Inflammation

How to Treat Arthritis With Acupuncture and TCM

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

arthritis
acupuncture treatment can relieve stiffness in the joints

Why am I so stiff when I wake up in the morning? Why do my knees hurt when I stand up? Pain in the hands and fingers, pain in the feet and toes. Lower back pain that comes and goes but seems to be getting steadily worse? Any or all of these aches and pains could signal that you have arthritis. TCM and acupuncture can not only help relieve the pain and inflammation of arthritis, but it can help you regain and maintain your freedom of movement.

Arthritis is a general term for swelling and pain in the joints. Arthritis is very common, affecting over 50 million people of all ages, and is the leading cause of disability in America. Most people with arthritis take pain medications and go on with their lives, living with discomfort and increasingly limited range of motion.

The term “arthritis” refers to a wide variety of disorders that cause pain in the joints. A “joint” is any place in the body where two or more bones meet and allow for movement. Also called “articulations,” joints are formed by fibrous connective tissues that hold the bones together, and pieces of cartilage that provide cushioning and “slip” between the bones. Chronic, long-term arthritis can cause permanent physical changes in the structure of joints, leading to knobby knuckle joints, for example. Some types of arthritis affect other organs in addition to the joints.

Conventional treatment for arthritis mainly focuses on alleviating pain with analgesics or NSAIDS, and reducing inflammation with injectable medications. In some cases, though, these medications aren’t enough to control pain or to bring back people’s former mobility. Many of these medications also come with unwanted side effects.

Acupuncture can not only help with arthritis pain and stiffness, but TCM methods can help keep the joint tissues strong and healthy, reduce inflammation, and prevent further damage due to osteoarthritis. Autoimmune disorders that are unexplained by modern medical science, including rheumatoid arthritis, have been successfully managed by acupuncture and herbs for centuries. Integrative care that uses TCM modalities can help people manage their weight and lifestyle to prevent arthritis from causing limitations or disability.

What Causes Arthritis?

Arthritic pain in the joints can be caused by many different factors. The most common contributor to osteoarthritis is normal wear and tear on the joints over many years that reduces the amount of cartilage between the bones in key areas. Injuries can also cause damage to cartilage. Autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis can cause the body’s own immune system to attack the synovium, the tissues that produce synovial fluid, which provides lubrication to the joints. The medical community has not discovered the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis (nor of most autoimmune disorders), but it is possible they are at least partially genetic in origin. The body’s immune response to certain bacterial and viral infections can also cause swelling in the joints; this is called reactive arthritis. Being overweight also contributes to the development of arthritis, as extra weight puts more strain on the joints.

Top 10 Types of Arthritis

osteoarthritis of the knee
osteoarthritis of the knee

Arthritis is a general term that refers to pain in the joints. There are over 100 different kinds of arthritis. The most common types of arthritis include:

  1. Osteoarthritis – also called degenerative arthritis, this is when the cartilage between the bones wears away, reducing cushioning and shock absorption to the point that the bones begin to rub against each other. 
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis – an autoimmune disorder in which antibodies attack the tissue lining around joints, causing inflammation and chemical reactions that, over time, damage all of the surrounding tissues: bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.
  3. Psoriatic Arthritis – a type of inflammatory arthritis that occurs in about 30% of people who have psoriasis of the skin. Psoriasis causes skin cells to reproduce excessively, creating scaly red and white patches, often on the elbows and knees. In some cases, people will also develop pain, swelling, and stiffness in these joints, or in the fingers or toes.
  4. Ankylosing Spondylitis – this is an inflammatory disease which often first shows up during young adulthood. It causes the gradual fusing of the vertebrae; a person starts by feeling stiffness and pain in the back, and over time the posture becomes more hunched over as flexibility is reduced. Over time, new bone tissue forms, causing sections of the vertebrae to grow together, usually near the base of the spine, greatly reducing mobility.
  5. Gout – a form of metabolic arthritis, in which a build-up of excess uric acid forms sharp crystals in the joints of the foot, causing painful swelling, often especially in the big toe.
  6. Infectious Arthritis – Swelling in the joints can be caused by the invasion of bacteria or a virus. Bacteria that cause food poisoning like salmonella, or STDs like chlamydia, or blood infections like Hepatitis C, can create inflammation that affects joints.
  7. Reactive Arthritis – previously called “Reiter’s syndrome,” reactive arthritis is an acute form of infectious arthritis caused by bacterial infection, most often affecting the knees and ankles, and accompanied by other symptoms like inflammation in the eyes, and skin rashes. It can be caused by a chlamydia infection or bacterial infection in the digestive tract, and usually only lasts a short time. However, people with immune diseases, like HIV, can develop more chronic forms of reactive arthritis.
  8. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) – Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can cause swelling in the connective tissues of the joints, as well as other symptoms, including: fatigue, rashes on the face, swollen lymph nodes, fever, hair loss, and extreme sensitivity to light and other stimuli.
  9. Fibromyalgia – a syndrome in which the brain amplifies the perception of pain in the joints and muscles. People with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or ankylosing spondylitis may also have fibromyalgia.
  10. Childhood Arthritis or Juvenile Arthritis – a broad term that simply refers to arthritis when it is experienced by a child. Children usually have either an autoimmune type of arthritis or a reactive arthritis triggered by a bacterial or viral infection.

Top 5 Arthritis Symptoms

waist measurement
waist size and extra weight can be indicators of metabolic syndrome

Perhaps because a majority of people over the age of 50 feel some symptoms of arthritis, we often think of stiffness and pain in the joints simply as a normal part of aging. It is true that over time, the wearing down of cartilage and bone tissue is practically inevitable. Still, it is important to pay close attention to potential symptoms of arthritis, and take steps to prevent them from worsening. The top 5 signs of arthritis include:

  1. Pain in joints – may be a constant, nagging pain, or it may come and go
  2. Stiffness – especially feeling stiff when you get up in the morning 
  3. Swelling in joints – sometimes with redness in the skin around the joint
  4. Reduced range of motion – difficulty getting up when you’ve been sitting or lying down
  5. Fatigue – actually, fatigue may be the first sign that someone has rheumatoid arthritis, but this symptom often goes ignored

Recent research has linked rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with metabolic syndrome. People who have been diagnosed with RA are much more likely to also show signs of metabolic syndrome (MS). MS is clinically indicated when a person presents with three or more of these markers: insulin resistance, high blood pressure, obesity or high waist circumference, high cholesterol and/or triglycerides or raised fasting glucose levels. Osteoarthritis and MS also seem to be linked, especially in cases of osteoarthritis of the knee. It is not clear how precisely these various forms of arthritis may be related to MS, but it is clear that the combination of these health problems puts people at high risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke. The good news is that metabolic syndrome issues and rheumatoid arthritis can be improved with lifestyle management and acupuncture treatment.

Can Acupuncture Help Arthritis?

According to TCM theory, most cases of rheumatoid arthritis fall under the category of Bi Syndromes, which covers various conditions in which Qi (life force energy) and/or Blood are somehow blocked from moving freely through the meridian pathways of the body. Due to Qi and Blood deficiency, cold, dampness, wind, or heat are more likely to invade the system and cause Bi Syndrome to develop. 

In TCM we also consider whether a problem stems from internal or external factors. In some cases, arthritis may be caused by an internal problem that was congenital–meaning, a person was born with it. Qi deficiency as an underlying condition might be an internal factor, which then kicks in when some external factor, such as cold from wind invasion, comes in and creates a blockage, and the Qi is too weak to combat it. Some people are simply more likely to be affected by these factors because of their innate condition. Most of the types of arthritis mentioned above are due to internal factors and inflammation. Only reactive arthritis is caused by external factors of infection. Also, if an injury occurs and does not heal properly, that can lead to arthritis in a joint. A few differentiations of Bi Syndrome that might cause arthritis include:

  • Cold pattern – cold wind with dampness from an external source causes stiffness that improves with the application of heat, and is accompanied by reduced circulation and pale skin. This is why we advise against sitting or being out in cold, damp weather for long periods of time. This can cause cold stagnation to take hold in the joints.
  • Moving Bi – pain is not fixed; it can move to different joints in different areas.
  • Sore Bi – pain more dominant, feels better after applying heat, feels worse when it gets cold. 
  • Fixed Bi – the joint feels heavy, sore and swollen and the pain is in a definite spot, painful to the touch. 
  • Heat pattern – in this case, the joints are red, swollen, and inflamed, and the face is flushed.

A one-size-fits-all approach to care for people with arthritis simply does not work for everyone. The manifestation of inflammation in people with the cold type differs from that in people with the hot type. An acupuncture practitioner will treat a patient with arthritis based on their individual, specific presentation of symptoms. A systematic review showed how treating patients with RA with different therapies according to their TCM diagnosis produced better outcomes than the standard conventional treatments for RA. 

A review of 43 clinical studies showed that TCM for RA not only helps reduce inflammation as a symptom, but improved immune system function. Better regulation of the immune system means that TCM methods help treat arthritis stemming of autoimmune disorders at their source, rather than simply managing pain.

Another review of ten clinical trials analyzed how effective TCM treatment was for people with osteoarthritis of the knee. Eight out of the ten trials concluded that acupuncture was an effective treatment for reducing pain due to osteoarthritis and should be considered as an adjunct or alternative to pharmacological treatments.

Acupuncture treatment combined with Chinese herb supplements and personalized diet coaching can help alleviate symptoms due to different types of arthritis, and may even be able to reverse and prevent further damage to the joints.

Top 5 Tips for Relief of Stiff Joints 

Dr. Cai Tai Chi 4
The fluid movements of Tai Qi help keep joints supple.

While years of use will naturally cause some degradation of joint tissues, there are definitely things you can do to protect your joints and prevent arthritis from slowing you down.

  1. Weight Management – weighing too much puts extra stress on your joints. One pound of fat translates to four pounds of pressure on the bones and tendons. We don’t recommend trendy weight loss diets; instead, focus on eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates from whole grains.
  2. Vary Your Exercise Routine – different types of physical activity provide different sorts of benefits for your joints. If an arthritis condition is acute, it is best to stick with gentle movements that rotate the joints. Cardiovascular exercise is important to strengthen the heart. Strength training, or toning the muscles (lifting weights) helps build strong bones and muscle mass to support your joints. Pay attention to rotating each joint to prevent stiffness or “frozen” joints on a daily basis: wrists, ankles, shoulders, hips, spine, etc. Tai Qi, Qi Gong, and yoga also challenge your balance; this is especially important as we age, to reduce the risk of falls and other accidents. And you can’t beat a nice, long walk for low impact, weight-bearing, aerobic exercise. Be sure to warm up and cool down with slower, gentle movements at the beginning and end of your workouts so as to avoid any shock to the joints and get your juices (synovial fluid and hyaluronic acid) flowing, literally. Meditation is also very important to maintain mental health. Chronic conditions like arthritis are affected by emotional imbalances that can be helped with meditation practice.
  3. Drink More Water – staying hydrated is so important for keeping the joints lubricated. 
  4. Eat Healthy Fats – make sure to get adequate intake of good fats, like Omega-3 fatty acids, from fish or fish oil, nuts and seeds, good quality olive oil, and avocados. Overall an anti-inflammatory diet should be observed whenever there is swelling and pain in the joints, which includes avoiding nightshade vegetables, spicy foods, and sugar.
  5. Wear the Right Shoes and Warm Clothes – choose footwear that fits properly and is supportive. Flip-flops, high heels, and shoes that are too tight can put undue pressure on the joints and don’t provide adequate cushioning and shock absorption. People with Yang Qi deficient conditions should always keep the joints covered with clothing. Exposure can let the cold in.

Acupuncture Near Me for Arthritis

If you or someone you know is feeling the stiffness, swelling, and pain of arthritic joints, don’t wait until it gets worse to do something about it. Regular acupuncture treatment can reduce pain and inflammation. The doctors at Art of Wellness have over 30 years of experience helping patients find arthritis pain 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 a Herniated Disc With Acupuncture & TCM

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

a herniated disc can cause neck pain and pain in the lower back
a herniated disc can cause neck pain, pain in the lower back, and sciatica

Why do I have a sharp shooting pain down one leg? What should I do if my neck is stiff and hurts to turn? What can I do to help a spasm in lower back? Any of these kinds of pain may be caused by a herniated disc, which presses on the spinal nerves. Acupuncture can be an effective treatment for relieving the symptoms of a slipped disc, while also speeding the healing process–all without negative side effects.

A herniated disc, often referred to as a “slipped disc,” or a bulging disc, occurs when damage to one of the shock-absorbing discs of cartilage that sit between the vertebrae creates pressure on the nerves and muscles of the spine. Also called a prolapsed disc, this condition creates inflammation and swelling in a localized area of the spine and can cause severe pain in the neck, lower back pain, sciatica pain, and tingling that radiates down the leg.

The vertebral column, or backbone, is made up of vertebrae (individual bones) and intervertebral discs. These discs provide cushioning in between the bones and act as ligaments that hold the bones together. The discs create a shock absorption system that protects the spinal column, and are made up of tough, fibrous outer layers of cartilage, with a gel-like substance on the inside. If there is damage to the tissues of the outer layer, the soft, gel interior can be pushed outwards and breach the outer wall. This can create pressure against the nerves of the spinal column, resulting in symptoms of nerve entrapment: pain, numbness, and/or loss of ability.

A herniated disc, also referred to as a “ruptured disc,” most often occurs in the lumbar spine. A lumbar herniated disc may cause severe lower back pain if it is pressing on a nerve. Pressure on the sciatic nerve area can also cause shooting pain, burning pain, numbness, and/or tingling in one or both legs–a condition commonly referred to as sciatica, also known as lumbar radiculopathy. The sciatic nerve is actually a large bundle of smaller nerves that connects the base of the spine to the top of the leg, travelling through the buttock area. There is a sciatic nerve bundle on each side. About 90% of cases of sciatica are related to herniated discs.

Cervical disc herniation refers to a prolapsed disc between one of the seven vertebrae of the cervical spine, or neck area. Compression of the nerves due to a herniated disc in the C2 area can cause headache, or pain in the eye or ear. Herniation of a disc further down the cervical spine happens most commonly in the C5, C6, or C7 area, which can lead to neck pain and/or shoulder pain.

Most of the time, sciatic pain or neck pain due to nerve compression in the spine goes away gradually on its own, but it can cause a lot of suffering over the course of several weeks or months before resolving itself. Medical treatment for herniated disc pain typically involves the recommendation of rest and immobilisation and the use of anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxers, and pain relievers. However, lack of movement does not really help improve the root cause of the pain, and the use of pain medications or steroids is often accompanied by unwanted side effects. Acupuncture treatment can significantly reduce acute pain related to sciatica, neck pain, shoulder pain, and low back pain due to slipped discs, often providing immediate, short-term relief of severe pain, while helping, long-term, to reduce inflammation and help heal nerve damage.

Signs of Herniated Disc

When a disc herniates, pain can be sharp and intense. Depending on which disc is affected, there may be neck pain, low back pain, or sciatic pain in the leg, foot, or buttock area. Pain or numbness are caused by the inflammation of the nerve area that is being compressed by the extrusion of the center of the disc.

  • A cervical herniated disc (in the neck) may cause burning pain in the side of the neck or sharp pain in the back of the neck. Or there may be a more subtle sensation where the neck is tender to the touch. The pain is usually worse when performing vigorous activities or when twisting or turning the head at a certain angle. The overall movement of the neck and head may feel limited and stiff.
  • Pain may radiate down the arm and cause an “electric shock-like” sensation in the hand and fingers.
  • Weakness in the muscular movement of the shoulder, arm, hand, thumb and fingers may result from the pinching of the nerves of the cervical spine.
  • A lumbar herniated disc (in the lower back) is more likely to cause pain down the leg than in the back. Usually the pain is just on one side of the body. This radiating pain caused by compression of the sciatic nerve can be sharp, burning, and very intense. 
  • Herniation of a lumbar disc can also cause pain in the low back or buttock. This pain may be of the “throbbing” type, or feel like a spasm. It may be helped by applying cold or heat to the area. The pain typically is worse after sitting or hunching over for a while, or when bending over from the waist.
  • The sensation in the buttock, hip, leg and foot may be more like tingling or numbness than searing pain.
  • “Foot drop” is when the nerve compression makes it difficult to fully pick up the foot when walking, so that the toes drag on the floor.

The kind of pain caused by a herniated disc can come on quite suddenly and strongly. Fortunately, the pain caused by most herniations of spinal discs resolves in a matter of time without surgery.

What Causes Herniated Disc?

Slipped discs, or bulging disks, happen most often to people between the ages of 30 and 50. The ruptured disk may happen due to one sudden movement, like lifting something heavy, twisting an awkward way, or even a strong sneeze. But prior to such an event, there was probably some weakness already developing in the outer walls of the disc. 

Degeneration of the discs can occur over time due to aging. A chronic herniation can develop slowly over years and cause mild symptoms. An acute herniation might happen as the result of some trauma, like an accident, which could create more serious damage to the outer layers of the disc (the annulus fibrosus), allowing the jelly-like material inside (the nucleus pulposus) to extrude, or squeeze out of containment.

Surgery for herniated disc is only recommended in rare cases (10-20%), sometimes if the prolapsed disc is affecting the nerves in such a way that bladder or bowel function is negatively impacted. Surgery may also be considered if pain is severe and continues for a long time without getting better. Herniated disc surgery attempts to relieve the nerve compression by removing some of the disc tissue. In cases where there is more extensive degeneration of the spine, a spinal fusion procedure may involve “fusing” the vertebrae together with screws while removing the original disc tissue and replacing it with an implant. These types of surgeries for herniated disc may help alleviate pain, but there can still be a long recovery period, and the pain is not guaranteed to go away.

Can Acupuncture Help a Herniated Disc?

moxibustion
Moxibustion cultivates heat energy

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been developed over the course of thousands of years to deal with all types of pain conditions. In the TCM view, herniated disc pain is caused by:

  1. Injury to the spine
  2. Invasion of cold, wind, or damp
  3. Liver and/or kidney deficiency

In addition to acupuncture treatment, which involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points along the meridians of the body, we also use treatments such as moxibustion and infrared heat lamps to bring warm energy to parts of the body. TCM treatment for herniated disc will often focus on strengthening the Qi (life force energy) and blood flow to the kidneys, and clearing dampness and bringing warmth to the whole lower back area.

One clinical trial conducted in a hospital demonstrated that acupuncture treatment combined with the application of moxa warm needle therapy with infrared heat and gentle exercise resulted in reporting of 95% improvement in pain related to lumbar herniated disc.

A recent systematic review of acupuncture treatment for disc herniation concluded that acupuncture provided better results than pain medications or lumbar traction.

A study that focused on long-term outcomes for patients with lumbar disc herniation showed that ten years after receiving electric acupuncture treatment for their pain they reported positive long-term results, acupuncture having helped to resolve their sciatica symptoms.

Top 5 Tips for How to Heal a Herniated Disc Naturally

walnuts are a great source of Omegas
walnuts are a great source of Omegas

Most pain due to herniated disc will resolve itself in about six weeks without medical treatment. In the meantime, there are some things you can do to help reduce pain and restore freedom of movement.

  1. Seek out treatment from a qualified acupuncturist. A combination of acupuncture, herbal supplementation, tuina massage, moxibustion, and infrared heat therapy will go a long way towards relieving pain and encouraging healing.
  2. Heat and Cold Therapy. Try using a heating pad or hot water bottle to apply gentle heat to the lower back or neck. Alternate with icing the affected area. This helps bring more blood flow to the area, reduces inflammation, and soothes stiffness.
  3. Stay active. It can be tempting to stay in bed when lower back pain and sciatica are causing intense pain or tingling sensations. But immobilisation does not really do anything to help heal nerve pain, and it is actually more beneficial to keep the muscles of the back body strong. Engaging regularly in low-impact activities like walking, biking, or swimming will help keep endorphins flowing and your mood positive better than bed rest will.
  4. Check your sleeping position. Staying in bed can also hurt when you have a slipped disc. Use a pillow to bolster your knees to help relieve tension in the lower back and keep the spine in proper alignment. Use a firm orthopedic pillow to keep the neck aligned.
  5. Nutrition for nerve health. Certain nutrients can be especially beneficial for building and maintaining nerve tissues. Emphasize B-6 and B-12 vitamins, Vitamin E and Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in your diet and with high quality supplements. Nuts, fish, and good plant-based oils should be consumed regularly. 

Regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and good nutrition, as always, will go a long way towards helping ensure that a pain condition resolves itself fully and does not return. 

Acupuncture Near Me for Herniated Disc

At Art of Wellness, Dr. Tan and Dr. Cai have over 30 years of experience helping patients with acute and chronic pain due to neurological conditions. Pain due to a herniated disc can be effectively reduced by regular acupuncture treatment, while Chinese herbs and therapeutic massage can help bring healing to the nerves and spine, and help prevent future problems with herniated disc and sciatica.

 

 

*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 Carpal Tunnel Syndrome With Acupuncture & TCM

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

carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome causes pain and tingling in the hand and fingers

Tingling in fingers? Wrist Pain? Do you keep dropping things? It could be carpal tunnel hand pain and weakness caused by a repetitive stress injury. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition caused by an impingement of the median nerve, which travels through the wrist joint to give sensation to the hand and fingers. When this nerve is compressed, there may be pain or numbness in the fingers and hand. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome often gets worse as time goes on. It is important to seek out treatment for carpal tunnel to help reverse the progression of the problem.

Carpal tunnel is the most common form of peripheral neuropathy in the United States, affecting over eight million people per year. Almost a quarter of a million people undergo surgery to try to correct carpal tunnel syndrome annually. Carpal tunnel affects women more often than men, and unfortunately can cause disability, making it difficult or impossible for people to continue their work. Acupuncture treatment combined with Chinese herbal remedies has been shown to significantly reduce the tingling pain in fingers and weakness of the hands caused by carpal tunnel syndrome.

Do I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a type of compression mononeuropathy, in which damage to a single nerve causes pain, numbness, and weakness of a particular part of the body: in this case, the wrist, hand, and fingers. Carpal Tunnel can also cause neck and shoulder pain and various types of headaches.

While pain and tingling in the fingers are the most common signs of carpal tunnel, it is also true that several other neurological conditions can cause pain and numbness in the hands. Compression of one of the nerves travelling through the cervical spine can also affect the hands. Impingement of the ulnar nerve, which travels down the arm and alongside the elbow (the “funny bone”), is known as cubital tunnel syndrome, and can also cause tingling in the fingers. The difference here is that usually carpal tunnel causes the sensations in the thumb, index and middle fingers, while cubital tunnel causes numbness or pain in the ring and pinky fingers. Thoracic outlet syndrome, which causes impingement of nerves between the collarbone and upper ribs, and Reynaud’s phenomenon, which causes restriction of blood flow through the blood vessels of the extremities, are rarer conditions which can also cause numbness in the fingers. 

Top 5 Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel:

  1. Tingling and numbness in the hand and fingers, especially the thumb, index, and ring fingers. May feel like a burning sensation, or occasional short “shocks”
  2. Weakness of the hand, tendency to drop objects
  3. Wrist pain, hand pain, and pain in the forearm
  4. Fingers feel swollen, even if they don’t appear puffy
  5. Tingling that travels up the arm, neck and shoulder pain

Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms usually begin subtly and develop gradually over time. Often people first notice some tingling or a sense that the fingers are swollen, especially at night. You might feel the urge to “shake out” your hands and wrists when you get up. As carpal tunnel becomes more serious, people will start to feel weakness in their hands as they go about their daily activities. In extreme cases, people with carpal tunnel may lose muscle mass in their thumb pad area, or cease to be able to sense hot or cold with their hands, which puts them at risk for burning themselves.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Migraines

Recent research has suggested that there may be a link between carpal tunnel and migraine headaches. A study found that people with carpal tunnel were two times as likely to also suffer from migraines, and that people with migraines were twice as likely to also have symptoms of carpal tunnel. This information may help medical professionals learn more about migraine, which remains a mysterious condition, and has not been traditionally viewed as a problem with nerve compression.

While conventional medicine still has limited understanding of migraine, acupuncture is an effective modality for headache relief. A TCM practitioner can help headache, wrist pain, hand pain, neck and shoulder pain, all simultaneously, without any negative side effects.

Carpal Tunnel Causes and Treatment for Carpal Tunnel

Repetitive movements that cause inflammation in the wrist joint are the primary causes of carpal tunnel syndrome. This kind of repetitive stress injury occurs when you perform the same motions with the wrist and hand over and over, as when working with tools or assembly, chopping with a knife, playing an instrument, or typing on a keyboard. When you seek treatment for carpal tunnel, diagnostic testing will first be done to determine exactly what bones, nerves, muscles, or tendons might be causing symptoms of pain and tingling.

nerve gliding fist with neutral wrist
nerve gliding fist with neutral wrist

The first treatment for carpal tunnel usually involves some immobilization of the wrist (with a wrist splint or brace) and anti-inflammatory medications or injections. If the condition does not improve after reduction and modification of the repetitive motions that were causing carpal tunnel symptoms, then a specialist may recommend surgery. Electroscopic procedures may make small incisions in the tendon of the wrist to relieve pressure on the median nerve. 

Early treatment of carpal tunnel is crucial for preventing further damage to the median nerve. Addressing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome as soon as possible with alternative modalities such as acupuncture and therapeutic tui na massage can help restore full function of the nerves and the mobility and strength of the hands and fingers.

How Acupuncture Helps Carpal Tunnel

nerve gliding flat hand with neutral wrist
flat hand with neutral wrist

Traditional Chinese Medicine uses a combination of therapies to address conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome. Acupuncture treatment works on the principle that pain and loss of mobility in the body is often due to blocked energy (Qi) along the meridians (energy pathways) of the body. Acupuncture treatment combined with herbal supplementation can reduce inflammation and help with the regeneration of nerve and other tissues.

According to TCM theory, carpal tunnel syndrome is usually attributed to “wind” or cold invading the muscles and ligaments, along with Qi and/or blood stasis causing blockages. One study showed that acupuncture treatment combined with a topical herbal treatment reduced pain in 90% and improved wrist function in 85% of the participants.

Another study in an American hospital, aimed at proving scientifically the unknown ways in which acupuncture works, used electrodes to show how treatment affected nerve impulses and produced changes in the somatosensory cortex. This study objectively quantified that acupuncture improved the conductivity of nerves in the wrist and effected changes in the brain deemed related to their carpal tunnel syndrome.

Top 5 Tips for Carpal Tunnel Relief

nerve gliding fingers and thumb outstretched
nerve gliding fingers and thumb outstretched

Here are some carpal tunnel exercises and acupressure points for carpal tunnel that you can practice to help prevent carpal tunnel and relieve carpal tunnel symptoms.

  1. Your doctor may recommend nerve gliding exercises, sometimes called nerve flossing or neural gliding. These gentle exercises are designed to help facilitate the smooth movement of the tendon through the carpal tunnel of the wrist bones, so as to alleviate pressure and inflammation of the median nerve.
  2. Using acupressure points for carpal tunnel can help relieve symptoms. Try applying firm pressure to PC6 Nei Guan, located on the inner arm, three finger-widths below the wrist.
  3. Be especially mindful when you are performing repetitive tasks with your hands. Take frequent breaks to stretch and rub your wrists.
  4. Pay attention to your sleep position. Avoid putting pressure on your wrists or holding them in a bent position during the night. Elevate your hands and wrists if possible.
  5. Keep your hands and wrists warm. Wear gloves whenever appropriate to the temperature in your environment. Keep a cup of hot tea nearby while you work, to warm your hands.
nerve gliding gentle pressure on thumb
gentle pressure on thumb

Acupuncture Near Me for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel tends to worsen over time as we age and continue to engage in repetitive movements through our daily activities. If you or someone you know is experiencing tingling in the fingers, hand pain, or wrist pain–or even having migraine headaches or neck and shoulder pain that may seem unrelated–it is important to address it promptly. Integrative care combining conventional medicine and acupuncture treatment for carpal tunnel can help to reduce hand pain, numbness in the fingers, and weakness in the wrist. Contact Art of Wellness to get started with the best acupuncture near me in the Los Angeles area for carpal tunnel syndrome and related migraine 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.

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.