Pain

How to Treat Lower Back Pain with TCM and Acupuncture

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Types of Lower Back Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acupressure for Low Back Pain

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

 

What Do I Do If the Above Does Not Work?

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

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

 

 

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.

How to Reduce and Prevent Inflammation

How to Reduce and Prevent Inflammation

We usually think of inflammation as something that affects our muscles and joints, causing them to swell and ache. We observe these manifestations when people are injured causing knee pain or elbow pain from injuries like an ankle sprain. This suffering from pain and tenderness is actually our body’s normal protective response to restrict our body from further activity to cause more injury. For those acute inflammation incidences, we need to temporally put pressure near the heart end and apply ice to the injured area to discontinue bleeding and swelling. With time, we expect our body to reduce the inflammation and resume as normal. However, there are some conditions when the body is in a constant low grade heat or chronic inflammation, like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or celiac disease  this is even observed with kidney stone, gall bladder stones, and high cholesterol.

Cancer is another disease linked with chronic inflammation/toxins. Over time, chronic inflammation can cause DNA damage and lead to some forms of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. More recently, science has made it clear that inflammation is also part of what causes poor blood flow through the arteries, causing problems in the body’s circulator system and the heart. Obesity and unhealthy eating habits can increases inflammation in the body. Autoimmune disorders like Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis can cause chronic inflammation in healthy and unhealthy people. But really, the root cause of inflammation is a dysfunction of the metabolism, or digestive process. It is the body’s normal defensive response to excess internal heat.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are two energy measurements: Yin and Yang; which is present in everything.  Yin represents cold, water, dark….and Yang represents hot, fire, light…..both energies need to be balanced in order to keep everything in shape. In our body, our organs need fire/heat to keep our body temperate normal and operate every part of the body well. However, if the fire is too strong, that will cause fever or infection or inflammation. In Chinese, fire is 火 (pronounced huo), inflammation is 炎(pronounced yan). As you can see, 炎 has two 火, means too much fire or excess heat.

Excess heat can be caused by stress, too heavy of a diet, and eating the wrong kinds of foods, and extreme environmental heat.

How to reduce and prevent inflammation?

Stress management is an important part of our daily task especially at the end of the day, we are able to unwind ourselves, release tension, and allow energy to flow. When there is ongoing or long term stagnation that is unaddressed, excess heat/toxins will be generated. Having acupuncture treatment regularly always helps people de-stress, calm the mind and body and achieve anti-anxiety. Once the whole body’s Qi/blood is flowing freely, the stagnation opens up, heat is reduced, and the inflammation will disappear. On top of acupuncture treatment, cupping is very helpful to clear excess heat and detoxify the body.

An anti-inflammatory diet is essential along with a low calorie diet. The meaning of “calorie” is, after all, a unit measurement of heat or energy. Simply put, ingesting more calories creates more heat in the body. If the calories aren’t being burned through physical activity, then they are stored in the body as excess fat. Fat not only weighs you down, but triggers the immune system, which tries to attack the fat as if it was a foreign substance. Carrying excess fat acts on several levels to create detrimental inflammation within the body, causing more Qi/Fluid blockage and that blockage creates more inflammation.

 

Second, anti-inflammation diet is cool or cold food. If you are an Art of Wellness member, you know what group of food you should stay on, either cooling food, like majority of vegetable, and fruit or add more warm/hot food kale, mustard green, turkey, walnut, black bean, ginger pecan, lamb to tonify your Yang. Besides of working on appropriate diet, having herbal supplements is very especial assisting reduce inflammation. Cause herbs are from plants, carry stronger energy than our food. Due to the poor taste, we do not consider eat them like other vegetable. It is important to pay attention not only to what you eat, and how much, but also how you eat, and when. Many people’s eating habits lead to poor digestion.

Eat sitting down. The body draws both blood and Qi into its center – the stomach and spleen – in order to digest food. Eating while standing or walking, or trying to concentrate on some other problem, draws much-needed energy to the extremities or the brain, away from the digestive process. And also , should eat in a relaxed environment avoid arguing.

Chew food thoroughly. Failure to chew adequately means that the rest of your digestive system has to work harder to break down your food into usable nutrition.

In general, choose more fresh, raw, and lightly cooked foods, and avoid baked, fried and heavily processed foods. These foods retain the heat energy that was used in their preparation, and that creates more heat inside you.

Increase your use of bay leaf, cilantro, dill and other herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano, all of which have anti-internal heat properties. Choose high Omega-fatty-acid fish such as salmon, and good quality fish oils. Eat lots of leafy greens. Avoid coffee, and drink green tea instead. Fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut/kimchee, miso and tempeh help to heal and promote good balance in the intestines. Shitake mushrooms are a source of copper, a rare nutrient, important in the prevention of arterial inflammation.

It probably comes as no surprise that we recommend cutting back on unhealthy fats (trans fats, processed cooking oils, and fatty red meat). And avoid sugar as strictly as possible, as sugar consumption leads to insulin resistance and is a major cause of inflammation.

Avoid the nightshade vegetables: peppers, eggplants, potatoes and tomatoes. This includes spices and seasonings made from peppers, such as paprika and red pepper flakes. These foods can irritate the intestines, affecting their permeability and setting off unwanted immune responses. These in turn lead to inflammation, muscle spasms and stiffness.

What to Eat to Beat the Heat/inflammation

In Chinese culture, we drink mung bean soup during the hot days of summer. Cooked mug beans cool down our internal body heat and detoxify the body. We even feed this soup to people who are suffering from heat strike. Mung Beans are very nutrition, offering easily digested proteins, and do not create gas like other beans can. Their natural sweet flavor and bright green color are pleasing, as well.

Try this simple recipe:

  1. Add one cup of mung beans to six cups of water
  2. Bring to a boil, simmer for 5-10 minutes
  3. Sweeten by adding Asian pear or add a pinch of salt and eat as a soup or tea.
  4. Or simply one table spoon of mung bean with two cups of boiling water, cover with lid, drink this tea when it is in room temperature. Refill two cups of water boiling water again in remained mung bean container, repeat 2-3 time, eat the mung bean at the end.
    To ice or not to ice?

In the early hours of the morning, it is always best to drink liquids that are body or room temperature, in order to protect the fire of the digestive system. In the afternoon on a very hot day, it is generally OK to have a cold or iced drink to refresh yourself. However, women who are about to have or who have their menstrual period should never drink ice-cold beverages. The stomach sits right above the uterus, and the action of cooling down the female organs too much can cause cramping. And of course, we would always advise against drinking sugary iced coffee drinks, which can actually cause dehydration.

Acupuncture for chronic pain: individual patient data meta-analysis

Acupuncture is effective for the treatment for the chronic pain and therefore a reasonable referral option. Significant difference between true acupuncture and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo. However, these difference are relatively modest, suggesting that factors in addition to the specific effects of needling are important contributors to the therapeutic effects of acupuncture.  We find this article very interesting, click here to READ FULL ARTICLE

TCM for Common Injuries: Ankle Sprain

by Qineng Tan, L.Ac., PhD., O.M.D.
A sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries. It can happen to kids and adults of all ages. It can happen when you’re actively playing a sport, or just walking around in your own home.
A sprain can be one of three severity levels:
Grade I
A minor sprain can occur when you are just walking. The ankle turns in sharply, causing the muscles and ligaments to pull and tear slightly.
Grade II
A moderate sprain might happen when running, or because of a fall. In this case, the ankle is twisted further in, causing a partial tear of the ligament.
Grade III
A severe sprain happens because of significant impact—such as a fall at great speed or from a height, or a fall compounded by someone’s else weight, such as might happen while playing a sport like football, soccer or baseball. In this case, the ligament might be torn completely. In very severe cases, it may also cause some fracturing of the ankle and/or even dislocation.
The ankle is a wonder of design; it is a very stable joint that not only carries your body weight, but withstands a lot of pressure and impact when you run and jump. It is really made up of two joints; the true ankle joint is formed by the meeting of three bones–the tibia, fibia and talus—and works like a hinge to create the up and down movement of the ankle. The subtalar joint is formed by the talus and the calcaenus, and allows for the side-to-side motion of the ankle. Ligaments are the soft tissues that connect bones to bones, while tendons are the soft tissues that connect muscles to bones; both are made up of small fibers of collagen. Cartilage is the tough yet soft, slippery tissue that creates cushioning and slip between the bones. A sprained ankle can result in torn tissues in the muscles, tendons or ligaments, damage the cartilage, and in severe cases, may involve fractures in the bones.
The pathology of a sprain begins in the acute stage—the first 1-2 days–with internal bleeding at the injury site. Fluid builds up in the tissues of the joint, which leads to swelling. After a few days, the active bleeding stops and inflammation begins to exert pressure around the area, compressing the blood vessels and slowing down the flow of fresh blood. This results in blood stagnation.
When blood has built up in the joint and stopped moving freely, it has a negative effect on the healing process. Incomplete healing can mean that the ankle loses some of both its stability and flexibility. The tendons and ligaments can become fragile, which means the joint is now more susceptible to re-injury.
For immediate home care of a sprain, follow the Universal Rule of RICE. (see box below) Do not massage the area during the first week of recovery. After that, gentle self-massage between the knee and ankle, focusing on releasing tightness in the shin and calf, is best. Don’t walk or put any weight on the foot for 3-7 days, depending on the severity of the injury. When you are ready to being exercising the ankle, begin with gentle, non-weight-bearing movements.
A good exercise to try is the “A to Z Exercise”:
Lift the injured leg, or cross it over the other leg so the ankle and foot can move freely. Using the big toe as the point of your “pencil,” draw the letters of the alphabet in the air, using at first very small, circular movements of the ankle joint. Gradually, work up to making the letters larger.
After 2-3 weeks, you may be ready begin engaging in activities that increase the range of motion, yet still keep most of your weight off the ankle, doing exercises such as pedaling a bike, swimming, or walking through water.
Gradually, after 4-5 weeks, you will be able to resume walking on a flat surface.
It is good to see your acupuncturist as soon as possible after spraining an ankle. The treatment will focus on stopping the internal bleeding and reducing the swelling of the joint. Minimizing inflammation and maximizing the constant circulation of blood will speed healing and help to ensure that the injury does not become a chronic one.