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!

The Truth About Coffee!

coffee cup

Every now and then someone says to me, “I heard that coffee is good for you,” or, “I heard that coffee has such and such nutrients.”  Let’s set things straight.  Coffee is a plant.  Of course it has nutrients in it.  More in the beans than after it is brewed.  All plants probably do.  On the other hand, health and healthy food has become a big, big market.  Companies and food industries are all anxious to convince you that their new product or their food is good for you.  So anxious, that the ones with money can even afford to pay for research.  I know that there is even “evidence” out there that coffee has nutrients and is “good” for you somehow. I’m not even going to look for it or point it out to you or try to tear it apart.

What they leave out is what ELSE is in coffee, or what else it does, basically the side effects.  This is where Chinese Medicine shines, so much so, that Western herbalists are realizing that all herbs should be classified according to Chinese Medicine principles.  Every food has certain properties, such as temperature and toxicity.   Through thousands of years of close observation that far surpasses any research that we have, Chinese herbalists have been able to classify plants based on what conditions they create in the body.

Coffee is hot and greasy.  It creates heat in the body, and, if you think about coffee beans, you can even see the oil.  This is not in and of itself bad.  If you are someone who is very cold and dry, you might need that.  The problem is most Americans are already hot and damp.  Heat and damp are basically inflammation.  All the stuff we love creates heat and damp and so inflammation.  Coffee, sugar, meat, dairy, alcohol, smoking, gluten……  We are mostly all a little bit inflamed due to growing up eating all of these.  More coffee is not going to help this problem, but only make it worse.

And don’t start thinking that just because you have cold hands and/or feet or feel a little cold sometimes that you are cold and need coffee.  This more often comes from stagnation, meaning basically poor circulation.  Exercise would be better.  Generally, only the very malnourished, the very old, or those working outdoors in the cold a lot are cold enough to need coffee.  So coffee isn’t  ALWAYS too hot, just wait until you are old, or save it for a cold day.

On top of that, caffeine is both toxic and draining.  It is a DRUG, and has to be eliminated through the liver and kidneys.  Constantly doing this every day is hard on them.  If feels like it gives you energy, but that is not coming from any root source of energy.  Ginseng or a good food gives you energy because it nourishes.  My herb teacher used to say, caffeine is like using a credit card with no money in the bank.  Keep doing it over a long period of time, and you’re going to go bankrupt.  That’s exactly what coffee can do to people.  Sorry, I know many will be unhappy to hear this, but that’s the truth about coffee.  Whatever benefits it’s said to have are probably best gotten another way.