The Science of Acupuncture

I get asked all the time… “How does acupuncture work?” Modern science is catching up with 10,000 year old acupuncture. I’ve said for years that we just don’t have the method for seeing the structures yet – just as we didn’t understand the minute complexities of the human body – or imagine MRIs! – 200 years ago. It looks like we are slowly figuring it out! Here are a handful of recent articles exploring the science of acupuncture. These are just the ones that I stumbled across. If I had to time to do an exhaustive search this would be a much longer blog post. :)

From the first article below: Oxygen pressure is higher at acupuncture points!

p6oxygen

 Acupuncture Biochemically Reduces Pain and Inflammation

Acupuncture remaps the primary somatosensory cortex of the brain

MRI Reveals Acupuncture Modulates Brain Activity

CT Scans Reveal Acupuncture Points

New Brain Study – Acupuncture Fights Depression

Acupuncture Holds Promise for Treating Inflammatory Disease

Acupuncture Beats Gabapentin for Hot Flashes in RCT

Acupuncture as effective as drugs in treating pain, trial shows

Biological Evidence for the Existence of Acupuncture Meridians inside lymphatic vessels

Curtin researchers unlock the scientific reasons why acupuncture works – C fibers (nerve branches)

But what about “all those studies” that show it’s not effective?

First of all, there are plenty of studies that prove it works. Insurance companies (even the conservative ones) now cover needles for neck and back pain, because studies have specifically proved it, although some deny claims for, say, shoulder pain, because it hasn’t specifically been studied. Makes me want to roll my eyes. Ug.

Secondly, many of the studies that “prove” it doesn’t work are deeply flawed. They have doctors doing a few recipe points they learned in a 20 – 300hr class, rather than an actual acupuncturist. Sometimes the points they choose are completely mystifying to me – not only do they leave out important ones, but there are always one or two just make no sense at all.

Thirdly, TCM differentiates the cause of disease, but lots of studies don’t. You can have a headache due to Yang rising, or Heart xu (deficiency). When a study gives the same treatment to everyone with a headache, of course it’s not effective! The western medical equivalent is putting people with viruses, bacterial infections, and allergies in one group, giving them all an antibiotic, then declaring that drugs don’t work for runny noses.

There are other problems too, like “sham” acupuncture doing “too well” so there isn’t a statistically significant difference. In one study I read back in school, they basically compared acupressure to acupuncture… then declared nothing worked since they both did. That’s just bad study design. There should have been a third control group with no treatment.
equine acupuncture

Equine acupuncture points from the Bagyuiho (Chinese horse and cow acupuncture text), 1399

And that whole placebo thing? It may play a part, as it does with every medical procedure, but it’s not the whole story. In other states (where it was legal without a vet supervising) I have successfully treated animals – there’s no placebo effect there! When a dog, lying limply on the floor and moaning, after 15 min of needles is bouncing up and down, jumping to kiss her owner’s face… that’s not a placebo. Neither is a rabbit regaining bladder and bowel control after a spinal injury. Of course those are anecdotal evidence, but they’re pretty compelling when they repeatedly happen in front of you. Googling for animal studies quickly gave me a whole new batch of data: Horses are studied most often because they have money-making “careers.”

I’ll be perfectly honest – I’m not sold on some of the more esoteric aspects of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). I don’t twirl my needles in a specific direction, for example. Thousands of years ago, when it was developed, there was philosophy as well as medicine involved, and like all ancient sciences, it could use a little update. But acupuncture itself is amazing. It stimulates neuromuscular junctions, which resets neurons (nerves control muscles, which in turn pull on bones). This helps break the cycle of spasms, or activate a non-firing muscle bundle. It reduces inflammation. It distracts nerve receptors and blocks transmission of pain signals. It helps break up fascial adhesions. With older, chronic problems it creates a microtrauma and alerts the body to a “cold case,” which restarts healing. It’s tremendous for nerve repair – check out my paper on stroke recovery. I’ve seen some truly stunning results from people who were locked inside their bodies, long after Western medical science said there would be no more improvement.

“Yang rising headaches,” is just a term for a diagnosis. It’s no more mysterious than “orthostatic hypotension’” for example, if you understand the language of TCM. The articles above show that we are just starting to understand how points work anatomically. I am confident that science will catch up and we’ll have a clear understanding of this system within my lifetime.

The good news is that it doesn’t really matter whether you believe acupuncture works… because it’s medicine, not voodoo, and it will anyway. :) The science of acupuncture is still evolving, but its effectiveness is clear.

The sacroiliac joint, sciatica, and unexplained lower back pain

I often have patients come in with a “mysterious” chronic lower back pain. Sometimes it’s described as lumbar or hip pain. They’ve been to doctors and chiropractors, but it still persists. As soon as they put their hand on it (low and to the side, where the buttocks meet the back) it’s pretty clear that the problem is the SI – the sacroiliac joint.

Pelvis

The SI joint – where the sacrum meets the ilium – is a long vertical area on the sides of the lower back. Back pain is often centered at the top of the SI joint.

At the bottom of your spine is a triangular bone, the sacrum. Attached to that is your pelvis (made up of the ilium, ischium, and pubis). Your femurs, the long bones of your thighs, settle into a socket on the side of the pelvis. A complex set of ligaments and lots of muscles join all these bones. If one or more of these muscles is tight, weak, or spastic, it can throw the balance of the entire pelvic system off. A few of the major players are Iliopsoas, piriformis, and quadratus lumborum. These muscles keep us upright and help us walk, but when they go bad… I call them the Holy Trinity of Lower Back Pain.

Quadratus Lumborum runs from the lower ribs to the top of the ilium. There are also connections to the spine. This is your "hip hiking" muscle - imagine a "belly dance" sort of motion - but if course it's essential in walking and other daily movements.

Quadratus Lumborum runs from the lower ribs to the top of the ilium. There are also connections to the spine. This is your “hip hiking” muscle – imagine a “belly dance” sort of motion – but if course it’s essential in walking and other daily movements.

Iliopsoas starts at the front of the spine and the ilium, goes through the pelvic cavity, and attaches to the femur. It gets tight on people who sit a lot, particularly if you are tense while sitting (motorcylists and people who hate their jobs).

Iliopsoas starts at the front of the spine and the ilium, goes through the pelvic cavity, and attaches to the femur. It gets tight on people who sit a lot, particularly if you are tense while sitting (motorcylists and people who hate their jobs). When tight, it jams the bones together and creates stress on the joints.

 

Piriformis

This is a back view. The piriformis muscle attaches at the sacrum, and goes across the butt to the femur. The sciatic nerve passes under it or through it, depending on your personal anatomy. When the piriformis gets tight, it squishes the sciatic nerve and can cause electric shocks or pain running down the leg.

With every step you take, the sacrum “nutates” – it tilts back and forth in relation to the ilium. If the bones are jammed together and can’t glide properly, it causes pain. Sitting can also be a painful prospect: If the joint is inflammed, the altered pressure of a seated position can be excruciating. I understand this very well because I developed lower back pain and SI problems along with a L4-L5 disc herniation after my car accident in 2001. I wasn’t able to sit at all for the 6 months before I discovered acupuncture and Osteopathy.

There’s rarely only one muscle involved. Usually a primary dysfuction causes a cascade of compensation with other muscles. Nerves can be pinched by either tight muscles directly or by a bone pulled out of place by a tight muscle (bones don’t move by themselves).  Nerve impingement can lead to pain radiating down the leg or into the genital area. Motor control as well as sensation may be affected. The leg may go weak, or a patient may experience bladder or bowel incontinence (If this happens, get to the ER immediately – they will take steps to relieve pressure on the nerve and prevent permanent damage).

In most cases, the first thing we have to do is reset the tension on the muscles. Acupuncture and medical massage will work wonders here. Once the soft tissue is corrected, I can generally realign the bones with fingertip pressure. They just slide back home with no drama or fuss. Now it’s a matter of allowing the irritated nerve to calm down, which can take 20 minutes to months (or never, in worst-case scenario), depending on the extent of the damage. Whenever you are dealing with entrapped nerves, it’s important to get care immediately. Releasing them quickly gives you the best shot at a full recovery like mine. Getting the pain knocked down allows you to rebuild. Rehabilition exercises and stretches (plus some myofascial release) will make your muscles strong and supple again, so they work properly, which will keep your bones in the right places. I no longer have any back pain, and I’m back in the gym doing heavy workouts including Romanian deadlifts!

Headache & migraine treatment options

Got a headache? The biggest cause is dehydration, so first, have a drink of water. Other common causes are caffeine withdrawal, high blood pressure, stress, low blood sugar, and tight neck muscles. If you have persistent or severe headaches, you should get them checked out by a healthcare professional (If only so they can say “It’s not a tumah!”), but for minor annoyances you can treat it yourself with acupressure (points listed below).

Human skull bonesI usually find that migraines are caused by hormonal imbalances, or by neck muscle tension pulling on cranial bones. Our skulls are not a giant fixed globe: There are lots of different plates and oddly shaped bones that make up our brain protection. The joints (called “sutures”) are shaped like jigsaw puzzles.

My favorite cranial bone, the sphenoid. It barely shows at the side of the head, but inside it makes a gorgeous butterfly shape. When torqued, it also gave me a monstrous migraine headache!

My favorite cranial bone, the sphenoid. It barely shows at the side of the head (it’s pink in the other picture), but inside it makes a gorgeous butterfly shape. When torqued, it also gave me a monstrous migraine headache!

Our bones move with a subtle pulsing called the craniosacral rhythm. If the neck muscles attached to the skull get too tight, they can jam up those joints and cause migraines. The fix: Acupuncture and medical massage for the muscles involved. Craniosacral therapy by a skilled practitioner is also wonderful, but be sure to see someone who’s thoroughly trained. A weekend seminar is not enough! If there are hormonal causes, acupuncture is superb for that as well.

Here’s a handy acupressure point for any headache, including a migraine: It’s in that “second piercing” spot, below the anti-tragus. Press firmly for a few seconds. If you have an earring in, you should remove it if possible, at least until your headache passes. For more information on ear points, check out this article. Also, look at LI-4KD-1, and GB-21 and TB-5  if you have neck tension.

Press firmly with a fingertip or fingernail. It will hurt, but it'll be worth it!
Press firmly with a fingertip or fingernail to stop a headache or migraine. It will hurt, but it’ll be worth it!

 

Arnica for bruises, sprains, strains

I generally don’t use topical stuff or supplements. Even when I have a good remedy, I have a bad tendency to forget to use it. Arnica is my big exception. Arnica montana is an herb that has natural anti-inflammatory properties. It makes a terrific topical oil for bruises, sprains, and strains. It’s fantastic for reducing inflammation in the area and speeding up healing.

arnicaoilI have a source for organic, locally-grown, hand-picked, hand-processed Arnica oil. It also contains a little St. Johns Wort for antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, and olive oil so it soaks into the skin. I prefer topical application to the pills, because it puts the medication where you need it, rather than spreading it out over the entire body, and because in high doses, taken internally, it can be toxic.

In all my years of martial arts, personal training, and running an acupuncture clinic (not to mention my own boo-boos), this is easily the best preparation I have found. It’s far superior to the multitude of diluted oils, creams and homeopathic pills generally available (most contain only small amounts of arnica), and that’s why it’s the only product I carry. I have bottles for $15 – swing by and pick one up! Use on unbroken skin only, please, and of course discontinue if your skin is irritated.

 

Chiropractic, a second look

Many D.C.s are great. If you are seeing a chiropractor and have had good success, fantastic! I am the last person to interfere with something that’s working. But if your “genius” has been “fixing” you for years and you are still the same as when you started… it might be time to rethink chiropractic.

I am NOT a fan of the subset of chiropractors who indiscriminately and overzealously use HVLA adjusting (high-velocity, low amplitude – you know, that violent cracking). Low-force chiropractic like Network, BGI, and activator is absolutely safe, and there are lots of other techniques besides HVLA that are fine. HVLA is appropriate when used to correct an acute injury, like putting a dislocated shoulder back in the socket, but it should not be a frequent therapy. Repetitive stress of supportive ligaments and the resulting inflammation will actually damage the joint.

My information comes from my time at chiropractic school (I completed the first year, including the entire series of cadaver dissection, with nearly straight A’s), my knowledge of functional anatomy as a certified personal trainer and amateur bodybuilder, my 10 year partnership with an Osteopathic medical doctor, my experience seeing patients who have been damaged by repetitive HVLA, and discussions with many physicians of all types. I welcome input from any chiropractor who is interested in a fact-based discussion.

Personally speaking, I suffered a terrible injury when my car was broadsided in the first week of chiropractic school. Their treatments were making me worse, and the more I learned in school, the more I understood why.

1) It doesn’t treat the cause of the problem. Bones don’t move by themselves. If a bone is repetitively out of place, it’s because there’s a tight muscle pulling it that way. Jamming the bones back will cause micro-tears of that tight muscle. It feels good immediately, because you get a nice adrenaline rush along with your temporary fix. An enlightened chiropractic teacher compared HVLA to the shock and rush you get from a shot of vodka. Addicting, but not necessarily good for you. Unfortunately, as soon as the muscle goes back to its usual tight, spasming self, the bone will be pulled back out of alignment. That’s why you need to go back to the chiropractor the next week. Acupuncture and medical massage use the neurological system to retrain those tight muscles, so real healing can begin.

2) Our ligaments and tendons are there for a reason. They provide much-needed joint stability and hold us together. Repetitive HVLA weakens them, and can destroy your joint integrity. We all know that an ankle, having been sprained three times, is pretty much guaranteed to twist again. You do not want that floppiness in your spine. You should not able to crack-crack-crack your back simply by stretching. That’s called hypermobility and it means you can move too much. If you have already been damaged by too much HVLA, you will need to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles to help support those loose ligaments and tendons. Hypermobile backs are more likely to suffer a serious injury if you have an accident (this is what happened to me!).

3) Your reflexes work against HVLA. Quickly yanking on a muscle – even a relaxed one – can cause damage and inflammation. There’s a built in protective reflex that tightens a muscle when it is suddenly lengthened. You can feel this: Fold your friend’s arm at the elbow and put your hand on their bicep. Straighten the arm quickly, and you can feel the bicep twitch under your hand. Now imagine that happening to an already-sore neck muscle being snapped.

4) The pop means nothing. The cracking sound doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been adjusted properly. It’s called cavitation, and it means that nitrogen gas, naturally occurring in your joint fluids, has been released. A similar thing happens when you open a can of soda. The sound means the bones have been rapidly separated (opening the joint space) and then have come back together. They may have come back to the same position, a better one, or a worse one. Misalignments, when corrected gently OMM style, do not make a cracking noise because the joint space is eased into the correct position rather than violently forced.

5) First, do no harm. Some chiropractors don’t bother to diagnose which level is dysfunctional. They just “shotgun” you by cracking all the vertebrae in your spine. Then they flip you over and do the other side. Why cause stress and create inflammation in a joint that’s working? Added bonus: Whenever you have inflammation, scar tissue forms. Trauma (HVLA) every week leads to more and more scar tissue building up. That’s the last thing you need when you’re already hurting.

6) With repetitive strong adjustments, your body becomes dependent on that input. In chiropractic school we joked about “welfare spines.” I had a discussion with an instructor who was brutally blunt about the temporary nature of his treatments. “Of course they have to come back. That’s how you buy your boat.” I found that model of “medicine” distasteful and unethical. I prefer to help the body heal itself. I love acupuncture and OMM because they truly correct how your muscles function.  Combined with proper exercise*, this creates a body that is strong and capable of bouncing back after a minor injury. I don’t want to see you every week for the rest of your life. I’d prefer to get you better and self-sufficient, and then stay in business by fixing all your friends and family. :)

BTW:  “But I can’t help it!” When you are out of alignment, your body will naturally feel compelled to snap itself back in place. After my injury I used to violently crack my neck and back all the time. It never really solved the problem, though… refer to point 1 above! The good news is that the desire to self-adjust melted away when my muscles – and more importantly, the neurons controlling those muscles – were corrected by acupuncture and Osteopathic medical massage.

*Exercise is essential to strengthen weak muscles, remind tight ones how to relax, and get all your muscle fibers integrated and working together. We are built to move! I know firsthand how pain makes you want to curl up on the couch and wait for it to heal, but the hard truth is that it won’t really repair until you put in the work. Get on an anti-inflammatory diet, see me for basic physical therapy-type exercises, and start walking! Better yet, see an expert personal trainer.

 

Ergonomic & Repetitive Stress Injuries

Good ergonomic posture at your desk is important. Even more important - take frequent breaks to walk and stretch.

Good ergonomic posture at your desk is important. Even more important – take frequent breaks to walk and stretch.

Repetitive stress injuries happen when you perform the same movement over and over for an extended period of time. Ergonomic problems are when your position or movement is counter to what your body does naturally. Common examples include carpal tunnel syndrome from using a computer, or a swimmer’s bad shoulder. Sitting itself can cause problems if you do it too much. To avoid injury:

1) Break up the repetitive nature of your motions. Get up and do a lap around the office (or house) every hour or so. Change your routine: Instead of typing on Tuesdays and filing on Wednesdays, do a little of each both days, so you aren’t making the same precise movements for hours. Can you switch to the other side or hand? Even small changes can make a difference. For example, my knitting friends who have trouble will opt for a different size needle (which affects hand position and motion) or even type of project. The more variety the better.

2) Double check your ergonomic situation. It may be helpful to get someone to take a picture of you while you’re working so you can see your own posture. If you use the phone, try a headset. Sitting at your computer, you should be looking straight ahead at the top third of the screen. If you are looking up or down, adjust either your seat height or the monitor. Your elbows should be resting at 90 degrees, and your wrists should be straight. Having them bent down or cocked back for the keyboard increases strain. Your knees should be at hip height or just above. If your chair is too tall, use a footrest. If you have a penny-pinching boss, you should know that OSHA can send out an ergonomic expert (free!) to suggest cheap/free fixes in your office.

When playing sports or working out, consult a coach or professional trainer to be sure you’re using good form. Learn the anatomy relating to your activity. In addition to preventing injury, your performance will improve! I used to be a bodybuilder and certified trainer, so feel free to ask me if you have any questions.

3) Stop as soon as symptoms start. Give your body a chance to heal. Ice and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen may be helpful here, as will an anti-inflammatory diet. Likewise, get care early. A new problem is always easier to chase away than an entrenched one. Myofascial release will free up adhesions. Osteopathic medical massage can retrain your tight muscles, and acupuncture will reduce inflammation.  Rest. Stretch gently, and do any physical therapy exercises your healthcare professional recommends. Try to avoid that activity for a while.

Frequently re-examine your routine and ergonomics to identify any areas that need improvement. By nipping problems in the bud, you can prevent a long-term aggravation.

Unexplained pain & its various causes

There are many reasons your body can hurt. It’s really frustrating when you don’t understand why, but often unexplained pain just means it doesn’t fit into a nice diagnostic box. We’re all familiar with muscle strain/sprain, fatigue, inflammation, and arthritis… you probably already know that acupuncture can help with these. Less understood by the general public are these causes of pain:

Viscero-somatic referral (Viscero= organ, Somatic=relating to the body): In this case your brain misreads a distress signal, so an organ problem feels like a muscular problem. The most famous example is the heart attack that creates an aching arm or jaw, or bone cancer masquerading as a back strain. Pain that doesn’t respond to treatment needs to be assessed by a medical professional to rule out dangerous causes.

Chronic spasticity: Healthy muscles are constantly changing their level of tension. They work with constant feedback from the cerebellum (part of the brain) to make tiny adjustments. This is how we keep our balance and perform tasks smoothly. When a muscle is tight for a long period of time, however, its setpoint changes. It thinks being tight is normal – this is called spasticity. It leads to stiffness, pain, and misalignment of bones as they are pulled out of place. Blood flow is blocked, creating painful ischemia. Tight muscles and misaligned bones can pinch nerves causing “electric shocks,” tingling, or numbness. This is what I see most often when people come in with unexplained pain. There’s nothing to show up on an X-ray or MRI, because the problem is functional, not structural. Massage is a great temporary relief, but to really fix it you need to treat the cause of the problem, the neurological setpoint. Acupuncture and Osteopathic-type medical massage remind the nerve controlling the muscle how it’s supposed to behave. Once the muscle relaxes, bones return easily to their proper place, and the body can heal itself.

Fascial adhesions: Each muscle fiber has connective tissue, called fascia, surrounding it like a layer of Saran wrap.

Connective tissue (white) and muscle fibers. When fascial adhesions form, it can cause unexplained pain.

Connective tissue (white) and muscle fibers

It may help to picture a muscle fiber as a drinking straw in a paper wrapper (sheath of fascial connective tissue). At each end, that fascia becomes our tendons. These sheaths are supposed to slide past each other as muscles move. With long periods of no movement, if the muscles are spastic, or if there’s an injury, they can stick together and form a fascial adhesion. When your muscles are shrink-wrapped together, it can cause muscle stiffness and unexplained pain. Some people like to get in and dig the adhesions apart, deep-tissue massage style. That works well in the short term, but it also causes inflammation… which causes scar tissue… so the adhesions reform.

Myofascial release can help with unexplained pain.Myofascial release, a type of medical massage, uses a more subtle approach to slide the layers apart. I love doing this type of work because the result is immediate freedom of movement with no pain and no boomerang side-effects.

Emotional causes of pain: Sometimes the pain of an injury lasts far longer than it logically should. This usually points to an emotional attachment. The brain literally links the muscular dysfunction with the memory, and the unresolved post-traumatic stress around the incident will actually prevent the body from completely healing. This can happen with gradual, cumulative injuries too: Imagine a tight neck from a job you hate. Patients will frequently have an emotional release when we start working on the physical site. They may start crying, get angry, or suddenly find themselves terrified “for no reason.” Once we get those remaining feelings flushed out, the muscles and tendons often recover rapidly. If you feel something emotional happening during a session, let it out! Releasing pent-up emotions is therapeutic for your body as well as your soul.

Doctors used to blow off psychosomatic illnesses as “all in your head” and not worth treating. The medical community now has a better understanding of the interplay between the mind and body. It’s a two-way street, and they affect each other profoundly. Chronic pain will screw up your neurotransmitters (chemicals in your brain) and temporarily change your personality. Likewise, an overthinking, worried mind can trigger digestive troubles like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

If you have a chronic injury that isn’t healing, it’s worth reflecting for a few minutes. Is there anything your body is trying to tell you? If so, consider talking it out with a therapist or a good friend. Acupuncture can help balance your emotional life, but there may be some work needed on your part, too. Of course you’re welcome to discuss anything in our sessions, and your confidentiality is always assured.

 

 

Fibromyalgia & how to beat it

The FIRST thing to know about Fibromyalgia is that it’s real.

The SECOND thing to know about Fibromyalgia is that it doesn’t have to be forever.

So many people, when they are finally diagnosed, have a bittersweet reaction. At last, they know what is wrong. They might feel vindicated, having endured the eye-rolls and boredom of family members who didn’t believe anything was really wrong. On the other hand, some patients take the diagnosis as a death sentence. They’ve heard nothing but a negative prognosis. They think they are stuck with the pain for the rest of their lives. Some people, exhausted and depressed, can even take on the disease as an identity. DO NOT do this. You are a beautiful person dealing with a temporary disease. There’s a Southern saying “If you’re going through Hell, don’t pitch a tent!” This is perfect advice. Resist the urge to wallow. Focus on the things you CAN do to make yourself better, and keep moving!

I am here to tell you that you CAN overcome Fibromyalgia. I used to have it myself. Now, as long as I am reasonable with my diet and exercise, I am symptom-free!

I see FM as a kind of physical Post-Traumatic Stress. Generally it can be traced back to a physical or emotional trauma. The body’s pain system becomes oversensitive. It reads any little insult as a major injury. To stop this over-reaction, we have to decrease inflammation, reduce stagnation, and decrease stress.

Sleep: See my article on Sleep. Letting your body restore itself overnight is very important!

Exercise: Light, frequent exercise is key to reducing pain. In severe cases, you may need to start with a 5-10 minute walk once a day. That’s fine… just gradually increase the duration. Get up and move a little every few hours instead of sitting still all day. Try to keep your activity levels about the same day to day. Doing too much or being too sedentary will hurt – listen to your body!

Nutrition: Making a few changes in your diet can drastically reduce your pain. Avoid the inflammatory nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, tobacco) as people with FM tend to be sensitive to their natural alkaloids. Sugar is the other big offender. Some people are more sensitive to dairy products, commercial red meat, alcohol, and caffeine than others. It’s worth experimenting a little to find out how your body reacts. Go two weeks without the item in question, then have a big dose. See how you feel that day and especially the next. The answer is usually pretty obvious. If you’re ready/able to make big changes in your diet, you may find that eliminating starches (pasta, bread, rice, etc) can be surprisingly helpful.

Try to eliminate fried and processed foods from your diet as much as possible. Anti-inflammatory foods like dark leafy greens and good fats are important to include.

Relaxation: Being happy is important, too. Pamper yourself by allowing time to read or pursue your other hobbies. Have fun! Enjoy a funny movie, hang out with your friends, pet a cat. Pay attention to the beautiful things in your everyday life.

Good touch: The hypersensitivity of fibromyalgia means that the wrong kind of pressure, even well-intentioned, can be very painful. Deep-tissue work and hard hugs are not appropriate. Instead, I use a gentle touch. Careful medical massage, using a large contact (palm of the hand) instead of a pokey one (fingertips), is wonderful for helping disperse blood and lymphatic stagnation. If there’s a partner in your life, I can teach him or her how to work on you. I am also conservative in my needling for FM patients. I use the skinniest possible (42 gauge) and not many of them… too many can wipe out your energy.

Address the cause: Most FM seems to stem from a past trauma, either physical or emotional. Many patients report a history of abuse. Find a good therapist or some other way to address any hidden grief. Some patients find it useful to write letters to people involved in these emotional injuries. Say it all. You can even write one to yourself (current you or younger you). It doesn’t matter if the person is still part of your life or if they are still alive – it’s about expressing yourself. Afterwards, burn the letter as a symbol of letting go of those emotions.

I can’t overstate the importance of this step. You may feel like you’ve dealt with whatever trauma kicked your FM off, but stop and think. Those land mines can be buried deep. In my case, I had to dig back to my sister’s death when I was 18, as well as the obvious car accident. Once I re-addressed my grief, the majority of my symptoms melted away. Take some time to find the splinters in your soul.

Keeping your identity as separate from a disease, and focusing on the actions you can take, is important for everything herpes to HIV. Some people with long-term managed illnesses, like diabetes or fibromyalgia, actually wind up healthier because they get serious about their diet and exercise. This life is what we make of it. Go make something awesome! 

 

Common Typical TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Patterns for Fibromyalgia

One person may exhibit more than one pattern.

Liver* Qi Stagnation – anxiety, emotional upset, headaches (including migraine headache), being easily angered, muscle stiffness in neck and shoulders, insomnia, waking frequently and having difficulty falling back to sleep, irritable bowel syndrome. All symptoms may be triggered by emotional stress.

Qi and Blood Deficiency – specifically spleen Qi deficiency and heart blood/liver blood deficiency, with such symptoms as chronic fatigue, exhaustion, dull headache, muscle weakness and numbness, insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep and waking up tired, palpitations and depression.

Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis – aches and pains in the whole body, burning or gnawing pain with tingling sensations in extremities, headaches.

Kidney* Deficiency (either Yin, Yang, Qi or Essence Deficiency) – there will be impotence or lack of libido for males and infertility issues for both males and females. Other symptoms: sore lower back with restless leg syndrome, irritable bladder, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, premenstrual syndrome, hot flashes and night sweats.

* Please note that the Chinese organs are energetic concepts and may or may not relate to the physical organs!

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine provide relief of symptoms by balancing Yin and Yang, and adjusting the circulation of Qi and the blood. Local measures such as heat, gentle therapeutic massage, and moxibustion* in specific regions also help to reduce the pain. A regular plan, with long-term, consistent integrative treatment is necessary in patients with fibromyalgia.

* I prefer myofacial release and moxa as methods to break up stagnation rather than cupping for people with fibromyalgia. Cupping, especially if done too harshly, creates bruising / bleeding under the skin and contributes to excess inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory Diet & Nightshades

If you have osteo-arthritis or an inflammatory disease (Fibromyalgia, IBS, etc), listen up: There are ways to alter your diet that will help decrease your pain! It’s also very helpful when you want to reduce inflammation after an injury.

1) Avoid sugar. This includes soda* and high-glycemic foods that will break down quickly into sugars. White bread, pasta, and starches will all contribute to inflammation.
2) Avoid fried foods. Enough said.
3) Grain-fed red meat is a problem for some people. Grass-fed meat is less inflammatory, since the fat structure is different.
4) You can counteract pain by eating ANTI-inflammatory foods. Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach will help a lot. Berries (except for goji and blueberries), turmeric, garlic, celery, pineapple, cocoa, ginger, and foods containing good fats (extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, salmon, nuts) are great, too. If you are sensitive to oxalates, however, be careful not to overdose on the dark leafy greens.

5) Foods your body doesn’t like. Some people are sensitive to dairy or wheat, for example. If you know you react badly to something, avoid it when you are in pain.

6) The Nightshade (Solanaceae) plants contain a small amount of an alkaloid toxin called solanine. Some people aren’t bothered by it. Other people, especially those with auto-immune issues & arthritis, tend to be sensitive to this family of plants. Most are unaware of the pain they are causing themselves, because they eat them so often, and because the inflammation & ache are delayed up to 24 hrs.

Tomatoes
Potatoes (Sweet potatoes and yams are ok)
Peppers, including spicy, chili, and bell peppers, and paprika (Black, white, and green pepper is ok- it’s actually a peppercorn. Long pepper is ok, too.)
Eggplant
Tobacco

Although less well known, Goji berries are nightshades, too.

Note: Blueberries, huckleberries, artichokes, and okra are not in the Nightshade family, but they also contain solanine.

The good news: It’s very easy to find out if you are Nightshade sensitive. Simply remove all of them from your diet for two weeks. Then have a big dose of tomatoes, potatoes, or drink a V8. See how you feel that evening and the next day. If within 24 hrs your pain is worse, you are Nightshade-sensitive. Wherever you have inflammation, that’s where it will show up. If not, congrats – you can go back to all the tomatoes you want.

The alkaloid is degraded by heat. Raw Nightshades are more toxic than cooked, and the extreme heat of deep-frying is even better … but fried foods are inflammatory for other reasons, so don’t get too excited. I will eat a small amount of potato chips on a special occasion because they are fried all the way through, but not french fries, since they are still squishy in the middle.

The combination of Nightshades and sugar is a doozy. I can get away with a small amount of tomato paste, but even a tiny squirt of ketchup will make my hands ache the next day.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet is a relatively simple way to decrease your pain and make a real difference in your quality of life. Some people have inflammatory reactions to dairy or wheat, and that may be worth testing the same way as the Nightshades. You don’t have to be perfect all the time – just pick your battles, okay?

Here’s a nightshade-free curry recipe and one for non nightshade Mexican. Substitute either cauliflower or sweet potatoes for regular potatoes. Pizza and pasta are great with pesto sauce. There’s even a “No-Mato” marinara sauce I just found online (OMG SO GOOD!!!! I used the higher levels of spice for everything and loved it!).

UPDATE 4/29/16: Now that I’ve been Nightshade-free for a decade, I’ve found that I can get away with cheating once in a while. There seems to be a cumulative effect. By staying away 99% of the time, and preventing a build-up of inflammation, I can enjoy the occasional indiscretion. 

*Diet soda is bad too. While it doesn’t contain sugar, the artificial sweeteners cause their own problems, including triggering the body to start storing more calories as fat.

Detox your body and spirit

(written Jan 2012)

It seems like every January, people ask me about detoxification programs. That makes sense. We live in a pretty dirty world, in terms of chemical pollution. There are hormones and horrifying chemicals in our food. And of course our heads are full of unhealthy thoughts. How do we take an internal shower? Here are some ideas for both physical and emotional detoxing.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn detox strategies from David Eisen, the co-founder of the National Acupuncture Detox Association, while volunteering at the Portland Alternative Health Center (now Central City). After addicts got past those worst few hours of stopping drugs, they came to us. I treated people getting clean from crystal meth, heroin, PCP, and alcohol. All of these cases had one set of ear needles in common, the 5 Needle Protocol. 5NP uses points that calm agitation and to speed up the body’s process of filtering out toxins.

We can also use 5NP to clear out pollutants like mercury and pesticides. In my Pennsylvania clinic, it was shockingly effective in relieving pain for a patient who had a bad reaction to a statin drug. Here’s her story:

“I was in terrible pain due to an adverse reaction to a new prescription from my doctor. I hadn’t slept in four nights and I was taking 800 mg of Motrin every four hours to no effect. My doctor ordered blood tests and ruled out other causes and wanted to give me Percocet for the pain. I knew from experience that I would react badly to Percocet. I left the doctor’s office with no hope and a possible referral to a busy rheumatologist who could see me the following week. I knew I’d never make it. I called Sharon Rose. She made a house call and saw me that afternoon. Immediately, I was free of pain and slept that night. After 12 hours, some of the pain and swelling returned but with treatments from Sharon every other day I was soon totally off the Motrin, free of pain, free of swelling, and feeling the best I’ve felt in years.”

This same detox protocol, combined with two specific wrist points, are my smoking cessation treatment. By getting the nicotine out of the system more rapidly, it helps reduce the “jitters” and irritability, and decreases cravings. Remember that I am happy to help anyone quit smoking for free – so tell your friends if they’re still hooked. I’m here when they’re ready.

Okay  – so that’s the physical side. What about mental and emotional toxicity? Negative thought patterns, like prolonged fear and anger, will poison us just as surely as hemlock.

Take a minute to ground yourself. Ideally, you should lie down in a quiet place and consciously relax. I love to teach my patients the French Press visualization (now is when you have to pardon me for the “grounds” pun).

French Press

French Press: Filter out the bad stuff!

Imagine you’re that cylinder, with the filter at the top of your head. Slowly move it down, trapping all the bad stuff as it goes. Clear your mind… all the tension & pain is yucky black goo getting swept up by the filter. Above it, you are clear, relaxed, happy. Gradually move that filter down your body, focusing on each level. Neck, shoulders, back… with each inch, more toxins are ensnared. Finally, you will have a clean, healthy body with all the bad stuff stuck at the bottom. If the French Press doesn’t float your boat, be a tube of toothpaste and squish the goo out. I don’t care what image you use as long as it works for you. Here’s the important bit – push it out of your body through the bottoms of your feet or the tips of your toes (Note: Don’t do this with a pet sitting at your feet – they are sensitive to energy work).  Repeat as necessary.

6209734716_88e1482ece_mYou can also imagine yourself floating in a magic stream, with your head upstream. The water is flowing through you, washing away all the pain, tension, disease… all the bad stuff… it just gets swept away by the cleansing water moving through you.

The quickie version, at work or when there’s a houseful of screaming kids and bickering relatives: Go to the bathroom, shut the door, and take a deep breath. Sit down for a second and do a mini version of the filter technique. You’ll be amazed at how well it works with just a little practice.