12 weeks or thereabouts occurs, a woman may need medical attention to help expel all of the tissues from the uterus. This may be accomplished with medication (misoprostol, sometimes combined with mifepristone), taken orally or as a suppository, which will cause more cramping and the expulsion of the fetal and placental tissues. In other cases, it may be necessary for a doctor to perform a D & C (dilation and curettage), in which the tissues are surgically removed from the uterus.

Conventional medical treatment for miscarriage unfortunately does not offer much in the way of healing. The hormonal and emotional effects of a miscarriage can be profoundly upsetting. Feelings of grief, disappointment, and loss are very real, and if unresolved, can affect a woman’s mental and physical health going forward. Your acupuncture practitioner can provide holistic alternative care to help you recover from miscarriage. A program of acupuncture treatments, herbs, and caring support will focus on reestablishing a good flow of Qi and blood to the reproductive system while alleviating stress and anxiety. Balancing the hormones and emotions allows for the menstrual cycle to return to normal, and strengthens the organ systems so that subsequent pregnancy will start from a place of peak heath.

Can Acupuncture Help Prevent Miscarriage?

bed rest may be recommended
Bed rest may be recommended to help prevent miscarriage.

According to TCM theory, the vital energies–Jing (or essence), Qi (life force energy), Yin (female/cool energy) and Yang (male/warm energy)–must be balanced for optimal health, and this is especially true when a woman is preparing to bring a new life into the world. The quality of eggs and sperm depend on it. Naturally, as a woman ages, there will be some depletion of these energies, and this can be exacerbated by lifestyle habits: stress, overwork, diet, lack of sleep, etc. 

Overall, TCM recognizes 4 differentiations of conditions that can lead to miscarriage:

  • Kidney deficiency – Women with this type of deficiency may have experienced a late menarche (delayed first period), irregular cycles, anovulatory cycles (don’t always ovulate), long cycles. A woman might have been born with a kidney deficiency or it can develop due to exhaustion, heavy labor, or excessive sexual behaviors.
  • Blood or Qi deficiency – This condition is related to the digestive system, when the stomach and/or spleen are not bringing enough nutrients to support and nourish the embryo.
  • Excess Heat – If internal fire is too strong, it causes bleeding. This can cause the placenta to become detached and uterine contractions to begin, causing miscarriage.
  • Injury – a fall or accident or excessive sexual activity during pregnancy can irritate the uterus, causing contractions.

Other causes could include: medications, antibiotics, food poisoning, or exposure to environmental toxins. Based on the presenting symptoms, an acupuncturist will determine which differentiation and create a treatment plan to address root causes. We can help to prevent miscarriage when there is spotting or cramping by calming the uterus to stop contractions and bleeding. Bed rest may be recommended, involving no exercise, no sexual activity, and no heavy labor.

The most effective preventive treatment happens pre-pregnancy. If a woman has one or two miscarriages or even three or more (habitual miscarriage), it is important that we take action to prevent problems before conception. Three months of treatment will prepare the body well to insure a full-term pregnancy. Ideally, a woman who is ready to get pregnant would seek acupuncture treatment and herbs to help strengthen all aspects of the reproductive systems for at least a few cycles before conceiving.

Acupuncture treatment can help prevent miscarriage by:

  • Balancing hormones
  • Treating PCOS
  • Improving the quality of endometrial lining
  • Calming contractions early in the pregnancy
  • Improving blood flow and preventing clotting
  • Regulating immune responses
  • Reducing stress and anxiety

Top 5 Tips to Prevent Miscarriage 

mint tea
try chrysanthemum or peppermint tea as a cooling alternative

Self care is always important, but during pregnancy, it is especially vital to prioritize your health and wellness. The need to eat and rest appropriately cannot be overemphasized during this crucial time.

  1. Eat cooling foods – During pregnancy, women carry more heat in the body and often feel hot. It is best not to have anything too spicy; spicy food can encourage bleeding and trigger contractions. Cooling foods include: cucumbers, melons, citrus fruits, celery, leafy greens, soy and mung beans, eggs, millet, buckwheat, whole wheat.
  2. Avoid warming foods – Warming foods raise yang energy and body temperature. Be moderated from: deep fried food, coconut, leeks, onions, roasted walnuts, pistachios and pine nuts, and spices like cinnamon, cloves, pepper, ginger, garlic, mustard, chili pepper, or add more cooling food if there is warming food.
  3. Stay away from alcohol and coffee. Try chrysanthemum tea or peppermint tea as an alternative. 
  4. Make sure you are getting the right balance of calcium and magnesium. Most people get more calcium than magnesium. Foods high in magnesium include spinach, beans, brown rice, and fish like halibut and salmon. 
  5. If you experience bleeding or cramping, cease all activities, including manual labor, exercise and sex.

Acupuncture Near Me for Miscarriage Prevention

At Art of Wellness, our doctors have over 30 years of expertise in women’s healthcare through TCM and acupuncture. We specialize in helping women fulfill their dream of a healthy, full-term pregnancy from infertility treatment, to miscarriage prevention and complete pregnancy care. If you or someone you love is concerned about threatened miscarriage, please contact us to arrange an initial consultation and get started with a treatment plan right away.

We recommend that any woman who is seeking to start a family should begin partnering with her TCM practitioner before conceiving–ideally, for three months or menstrual cycles. This allows for any underlying health issues that may affect things to be addressed and gives the best chance for a full-term, healthy pregnancy.

 

*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.

How to Treat Migraine with TCM and Acupuncture

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

 

migraine
Migraine is a debilitating disorder

Migraine is a disorder that affects about 10% of people worldwide; women are three times more likely to suffer migraine headaches than men. A migraine is an intense headache that lasts anywhere from several hours to three days and is severe enough to impede normal activities. The throbbing, pulsating, or stabbing pain in the head typical of a migraine is usually accompanied by a variety of other symptoms, including nausea and increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Migraines develop in stages over several hours or days, and the exact nature of the experience differs widely from person to person.

Migraine is a recurrent condition, and patients are typically diagnosed with migraine if they have experienced at least five of these types of headaches in their lifetime. Some people suffer from chronic migraines that cause them to be debilitated several times per month.

There are different types of headaches, but migraine headaches are distinct from tension headaches, sinusitis headaches, and cluster headaches in key ways.

Although much research has been done, the physiological processes that cause migraines are still not completely understood. There is no cure for migraines, and treatment methods focus on preventing migraines from beginning or fully developing, and alleviating the symptoms until the attack abates.

While more research is needed to demonstrate exactly how acupuncture impacts brain chemistry, studies have made it clear that TCM methods and acupuncture treatment are an effective alternative for relieving migraine.

What Causes Migraine?

Current medical theory generally attributes migraines to abnormal neurological functions in the brain cells. This may be due to genetics, as susceptibility to migraines does tend to run in families, especially from mothers to daughters. A cascade of chemical activity, possibly caused by fluctuations in hormones, causes the blood vessels to constrict, which leads to the pressure in head, throbbing pain and elevated nerve sensations.

Stages and Symptoms of Migraine

Migraines do not simply cause a severe headache. Migraine episodes go through a pattern of stages, during which a variety of symptoms come and go. While a person may not be able to predict when a migraine will come on, once he or she is familiar with these stages, the course of the migraine attack is somewhat predictable.

  1. Premonitory or Prodrome Stage of Migraine – In the early part of the migraine, a person might experience physical signs such as stiffness in the neck (cervicogenic headache), especially on one side, frequent yawning, cravings for certain foods, marked thirstiness, and increased urination. Emotionally and mentally, a sense of fatigue, irritability, depression, or confusion might pervade. Some people feel hyperactive or even euphoric. This period can last for hours or days.
  2. Aura – Not everyone who has migraines experiences what is known as the Aura phase, which produces unusual sensory distortions. In other cases, people may experience the Aura phase, but not the subsequent headache pain phase. Some examples of migraine with aura symptomology include: Allodynia (hypersensitivity to touch, so much that it is painful), Metamorphopsia – a profound change in perception of the size of objects, including one’s own body, altered spatial awareness, Aphasia – impairment in the language center of the brain that causes forgetting words, feeling generally unable to express oneself verbally, Visual – seeing wavy lines or flashing lights (phosphenes), “blind spots” or reduced field of vision (scotoma), Auditory – loss of hearing, auditory hallucinations, Headache and dizziness or vertigo.
  3. Headache – Some people may have only mild pain during this phase, and therefore do not recognize they are having  a migraine. Many migraine sufferers, however, experience severe throbbing headache, sharp pain in head, or stabbing pain (ice pick headache), often on one side of the head, headache back of head, headache behind eyes, or in the temples on head. The pain is usually worse if one is active. Heightened sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells are common, and people usually feel like retreating to a dark, quiet room to lie down. During this phase, people may also experience nausea and/or vomiting, dehydration, dizziness, hot flashes and/or chills, and strong emotions such as anxiety, fear, and depression. This phase can last anywhere from several hours to three days.
  4. Postdrome – The final phase of migraine is sometimes likened to a “hangover.” People generally feel low energy and low mood, as well as fatigue and compromised cognitive function. This phase, too, can last several hours to a few days.

Migraine episodes have a devastating impact on people’s ability to function normally. More than half of migraine sufferers miss at least two days of work per month, and many more try to get through their workdays even though they are in the middle of a migraine.

Are Migraines Related to Hormones?

Headaches can disrupt your life
Acupuncture helps relieve migraine pain and sensory symptoms

While anyone can have migraines, women are three times more likely to experience them, especially during their reproductive years. Many women perceive their migraine to be a period headache, because it occurs prior to or during the menstrual period. These types of migraine can be particularly debilitating. The cause of headache is believed to be due to a sudden drop in estrogen. This same mechanism can cause frequent headaches during perimenopause or early menopause due to fluctuations in estrogen levels.

Sometimes women are prescribed the use of continual oral contraceptive medication (i.e., skipping the placebo week of pills) in order to prevent drops in estrogen that may be causing migraine. This treatment does not work for everyone, though, and obviously is not helpful for women who may wish to get pregnant. 

Serotonin levels have also been linked to migraine. Research has shown that fluctuations in neurotransmitters and vascular functions in the brain are part of the migraine pathology, but it remains unclear exactly how this plays out. Triptans, drugs which act upon the serotonin receptors in the brain, are currently the most common treatment for acute migraine, as in some cases, they will stop a migraine attack from progressing. These medications do not work for everyone, though, and they cause constriction of blood vessels, which can lead to other problems, such as tightness, tingling, and hot flushes in various parts of the body.

Targeting the production and function of one of two specific hormones may produce some positive results, but as migraines appear to stem from a complex combination of hormonal, vascular, and metabolic malfunctions, a more holistic approach may be indicated. Acupuncture has been shown to help regulate hormones like estrogen and serotonin, specifically, but TCM achieves those results by observing and treating the whole person, emotionally, mentally, and physically; not only focusing on one or two isolated chemicals.

Acupuncture and TCM for Migraine Help

TCM theory is based on the concept of Qi as a life force energy which flows through the body along channels called meridians. Qi and blood move through these channels, several of which meet in the head. Blockages and stagnation in one organ system can impact other organ systems. Recurrent migraines are considered to be caused by stasis and deficiencies in the liver, spleen, and kidney, which cause yang energy from the liver to rise to the head. Overconsumption of the wrong kinds of foods can cause phlegm build-up in these organs, while alcohol and pungent foods can create excess heat energy. A typical TCM treatment protocol might involve using specific acupuncture points and herbs to quench liver fire and eliminate phlegm. 

Acupuncture can work on migraine pain with its natural analgesic effects, while also helping to prevent future attacks by resolving these deeper organ system imbalances. One study showed that migraine patients given acupuncture treatment experienced fewer episodes and missed fewer days of work than those given medications. The results also indicated that acupuncture was more cost effective than the medications. A review of randomized trials involving thousands of patients concluded that acupuncture is effective at reducing the number of days lost to migraines and should be considered a valuable treatment option.

Top 5 Home Remedies for Migraine Headaches

raw ginger
Use fresh ginger to make a soothing tea.

Migraines appear to be triggered by various stressors, lack of sleep, and certain foods. Aside from seeking acupuncture near me for migraine, there are several things you can do to prevent and relieve severe headaches. Natural remedies for migraines involve simple dietary, exercise and lifestyle modifications.

  1. Avoid foods that can trigger migraines. The most common ones are processed or prepared foods with added nitrates or MSG. Dairy products, especially very salty or aged cheeses, and chocolate should be avoided if you are susceptible to migraine, as well as extremely cold drinks and desserts. Dried foods like fruits and beans, and pickled foods can also be problematic.
  2. Emphasize foods high in magnesium, especially nuts, seeds, and high quality eggs.
  3. Ginger is known to relieve nausea and vomiting, and may alleviate other effects of migraine. One study showed that ginger was just as effective as Sumatriptan for decreasing symptoms of migraine. We recommend simply slicing fresh ginger root and steeping it in hot water to drink as a tea. 
  4. Try essential oils like lavender or peppermint. Rubbing a little bit into the temples can be soothing.
  5. Find a gentle practice that combines breathing, movement, and meditation. Yoga, particularly restorative yoga, has been shown to be helpful for headaches. This may be because it helps people relax more fully. It also encourages better symmetry between the right and left sides of the body and brain.

Best Acupuncture in Los Angeles for Migraine Help

Drs. Cai and Tan at Art of Wellness in Santa Monica have over thirty years of experience treating migraine and other types of headache with TCM, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. Headache help is just a phone call away. If you or someone you know has been suffering with severe headache or chronic migraines, please do not wait another day to call 310-451-5522 and get started with an acupuncture treatment program that will allow you to reclaim your life and experience headache relief.

*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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Happy New Year 2020 – Year of the Rat

Happy New Year 2020
2020 is the Year of the Rat

Qineng Tan L.Ac., Ph.D.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!  We wish you congratulations and prosperity in the New Year!

The Chinese Zodiac, like the Western Zodiac, is comprised of twelve signs, characters signified by animals. Like all of the Taoist arts, Chinese Astrology operates on both the microcosmic and macrocosmic levels. The twelve signs are used to divine information about the personalities of people born under those signs, and also to give meaning and context to the events that occur globally over the course of that year. Check here to find the sign of your birth year.

In the year 2020, we greet the Rat. The Rat is the first of the twelve signs. This means we are beginning a new cycle. According to legend, the Jade Emperor set a challenge to create the order of the signs – they would be arranged according to their arrival to his celebration feast. The Rat and the Cat hopped lightly up onto the Ox’s back, unbeknownst to her, and hitched a ride. As they were crossing a river, though, Rat bumped Cat off into the water. (Accidentally or intentionally? At any rate, this story explains why Cats chase Rats, and why there is no Cat in the Zodiac.) When the Ox was about to cross the finish line, Rat jumped down and landed before the Emperor first! 

So, the Rat is a bit tricky and opportunistic, but also quite clever and resourceful. Being first in the cycle, he represents the dawning of a new day, with plenty of Yang energy. Rats’ ability to multiply in numbers makes them a potent symbol of fertility and abundance. 

Each circle of twelve years also brings through a new cycling of the elemental energies that develops over the course of a 60-year calendar. Rat of 2020 is Metal. Metal rat is relatively grounded and stable. On the surface, he is always positive and sure of himself, but in secret, he worries that he is not always in the right.

Rat’s optimism and dynamic personality make him popular, even though his way of expressing himself might seem a bit brash or even downright rude. Rats know how to make the best out of a bad situation. They like to hoard rather than spend. This can be thrifty, but might also lead to hanging on to things that aren’t essential.

Rats tend to run around in a burst of energy and then get tired and sick. They also tend to get busy and forget to eat, and then eat too much of the wrong things. So, let’s all remind ourselves to pause frequently for rest and nourishment, setting ourselves up to do well when it’s go time.

From our Art of Wellness family to yours, we wish you good health and all the very best that the New Year has to offer! Read more about our favorite New Year traditions here. And for advice on making the most of your resolutions, read more here.

 

Feng Shui for the Chinese New Year

Feng Shui New Year
Set up your surroundings for success.

Feng Shui is the ancient art and science of creating harmonious living and working spaces. It is part of the Taoist traditions that also include Traditional Chinese Medicine and modalities like Qi Gong and Tai Qi. Like these other practices, Feng Shui is a way of purposefully directing energy – “Qi – to create a beneficial outcome. People often consult a professional when they are moving into a new house or work space, or trying to create more growth in some area of their lives. When it comes to greeting the new year with hope and purpose, Feng Shui a great way to align actions with intentions.

In the context of Feng Shui, every space has a map. This map indicates the difference areas of energy within it that correspond to other aspects of life, and can be used by the people who inhabit it as a guide for which direction to take.  

Harness your best energy in the new year by first deciding on your focus: increasing your financial wealth, improving your physical and mental health, or improving your relationships with others. To find the directions within your home or office space, use a digital compass. Then, find your Gua number, based on the year of your birth. Finally, find your number in the Eight Mansions chart to show you which way to direct your energies so that they find the most fertile ground.

To bring positive energy flowing towards your health, wealth and love, turn your bed so that your head is pointed towards the right direction while you sleep. Turn your desk that way, too, and if you are meeting new clients or love interests, be sure to face your key direction as you shake hands. Any place in your home that you spend a lot time, arrange yourself to be facing your goal orientation.You may begin to feel results right away, but be patient. It can take up to three months for the changes to be fully felt.

 

Chinese New Year Recipe  – Lucky Stir-Fry

vegetable stir fry
Start the year off right with lots of lucky veggies.

Many traditional recipes populate menus for the New Year celebration, but the important thing is to serve and eat foods that signify some type of luck to be sought and welcomed in the upcoming year. It’s possible to create a beautiful and meaningful dish that’s entirely plant-based, too. The Chinese word for “abundance” – “shi” – also means the number “10,” so some people like to serve a dish with ten different types of vegetables. But add as many you find appealing and keep things simple with a stir-fry. Start with a little bit of cooking oil, then add one or two aromatics, such as scallion, garlic, ginger, chilies. Once it’s hot, add your harder, crunchier vegetables first, then in another minute, toss in the softer, leafier ones. Add a little water to create some steam, then finish with a drizzle of sesame oil and soy sauce.

Symbolism of Vegetables

cilantro – compassion

bean sprouts – abundance

napa cabbage – prosperity 

bamboo shoots – a fresh start 

cashews – gold, money

Coconut – togetherness

Mushroom – longevity

Peanut – stability and growth

Pumpkin – success for one’s children

Sticky rice – the family staying together

Snowpeas – unity

Everything about your veggie stir-fry signifies freshness, and eating it certainly bodes well for your future health.

“Fú shòu shuāng quán.” “May you enjoy both longevity and blessing.”