Anti-inflammatory HTPT – Smell like pancakes *and* feel better!

Last month I mentioned that I was having some trouble with my Arnica distributer (problem resolved – it’s in stock and ideal for bruises, sprains, and strains). I found a fantastic solution: Hai Tong Pi Tang. This is an ancient Chinese anti-inflammatory formula, containing frankincense, myrrh*, saffron, and a number of other herbs. The tincture is in an alcohol base, and made by a local acupuncturist. It comes in a spray bottle, so you can easily apply to any injured or inflamed area. External use only, and not on broken skin, please!

Here’s a fun bonus: The aromatic herbs combine to create a “pancake” scent. Much nicer than Ben-Gay or the usual herbal stinkiness! Watch out, though, you might get nibbled on by fans of maple syrup. :) 1oz bottle for $12, or 2 oz for $24.

frankincense resin

Frankincense resin – anti-inflamatory, anti-bacterial, and calming.

*Frankincense and myrrh have been “Moving” herbs in the Chinese pharmacopia for thousands of years. They are used to treat “stagnation,” which translates to muscular stiffness and pain, among other things. I was once on a cross-country flight when my back seized up. This was early in my acupuncture schooling, while I was still recovering from a traumatic car accident. Somehow I had neglected to pack any anti-inflammatory medication, and the flight attendants weren’t allowed to give me any. I was in so much pain, and I had hours left in that horrible seat! Then I remembered that I had brought along my herb samples to study for an identification test the next Monday. I ate the frankincense and myrrh samples – something I DON’T recommend, as they taste terrible! – and within 20 minutes my pain was gone. I’ve been a big fan ever since.

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, or a weak muscle failing to hold the bone in place. 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.

 

BL-40 (back pain, knee pain, hot flashes)

BL-40, Wei Zhong (Middle of the Crook), is located in the center of the back of the knee. It’s the Ruler of the Lower Back, so I often use it to treat lumbar problems. It’s also great for deep knee pain and to cool the Blood* – try it if you’re overheated next summer, or if you’re suffering from hot flashes. Other good points for lower back pain: LV-3, GB-34, Du-4.

BL-40, the Ruler of the Back.

*Remember: The Chinese concept of “Blood” is different from your physical blood. I am not talking about your literal circulatory system. :)

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.

LV-3 (irritability, hormones, leg, hip, or lower back pain)

LV-3, Tai Chong (Great Surge)

Liver 3 is found on the top of the foot, between the long bones of the 1st and 2nd toe. It’s a very important point for the Liver, and helps to move stuck energy from the waist down. You can use it to treat lumbar back pain, leg or knee pain – pretty much any stagnation in the lower body. It’s also great for red eyes and other “Yang Rising” problems, and for dysmenorrhea & hormonal imbalances. LV-3 is an excellent point for treating irritability and grouchiness, particularly if it’s due to hormonal issues like PMS.

LV-3 – “The grouchy point” – will also soothe the lower back.

When used in combination with LI-4, these points are called the Four Gates and can really blast out some stuck Qi. DO NOT use these points if there is any possibility of pregnancy, since they can induce a miscarriage. In fact, they are some of my favorites for evicting overdue babies. It will also increase menstrual flow if the patient is having her period.

Press firmly for 10-30 seconds.

The Shoulder

Front view of the bones of the shoulder joint.

We can do amazing things with our arms. Lift them overhead, cross our chests, even link our hands at our spines. In fact, the shoulder is the most mobile joint in our bodies, thanks to its “ball and socket” configuration. See how the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the scapula (that triangular bone in your upper back) like a baseball into a glove? It can spin on the smooth, round surface to provide a spectacular range of motion.

The posterior (back) view of the shoulder.

Just as with national politics, there’s a trade-off between freedom and stability. The complexity of this joint makes it prone to a variety of injuries. Cartilage lines the articulating joint surfaces to create a smooth track for movement. If torn, it takes a long time to heal and may require surgery. There’s the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that provides cushioning. Inflammation here, called bursitis, can be very painful. Rest, ice, anti-inflammatory drugs, and acupuncture are the best treatments (of course an anti-inflammatory diet will help, too). The well-known rotator cuff is actually a set of four deep muscles that stabilize the joint and work to rotate the humerus. Three (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor) can be seen in the drawing of the back view of the shoulder. The fourth, subscapularis, attaches to the front of the scapula and goes to the front of the humerus and the joint capsule. If torn, they will require rest and then specialized exercises to repair.

Overtop the rotator cuff is a layer of larger muscles, such as the latissimus dorsi & teres major (back), and the pectoralis muscles (front), and the deltoid (that roundy bit at the corner). These are your heavy duty movers. Ironically, since the lats and pecs both attach to the front of the humerus, unbalanced exercising can lead to an internally rotated (palms towards the back) shoulder, or “ape” posture. This is a great example of the importance of an intelligent, balanced workout plan. Then of course there are all the muscles that continue down the arm to control the elbow, including the triceps and biceps.*

If any of these muscles are dysfunctional, the bursa is irritated, or the cartilage is torn, you can have shoulder pain and loss of range of motion. Connective tissue can adhere, and scar tissue builds up over time. In extreme cases, you can develop Frozen Shoulder, which is exactly what it sounds like. It just won’t move. There are other causes of shoulder pain, too, ranging from nerves being pinched at the neck to gallbladder disease, but these musculoskeletal problems are the most common.
Acupuncture can reduce inflammation, increase bloodflow, relax tight muscles, and speed healing. I can also perform Osteopathic medical massage to break up scar tissue, release myofascial adhesions, and retrain the neurological system. This allows chronically tight muscles to return to normal. In most cases, therapeutic exercise is important for complete healing.

*Please note that I’m simplifying the anatomy quite a bit  for the purposes of this article. If you’re interested in all the marvelous details of our bodies, I highly recommend Netter’s Atlas.

LI-4 (headache, arm or facial pain, infection, hot flashes)

LI-4: Hegu. This point is astonishingly useful for a wide variety of complaints, but don’t use it if your patient is pregnant!

Large Intestine 4 is the acupoint most well-known by the general public. I first had it taught to me by a riding instructor when I was a kid living in rural Virginia. The name for this point is Hegu, “Joining Valley,” which is a reference to its anatomical location on the back of your hand, in that fleshy area between the thumb and forefinger. Feel around – it’ll be tender if you need it – but the easiest way to find it is to squeeze your thumb against your hand. The highest point of the muscle is where you want to press. Use firm, gentle pressure for 10-20 seconds with a healing intention. Try both sides.

Hegu, or Joining Valley, is a tremendously useful point. It moves stagnation, so you can use it to clear pain and stiffness anywhere in the upper body. Hegu will be particularly effective along the LI channel, which runs from the nail of the forefinger, along the forearm to the lateral (outside) elbow, up the arm and across the shoulder, eventually crossing the upper lip to end at the opposite side of the nose. Shoulder and elbow pain, carpal tunnel, and (of course) headaches are common uses. It’s specifically the Ruler of the Face, so it’s doubly powerful for frontal headaches, eye pain, sinus blockage, and tooth pain. It also releases heat and is part of a point combination for fighting viral or bacterial infections. If  you are prone to hot flashes, this point could be your new best friend. Also use LI-11, pictured here, to clear heat.

And by the way… the leading cause of headache is dehydration. Drink a glass of water!

WARNING: Because Hegu is a moving point, DO NOT use it if you are pregnant or bleeding. It can induce a miscarriage or increase blood loss. On the other hand, if you are overdue and want to evict your baby, this is a great way to do so, along with some other points (assuming everyone is healthy and it’s not a complicated pregnancy!). It will usually increase menstrual flow if the patient is having her period. If you have a severe headache paired with sudden loss of motor control or speech, get to a hospital immediately. DO NOT use LI-4 until you are sure you are not having a hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding inside the brain). This goes for head injuries, too!

 

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 (Note: You’ll have to read labels carefully. “Spices” may contain paprika, and lots of prepared foods like shredded cheese can contain potato flour). 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?

Spicy food junkies: Fear not! You can still enjoy horseradish, onion, garlic, ginger, and all the peppercorns, including long pepper.

Here’s a nightshade-free curry recipe and one for NonNightshade 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 found online (OMG SO GOOD!!!! I used the higher levels of spice for everything and loved it! If you use all regular beets it’s purple. If you use 50% regular beets and 50% golden beets, you’ll get a red sauce with a less “beety” taste. Freezes well, too!).

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 isn’t a good solution. 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.