What I’ve Learned About Sciatica and Herniated Discs – Part II

This is part two of a series about healing injured discs. Last time we emphasized how important it is to get a good diagnosis and imaging. But what exactly did I do to heal my disc and avoid surgery and injections? I’m not gonna say it was easy. I did say that I changed my life for a year, and then some. But now my own body has done such a good job of healing that I’m almost back to normal and I’m stronger and less likely to have more problems. No complications like permanently damaged nerves, or immobilization problems in the future. I want to emphasize that it’s worth it.

Let’s split things up into the short term, and the long term. As soon as you know you have an injured disc, it’s important to slow down. You will have to alter your work and/or home life so that you don’t overdo it and you have to lie down some throughout the day. Your disc needs time to heal, and time when there is little to no pressure on it.

At the same time, it is important to also keep walking and stretching. In the past, medical professionals thought we needed to lie still most of the time when a disc was injured. Now we know that people get better faster if they keep walking some. Walking helps promote circulation to the area so it can heal, helps the body drain fluids from a ruptured disc or from inflammation that may be irritating nerves, and helps keep muscles looser so they do not impinge the nerve.

One of the worst things for your disc is sitting. Sitting puts the most pressure at the disc. Interestingly, standing or walking reduces the pressure since the spine is kind of hanging there between the hips. Somehow, 30 minutes seems to be the limit before flare ups are caused, so no sitting longer than 30 minutes.

Acupuncture is also a very important part of the process. I normally get acupuncture regularly anyway, but as soon as I knew I had an injured disc, I began getting acupuncture two times per week. Acupuncture is one of the best treatments for discs for both pain relief and to promote healing. In a disc injury case, it may not take your pain away in one session, but over time, pain relief will build, although we are always fighting against the pressure we are always putting on discs. So for the first 3-6 months, it’s always very up and down with discs no matter what you do — be patient.

I recommend the following schedule:

  1. rest in what’s called 90-90 (see photo) or neutral position 10-30 minutes 3-6x/day90-90-position-back-pain
  2. In between – NO SITTING LONGER THAN 30 MINUTES. Walk, stand, stretch.
  3. Walk at least 10 minutes 3x/day. Walking for 30-60 minutes for one of those sessions is highly beneficial, but no longer. Too long can be harmful as well. I started saying, “my back is like a dog, it needs to be walked three times a day.” I quickly figured out that a 10 minute walk before bed really helped me sleep with less pain.
  4. Get acupuncture 2-4 times per week. That’s right, you can go often if you want and can afford it. I went to other practitioners 2x/week, but also needled myself sometimes in between. Find a good acupuncturist who has had experience with disc injuries and nerve irritation. No cupping or deep massage for the first 3-6 months. This just irritates the already irritated nerves, and may disrupt the “holding” mechanism your body has instituted to protect the disc while it heals. Besides pain relief, acupuncture also ensures the area heals in the best way by clearing unwanted fluids and preventing unnecessary tissue buildup.

That’s the basics for now. Next time we will talk about adding in core strengthening, stretching, swimming, and supplements. Take it easy for now. Good luck, you can do it!

 

 

What I’ve Learned About Sciatica and Herniated Discs – Part I

Exactly one year ago, I developed sciatica.  I’ve now overcome it, with no shots, no surgery.  As a health care practitioner, I already knew quite a bit about back-painsciatica, but it turned out I still had more to learn.  Since I have many connections, and know what questions to ask, my knowledge of discs and sciatica expanded exponentially.  I learned so much that I decided to write a series all about sciatica and discs.

Part I  – Getting it Diagnosed and Avoid Surgery at All Costs

Many people think that Western Medicine should be able to get them out of pain as soon as possible, even if it means surgery.  But when it comes to a disc, that is not always the best idea.  Yes, there are certain situations where you might need surgery, which I will mention.  However, any invasion of the body is just that, an invasion, and usually creates scar tissue where your body would not if it healed on its own.  If things can be cleaned up a little with minimal invasion, that’s better, but still not ideal.  And the only surgery they have for a ruptured disc these days is spinal fusion, (take special note of the risks!) which you really don’t want.  Opinions and even data vary, but the surgery success rate is not always great, and your body will eventually do a great job all on its own, thank you very much, it just takes time.

The first thing I learned is that if the sciatica doesn’t go away easily with some stretching and acupuncture, it’s very important to get a good diagnosis at least, and possibly some imaging.  This may seem obvious, but sometimes doctors don’t want to do it unless pushed.  Sciatica can come from many possible sources. Even imaging may not pinpoint the source, but it can help quite a bit in many instances.  It’s especially important to know if there is a disc involved, and if so, if it is just bulging, or actually ruptured.  Both bulging and ruptured discs can heal on their own.  It’s also important to know if there are any bone spurs or bone growth at the openings where nerves come out, called stenosis.  An MRI might be necessary for this.  If bone growths are involved, a few months of herbs can sometimes rescue them, but if not there’s not much other recourse, they need to be removed.  A bulging disc, if cared for properly, can usually heal in 3-6 months.  If it has ruptured, the fluid will come out, but the casing of the disc will still heal and your body can adjust.  This just takes time, 6-8 months minimum, and the area will continue to heal for 1-3 years.  That said, while you do have to curtail your activities, you don’t have to be in a lot of pain during that time although it can be very up and down.

My Story

At thepain-free-back beginning, I was told I had a bulging disc.  I didn’t do imaging because I didn’t think it would matter, I knew I didn’t want surgery.  Now I wish I had done imaging.  When I finally got an x-ray 6 months later, we found that I actually had a ruptured disc that was already healing, and a vertebrae that was slipping forward.  This knowledge could have helped me earlier in a number of ways.  Thinking it was only bulging a little, I over did some activities.  The x-ray showed my disc and vertebral ligaments had been injured in an accident.  I had been blaming myself for my posture.

In any case, my disc has healed and I am out of pain, even though it was ruptured, and once again, without surgery and no shots.  It did change my life for a while, but I was willing to do it to avoid the risk and invasion of surgery.

Next in this series: Part II – What To Do to Avoid Surgery with a Herniated Disc

The Fifth Season – Late Summer

late summer blog

In this tradition, a fifth season is often added to the four of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Late Summer is in August and early September. For people who already have a tendency to be hot, it can make things worse – hot flashes, UTI’s, yeast infections, skin rashes, digestive upset, increased inflammation. But for those who underlying cold, it’s a great time to heat up.  Where the kidney yang, or base warmth of the body, is weak, one feels cold all the time and may be more susceptible to asthma. Low thyroid function corresponds to spleen and kidney yang deficiency, ant the elderly in general are deficient in yang, this is why they always feel cold. Yang also relates to sexual libido, the immune system, and even building strong bones. So all of these can be best helped at this time of year. Late Summer is considered the optimal time to tonify yang with moxibustion, to prevent the onset of asthma and cold related aches and pains in the winter. Now is the time we can tap into nature’s heat and bring it into ourselves. It’s more difficult in the winter when the earth’s yang energy is at an all time low.

So this is why I always recommend coming in at this time of year for a tune up. Whether you need to clear the heat or build it up, now’s the time to do it. It’s especially critical for immune function, with cold and flu season coming up. Start building things now. This includes taking your medicinal mushrooms!

Bone Broth Recipe

bone brothEveryone has been asking me for a recipe for bone broth, especially since my last post about Adrenal Fatigue.

Here is one from Epicurious.  We modified it to make it easier for you!

Nourish yourself and enjoy!

Bone Broth Recipe:

YIELDbone broth: Makes about 8 cups of broth, depending on cooking time

ACTIVE TIME: 30 minutes

TOTAL TIME: 9 to 24 hours

INGREDIENTS

    • 4 pounds beef bones, preferably a mix of marrow bones and bones with a little meat on them, such as oxtail, short ribs, or knuckle bones (cut in half by a butcher)
    • 2 medium unpeeled carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
    • 1 medium onion, quartered
    • 1 garlic head, halved crosswise
    • 2 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
    • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Special equipment:

    • 6-quart (or larger) stockpot or a large slow cooker

PREPARATION

    1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Place beef bones, carrots, onion, and garlic on a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Toss the contents of the pan and continue to roast until deeply browned, about 20 minutes more.
    2. Fill a large (at least 6-quart) stockpot with 12 cups of water (preferably filtered) . Add celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, and vinegar. Scrape the roasted bones and vegetables into the pot along with any juices. Add more water if necessary to cover bones and vegetables.
    3. Cover the pot and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to a very low simmer and cook with lid slightly ajar, skimming foam and excess fat occasionally, for at least 8 but up to 24 hours on the stovetop. The longer you simmer it, the better your broth will be. Add more water if necessary to ensure bones and vegetables are fully submerged. Alternately, you can cook the broth in a slow cooker on low for the same amount of time.
    4. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool slightly. Strain broth using a fine-mesh sieve and discard bones and vegetables. Let continue to cool until barely warm, then refrigerate in smaller containers overnight. Remove solidified fat from the top of the chilled broth.

Do Ahead: Broth can be stored for up to 5 days in the refrigerator and up to 6 months in the freezer.

Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue?

I’m sorrhelloy it’s been so long since I joined you in the blogging world.  Has it really been a year and a half?  Well, that makes total sense. A year and half ago is exactly when my mother entered her “Last Days” as she called them. She even called them “LD” for short (yes, she was able to have humor about it, can you believe it?). For four months, she was able to do less and less, the last two she was completely bed ridden, and I was doing more and more to take care of her.  After her death in December of 2014, I entered a year of grieving and executing her estate. I took a couple of weeks off work here and there, but not much.

You might guess that this was pretty hard on me. I don’t think I fully realized how hard until last fall when my back went out. I ended up with a herniated disc in the low back, and it’s taken 6 months to recover (minimum time for a disc to heal, and I did it without an injection or surgery, instead using frequent acupuncture, chiropractic, swimming… that’s another blog!)

From a Chinese Medicine point of view, I’ve had kidney deficiency. This translates in modern lingo to Adrenal Fatigue. I often see it in middle aged women trying to do everything, like me. So besides bringing you up to date on what’s going on with me, I thought I’d share with you how Adrenal Fatigue develops and what to do about it.

Stress and doing too much, not getting enough sleep… sound familiar?adrenal fatigue4 We all have a certain amount of this in our lives, or bouts of it, but when it goes on for long or becomes too extreme, this can deplete and even exhaust the adrenals, little blobs of glands sitting on top of your kidneys. The adrenals produce cortisol and other such hormones and are especially involved in the fight or flight response. You’ve probably heard something about this at some point in your life.  We’re meant to have the adrenals kick in during extreme situations, for brief periods of time, when we need to fight or flee. When we get stuck in the response for long periods of time and the adrenals keep kicking out adrenaline, after a while they can just get worn out! This can mean an exhaustion that takes more than a good night of sleep or a weekend to recover from.

Some of the effects of stress and Adrenal Fatigue on a body include:

  • Reduced adrenal hormones; for example cortisol, which has anti-inflammatory properties. This can mean more pain.
  • Constant fight or flight, anxiety, insomnia means decreased blood flow to the internal organs.  They don’t work as well.
  • Loss or no digestive enzymes and stomach acid (HCL) means food decomposes rather than digesting leading to gas, bloating, and constipation.
  • With less HCL production, bile flow is not stimulated from the liver.  It can overload and become toxic.
  • Less bile plus HCL can also lead to an overgrowth of yeast and bacteria, histamine reactions from rotting food, and a suppressed immune system.
  • If things get really bad, it can lead to break downs such as IBS, Crohn’s, liver dysfunction, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, or worse.

So don’t let it get this far!

So let’s say, like me you’ve already fatigued your adrenals some.  How do we back out of it before it leads to happy acupuncture2more severe symptoms?  As I mentioned, this relates to the kidney system in Chinese Medicine.  First and foremost, Acupuncture can relieve stress, and the kidneys like rest and routine.  This means slowing down, saying no, watching your schedule so you don’t get over extended.  Also, going to bed at a regular time and not too late (best is no later than 10pm, definitely not past midnight), getting up at the same time every day, having meals at regular times.  We also need to get blood to our internal organs and help the digestive system and liver for a while.  This means exercise and cleansing.  Chinese herbs are great for this as well and can also help nourish the adrenals.

To summarize:

  1. Get Acupuncture to relieve stress.  Also try meditation and yoga.
  2. Follow a regular routine of sleep and meals.  Get 8 hours of sleep, preferably at 10pm.
  3. Get aerobic exercise at least 3 to 4 times per week.
  4. Supplement to help digestion and decrease inflammation.  Increase omega-3 oils with 3 to 4 grams of fish oil per day, B-complex, you may also need digestive enzymes for a while.
  5. Cleanse with lots of pure vegetables, whole grains, and a Chinese herbal formula.
  6. Get a custom Chinese herbal formula from me or your local master herbalist to rebuild your kidney, adrenal, and digestive systems.

And last but not least get out and have some fun!  Better yet, take a vacation!  Surround yourself with love, and be gentle on yourself!

Take care, I’m sending healing energy!