Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to Treat Hyperthyroidism With Acupuncture and TCM

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

Thyroid problem or menopause?
Thyroid problems or menopause?

Changes in mood, appetite, hair, and skin?  Wondering whether these could be signs of menopause; or could it be a thyroid problem? The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are often similar to what we think of as typical signs of menopause. Acupuncture treatment has been shown to be effective at helping to manage many types of endocrine system conditions, including hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Hyperthyroidism, sometimes called “overactive thyroid,” refers to a set of various disorders in which the thyroid gland produces excess hormones. This leads to thyrotoxicosis, a condition in which there is too much thyroid hormone in the body. Sometimes this is indicated by a visible swelling of the thyroid gland in the front of the neck, known as a “goiter.”

Thyroid disorders are much more common in women than in men, and they often develop in young adulthood, between the ages of 20 and 40. However, people of any age can show signs of hyperthyroidism. In older adults, the symptoms of an overactive thyroid can be subtle, and easily confused with those of other hormonal imbalance conditions such as perimenopause symptoms and diabetes. It can often be difficult and take years for patients to be diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, and then to find the right treatment to solve their problem. Hyperthyroidism can have different root causes, and treating it effectively requires finding the correct source of the problem.

It is important to address thyroid problems because hyperthyroidism increases the risk for heart disease and osteoporosis. There is some evidence that people with Graves’ disease are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancers. Acupuncture has been shown to be a safe and effective alternative or adjunct treatment for all kinds of thyroid disorders. The TCM approach can help correct the symptoms of excess thyroid hormone by restoring balance at the source of the problem.

Top 5 Causes of Hyperthyroidism

Several different factors can lead to enlargement or inflammation of the thyroid and the overproduction and output of thyroid hormones. Some causes of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Hyperthyroidism can develop due to nodules or a multinodular goiter on the thyroid gland, which causes it to secrete extra hormones. 
  • Thyroiditis, swelling of the thyroid gland, can linger after a viral infection. Some thyroid problems are caused by autoimmune disorders. 
  • Graves’ disease causes antibodies to mistakenly attack the tissue of the thyroid, causing inflammation and overproduction of thyroid hormones. 
  • The thyroid gland uses the mineral iodine to make thyroid hormones, so sometimes hyperthyroidism is linked with too much iodine in the diet, often due to the use of certain supplements. 
  • Sometimes people are prescribed hormone replacement medications, and taking too much of them leads to hyperthyroidism.

Hashimoto disease also attacks the thyroid gland, but in that case, it causes the thyroid to stop producing enough hormones, leading to hypothyroidism. 

Top 10 Signs of an Overactive Thyroid

check front of neck for enlarged thyroid goiter
Check your neck for signs of an enlarged thyroid

The thyroid gland is located on the lower front of the neck, beneath the larynx, or voice box. Check for signs of swelling that might indicate an enlarged thyroid (goitres) by watching in a mirror as you tilt your head back slightly and swallow a mouthful of water. If you notice any bulging, have it checked by a doctor.

Other signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  1. Nervousness or anxiety, a “hyperactive” restless feeling
  2. Fast or irregular heart rate
  3. Irritability
  4. Unexplained weight loss, constant thirst and hunger
  5. Having to urinate frequently and/or loose bowels
  6. Difficulty sleeping
  7. Itchiness or “twitching” 
  8. Sensitivity to temperatures, excessive sweating, red hands
  9. Swelling in the neck
  10. Loss of libido

As you can see, many of these are often associated with menopausal symptoms: feeling hot and sweaty (hot flashes), low libido (vaginal atrophy or dryness), irritability/sensitivity, sleep problems, etc. 

When hyperthyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disorder, there is often noticeable bulging or protrusion of the eyes. This is called Graves’ ophthalmopathy, Graves’ eye disease, or Thyroid Eye Disease (TED). This happens because some of the tissues around the eye are chemically similar to those of the thyroid gland, and the immune system is attacking those cells, resulting in inflammation around the eye. This can cause blurry vision, dryness because the lids can’t close fully over the eyeball, and headaches because of pressure behind the eyes. Changes in hair texture or loss of hair are another sign of Graves’ disease.

Hormone Testing for Thyroid Problems

The endocrine system is very complex and relies upon the harmonious functioning of several different endocrine glands producing hormones that work in concert to maintain stability of a person’s whole life process: waking, sleeping, self-regulating temperature, eating and digesting, and many other more subtle processes. The proper working of the thyroid gland is in close relationship with the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, both located in the brain.

The thyroid gland produces various hormones which have to do with growth, metabolism, and reproduction, including thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The pituitary gland produces TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which triggers production of the thyroid hormones T4, T3, and others. Thus the pituitary gland is responsible for gauging how much thyroid hormone is flowing through the body in the bloodstream, and making adjustments as necessary. 

When a thyroid problem is suspected, the first kind of testing done is usually a TSH blood test. A TSH test showing a high TSH level would suggest that thyroid hormone levels are low, and that the pituitary gland is making more TSH to try to stimulate production, while a low TSH would indicate that the thyroid may be producing too much hormone, and the pituitary gland is trying to slow down production. Either kind of abnormal TSH level might lead to more specific testing to determine levels of T4, “free T4 (FT4),” or T3.

Medical treatment for hyperactive thyroid depends on what is causing the problem. If the thyroid is producing too much hormone “autonomously,” that is, if there are normal TSH levels and the pituitary gland seems to be functioning, then radioactive iodine is usually employed to bring down the thyroid hormone levels. When the problem is an autoimmune problem, as in Graves’ disease, a course of “anti-thyroid” medication, such as thiamazole, may bring the hormone levels back to normal. An enlarged thyroid gland may indicate a surgical solution.

Can Acupuncture Help Thyroid Problems?

dry itchy eyes
Dry, itchy eyes and skin can be a symptom of a thyroid disorder

In TCM philosophy, most disease stems from imbalances in the key energies of the body and spirit. “Qi” a life force energy that flows along pathways through the body called “meridians,” must be kept strong and flowing freely; if Qi is weak, or the meridians are blocked, certain organs will not get the nourishment they need, and illness will result. Yin and Yang are two energies that work together in opposition to maintain balance, like a scale. If either Yin or Yang becomes dominant, the other one becomes weaker, and there will be problems of “deficiency” and/or “excess.”

In the case of an overactive thyroid, the constant striving of Yang energy creates a deficiency of Yin, and the overall Qi energy is also weakened. The hyperactive energy of hyperthyroidism is interpreted through TCM as being related to heat, and especially too much fiery energy from the liver. We view blockages as being related to stagnation of Qi, or blood, or phlegm. In this case, phlegm stagnation is impeding the flow to and from the thyroid gland.

  • Liver heat causes symptoms like: redness of the skin, itchiness, irritability, hunger and high metabolism, and a quickened pulse. 
  • Weakness of Qi and Yin causes: trouble breathing, trouble sleeping, sweating, and dryness of the eyes and mouth. 
  • Phlegm stagnation is considered the reason for the swelling of the thyroid gland itself.

TCM treatment for hyperthyroidism uses acupuncture and individualized herbal formulations to clear heat and phlegm, strengthen Qi and Yin, and cool down liver fire and overworked Yang.

One study showed improvement in hyperthyroid symptoms of over 88% of patients after having received a course of acupuncture, with some patients making full recoveries. A study that focused on the use of a specific Chinese herb formulation in addition to methimazole medication for patients with Graves’ disease concluded that TCM herbs were effective as an adjunct treatment for helping to bring FT3, FT4, and TSH levels back to normal.

Acupuncture Near Me for Hyperthyroidism

Disorders of the thyroid and the endocrine system in general, especially those that are related to autoimmune disorders, can be very challenging to manage. At Art of Wellness, we have over 30 years of experience dealing with all types of hormone imbalances. The TCM approach offers a highly personalized course of treatment for hyperthyroidism, which can be a valuable adjunct to conventional medicine. If you or someone you know suspects they may have an overactive thyroid, consider consulting with a qualified acupuncturist as part of your health care plan.

 

*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 Asthma With Acupuncture and TCM

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

asthma cough
Asthma cough is usually worse in the morning and at night.

Difficulty breathing? Could it be seasonal allergies, or could I have asthma? Asthma symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, and an allergy cough that is usually more pronounced in the morning and evening. Acupuncture and TCM have long been recognized as offering effective treatment for allergic rhinitis related to asthma.

Asthma, a chronic lung condition which creates inflammation of the airways of the respiratory system, often begins causing breathing problems in childhood. In fact, asthma is the most common chronic disease affecting children worldwide. Sometimes asthma symptoms go away as a child grows up, but asthma can affect both children and adults long-term. 

What is an asthma attack? An asthma attack occurs when the bronchial tubes become constricted. The tightening of muscles around the bronchi, combined with inflammation on the inner walls of these airways, causes shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, and wheezing. Asthma attacks can be profoundly frightening; sometimes people describe the experience as feeling like they’re drowning. 

Allergy triggers like dust mites and ragweed often cause asthma symptoms to flare up. Asthma attacks are often triggered by the same sorts of things that cause other types of allergic reactions: high pollen counts, pet dander, chemical perfumes, or smoke. An asthma attack can also be caused by changes in temperature, strong aerobic exercise, or a bout of intense crying or laughing. A viral respiratory infection can also trigger asthma.

Asthma attacks due to seasonal allergies are often managed by conventional medicine with inhalers, corticosteroids like methylprednisolone, or antihistamines like Zyrtecs. Usually doctors will prescribe a medication intended for long-term management of symptoms, and a “rescue inhaler” designed to stop an asthma attack in progress. Allergy medications can help relieve hay fever symptoms like itchy eyes and sneezing and help prevent a full-blown asthma attack, but they do not address the immune system imbalances that are the root cause of asthma and allergies. Acupuncture treatment used in addition to standard medical remedies for asthma has been clinically shown to help reduce symptoms and improve overall quality of life. Along with helping people maintain their normal activities and sleep better, TCM methods used in conjunction with conventional medical therapy can reduce the need for trips to the emergency room or hospital for asthma attacks.

Can asthma be cured? Asthma may never go away completely, but it can be managed so effectively that it no longer has a negative impact on your life.

Top 5 Asthma Symptoms

Asthma symptoms often begin appearing during childhood, but asthma can come on at any age. When a person develops asthma later in life, it is called “adult onset asthma.” Sometimes people don’t realize they have asthma because they aren’t experiencing what they think of as the classic “asthma attack.” A persistent cough, especially one that gets worse at night, is actually one of the most pervasive symptoms of asthma. Other symptoms of asthma include:

  1. Coughing frequently, allergy cough
  2. Wheezing (that whistling sound when you breathe)
  3. Shortness of breath (having trouble drawing a full breath)
  4. Rapid breathing
  5. Chest tightness, breathing chest pain

Why is asthma worse at night? The precise reason for the increase of asthma symptoms during the night, known as “nocturnal asthma,” has not been medically proven, but it is probably due to a combination of factors:

  • Cooler air entering the bronchial passages
  • Increase of allergens like pollen in the air
  • Exposure to dust mites or pet dander in the bed
  • Reclining sleep position makes it harder to breathe
  • Hormone secretions that occur during sleep

Nighttime asthma can really affect your ability to get enough quality sleep

model of the lungs
Asthma affects the lungs and bronchial tubes.

Many of the symptoms of asthma are similar to those of an allergic reaction. However, seasonal allergies usually also cause symptoms like: head congestion, runny nose, itching inside the mouth, throat, and ears, sinus pain, and postnasal drip. Asthma doesn’t cause these sorts of upper respiratory symptoms because it is a condition of the lungs and bronchial tubes. 

In order to make a definitive diagnosis of asthma, a doctor will usually perform tests that determine your lung function. A spirometer is a tool that helps determine how much air you are able to inhale and exhale. If you are able to inhale better after being given medication from an inhaler, then it will be concluded that you probably have asthma. An x-ray can show whether the bronchial tubes are blocked and determine whether there might be some other cause for lung damage, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis. Often people will also be given allergy testing to determine what triggers may affect their breathing.

Can Acupuncture Help Asthma?

Asthma has been recognized by TCM since ancient times. We call asthma “Xiao Chuan,” which means “wheezing, breathlessness.” According to TCM theory, the lungs control inhaling, while the kidneys control exhaling. Lung Qi (energy) should move downward, while Liver Qi should move upward, and these energies work in harmony. Asthma is the result of one or all of these energies entering into a state of imbalance or deficiency. Excess wind and/or phlegm get trapped in the lungs and airways, creating obstructions and producing the wheezing and shortness of breath associated with asthma. Acupuncture treatment focuses largely on strengthening the kidneys and lungs, and clearing phlegm and wind from the system.

One study determined that acupuncture treatment reduced “respiratory resistance,” helping to open up the bronchial tubes. A study in Denmark focused specifically on young children with asthma showed that symptoms and need for medications was reduced significantly after ten acupuncture treatments. A systematic review of nine studies involving patients using TCM as a complementary therapy in addition to conventional treatment showed an overall improvement in asthma symptoms and concluded that acupuncture should be considered as an adjunct to medications.

breathe deeply
Acupuncture and herbs can help people with asthma and allergies breathe easier.

As always, herbal supplementation is also a crucial component of TCM treatment for asthma and allergiesResearch has shown that classic TCM herbal formulations for asthma provide many therapeutic benefits, including: reducing hyperreactivity in the bronchial tubes, reducing inflammation of the lungs and tubes, and calming muscle contractions around the airways. One study specifically focused on children with asthma concluded that patients who were given a specific TCM herb combination showed significant improvement over a 12-week period when compared to a control group of children who received a placebo instead.

Asthma attacks are genuinely frightening, and when severe, can even be life-threatening. It is important that people with asthma have emergency inhalant medications to help them in the event of a serious asthma attack. However, the regular use of steroid medications comes with other risks. Corticosteroids can suppress normal immune function, affect the adrenal hormones, and actually increase inflammation. These unwanted side effects may be especially concerning for young children with asthma. Chinese herbs offer a safe alternative to steroids, having been used for thousands of years with no negative side effects.

Top 5 Tips to Help Control Asthma

It’s important to seek health care for managing asthma, but there are home remedies for shortness of breath and natural remedies for wheezing that may help you take control of asthma attacks and help you sleep better without an asthma coughing attack in the night.

  1. Don’t smoke, and avoid other people who do. Stay out of places where there is second-hand cigarette smoke or other ambient smoke or chemical perfumes.
  2. Use a high quality air filter in your home. Keep dust and mold under control. Remove old carpets and any other fabrics that might have dust mites in them.
  3. Manage stress. Stress and anxiety can be triggers for asthma attacks. Regular acupuncture treatment will help, as will consistent practice of meditation and breathing exercises.
  4. Avoid dairy products. Milk and other dairy foods are notorious for creating congestion and irritating the airways.
  5. Drink warm, soothing liquids throughout the day. Tea and warm honey-lemon water keep the airways moist and open, while providing immune-boosting properties.

Acupuncture Near Me for Asthma

The benefits of acupuncture treatment are cumulative. Building a strong and consistent partnership with a TCM provider can help you to manage asthma and allergy symptoms, boost your overall immunity, and prevent other health problems from developing. If you or someone you know has breathing problems, allergies, or food sensitivities, call Art of Wellness today to get started with a wellness regimen that will have you breathing easier.

 

 

*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 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. Diabetes can also be a cause of mononeuropathies like carpal tunnel.

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.