Herniated Discs — Part III

OK, I’m back! Sorry it took me a bit to get this third installment to you. We had just been talking about the basics of healing an injured disc — rest, walking, no sitting, and acupuncture. Just this will take you a long way in the right direction, and there are other things you can do. Here are a few more points I’d like to emphasize:
Increasing Core Strength
Strengthening your core is crucial when it comes to discs. You need that support to keep the pressure off the discs. At first, you may not be able to do much. It’s OK to start small. Regularity and persistence is key. And this is something you can get your insurance to pay for! Go to your doctor, get imaging, as we talked about in part I, resist shots or surgery, but ask for physical therapy (PT). Then also ask around to find a good PT. Your PT can help you figure out exactly what exercises are right for you. At the very least, everyone can do some pelvic tilts, (start with these easier ones), bent leg marches, (my PT had me start with raising each foot just one inch and holding!  This can be harder than lifting all the way!), and figure 4 stretches . Click through to see instructions on YouTube (you can find everything on YouTube!)

Swim, Swim, Swim!

Swimming can give you some of the movement and cardiovascular exercise you need. And the best thing is that there’s NO PRESSURE ON THE DISC! So it’s also decompressing! Swimming 2-4 times per week did me a lot of good. In fact, adding swimming and increasing my dose of fish oil (see below) was a big turning point for me. If you already like to swim, great, but if not, soldier on — it’s worth it! You get used to the routine and the water. Now I really like it! Big bonus: most gyms and Y’s also have a hot tub and sauna! Yum, Yum!

Decompression                   

Speaking of decompression, it is always important to think of decompressing your disc.  That’s why lying down some is better than sitting all the time, and swimming is great!  Besides swimming, hanging upside down, at least at an angle, can also do it.  It is NOT advised to hang all the way upside down if you have high blood pressure, any weak blood vessels, aneurysms, or other medical conditions, so consult with a doctor first.  Most people can at least invert at a slight angle, by either lying upside down on a slight incline (a sit up bench, or a hill outside), or using an inversion table.  Chiropractors also often offer the safest and most effective decompression by using a computerized machine that does it for you!

Reduce Inflammation

Reducing inflammation could be another whole blog post (good idea!) including following an anti-inflammatory diet, I just want to emphasize a few things here:

  1. The acupuncture reduces inflammation — studies have shown that those who get acupuncture regularly have a reduction in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation.
  2. Ice is your friend. Whenever you feel you’ve overdone it or there’s a flare in pain, ice and stretch.
  3.  Fish oil — the omega-3s, 6s, and 9s in fish oil are anti-inflammatory! When I increased my dose from 1g/day to 3-4g/day I had a noticeable improvement! I recommend the OrthoOmega I carry here at the office, it’s one of the best out there, fresh, no fishy afterburp, and the most bioavailable, meaning your body can use it easily!
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Endometriosis, A Success Story:

YES!-imageThere IS help for Endometriosis. For those of you who have it, you’re saying “What!?” For those who don’t, you’re probably saying, “What the hell is that?” Even so, read on, because if you end up knowing anyone who has it, they’ll want to know about this. Strangely enough, Endometriosis is a disease where tissue that is the same as the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, grows OUTSIDE of the uterus. Mostly it’s found in the abdominal cavity, perhaps attached to ovaries or the intestines or just the supportive ligaments. Occasionally, it’s even found inside the intestines or lungs, and, rarely, the nose! The difficult thing about this is that this tissue grows and fills with blood in response to hormones, and then sheds, exactly the same as inside the uterus. It also tends to spread in some women. This means that it can become extremely painful, especially at period time, and it can also become an impediment to fertility.

No one knows what causes endometriosis. Various theories exist, including backflow from the uterus and damage to DNA by toxins or yeast overgrowth. Regardless of the cause from Western Medicine point of view, it presents as a pattern of Blood Stasis in Chinese Medicine. There may be other patterns together with this, but there is always Blood Stasis. While it is not an easy thing to treat for any practitioner, there IS help! It takes a concerted, full spectrum approach in which Acupuncture and Chinese herbs play a central role.

In the past year, I’ve had several examples of an aggressive approach having some success in reducing endometriosis. In one case, let’s call her Sylvia, the endometriosis was very widespread and causing significant pain, so the patient decided to have it surgically removed, along with the uterus. Unfortunately, it tends to come back (even without the uterus, which perhaps negates the backflow theory?). So Sylvia came to me, both for help in recovering from the surgery, and to keep the endometriosis from spreading. Two months after the surgery, she had already been told that some new growth was appearing on an ovary, what is often called a “chocolate cyst.” The doctors were recommending hormone therapy for this. Sylvia was also having a lot of pain; in fact, she came into the clinic walking stiffly and slowly.

Sylvia set up an aggressive plan of regular acupuncture, cooking strong Chinese herbs to move the blood, and at the same time seeking out pelvic floor massage and doing yoga for exercise. After she had regained some strength, we also added in cupping therapy on the abdomen and low back and weekly abdominal massage, a deep massage I do that is similar to Chi Nei Tsang, a Chinese form of abdominal massage.

After just a few weeks, Sylvia was checked by her OB/GYN, who was surprised to find that the chocolate cyst had disappeared! He said to her, “Keep doing Acupuncture!” Sylvia also experienced great reductions in pain, and improvements in energy level and overall health. Since then, she has continued her routine. Several months into the Acupuncture, Sylvia was checked again. Still no chocolate cysts, and it was decided that hormone therapy was not necessary. Sylvia continued her routine, partly due to the long recovery time from such a surgery, but she was still regularly checked. Six and nine months later, some small ovarian cysts came and went, but they were never blood-filled. Sylvia rarely has any pain, and feels confident that we are keeping the endometriosis at bay.

Let’s be honest, the Acupuncture and herbs may not have been able to resolve the extensive amount of endometriosis that Sylvia had just before surgery. Surgery was most likely necessary at that point. However, Chinese Medicine does appear to help keep the endometriosis from returning, or when it does, we are dealing with smaller amounts. And, as I keep mentioning, it does take a disciplined, regular effort. This is the same kind of thing we need to do to help promote fertility in many patients: regular acupuncture, strong Chinese herbs, abdominal massage, and possibly other kinds of massage, along with diet changes and exercise. When I see a patient like Sylvia walking through the door smoothly and easily, with no pain, and a smile on her face, I know it’s worth it.

Acupuncture as treatment for peripheral neuropathy

I treat a lot of pain in my line of work as an acupuncturist. It just works so well for pain. (And a lot of other things!) I could share lots of stories about how I’ve helped people get out of pain, but let’s start with feet. I can’t say the word “feet” without thinking of the Dr. Seuss “Foot Book,” which I must have read to my daughter hundreds of times, repeating over and over, “Feet, feet, feet!” Feet are so important to us, they carry us around all day long, supporting all our weight, and yet we tend to take them for granted. Until there’s a problem. Many people have come to me for a variety of foot problems, and they often end up being some of my most loyal patients.

I think in particular of one patient, Marshall (names have been changed to protect privacy, but this is a true story), who came to me several years ago. Marshall, sadly, had been diagnosed with intestinal cancer at an early age, in his mid-30’s. Luckily, they caught it early enough that they stopped it in its tracks by removing a large section of his intestines, and then using chemotherapy to kill off anything that was left. So you can go ahead and feel good, he’s a cancer survivor, it’s been more than five years now that he’s been cancer free. Hurray!

Unfortunately, while chemotherapy is one of the best things we have for killing cancer cells, most chemo drugs these days and in the recent past target all fast growing cells in the body, not just cancer cells. That’s why those going through chemo lose their hair and their nails become brittle; like malignant cancer cells, those cells are fast growing so chemotherapy kills those cells along with the cancer. Chemo also often messes with nerve cells, leaving the person with neuropathy, or nerve damage, called peripheral neuropathy when it is in the peripheral system, which includes the hands and feet. Peripheral neuropathy is the most common kind of post-chemotherapy nerve pain. This damage can make the hands and feet both numb and painful, sometimes extremely so. Patients are usually told it is a possible side effect that may go away in a few months, or may never go away. Rarely are they warned how bad it can be. I’ve read too many stories on-line of people in extreme pain after chemotherapy, even to the point of taking methadone, having trouble balancing, and not able to get much help, even years later.

Well, Marshall came to me almost two years after the end of his chemo, with significant pain in both his hands and feet. His feet were much worse, with a lot of numbness and more severe pain. He had hoped it would go away like they said it might, but it hadn’t, and wasn’t changing much. He loved to hike, but couldn’t hike more than about a mile without severe pain in his feet. We started in with a vigorous course of acupuncture, two-to-three-times per week for the first few weeks. I also had him put a special Chinese Herbal salve on his hands and feet every night. Very quickly, the pain and numbness in his hands reduced to next to nothing, and the feet began to improve as well. After the first few weeks, as things were improving, we reduced the acupuncture down to one session a week. After six months of treatment, his feet were in so much less pain, he was already very happy, and he was starting to get feeling back in many areas of his feet. Gradually, the area of numbness was reducing, narrowing down to a central band in the bottom of his foot.

We decided to reduce the treatments to once every two weeks, and this was so doable, and the acupuncture treatments themselves so enjoyable for Marshall, that he’s kept doing this over the past several years. What we’ve seen is that, after the initial fast reduction in pain, improvement slowed, but continued. After one year, he rarely if ever had any problems in his hands, and the pain was so low in his feet he could hike miles again! Now after several years, his feet also rarely have much pain, unless over used. He still experiences some significant numbness in the center of his feet, but that even seems to be slowly, slowly improving. Those with peripheral neuropathy may find it hard to believe that he just came back from a two week vacation to the tropics where he was able to walk in flip-flops all the time, mostly on rock, gravel, and sand! He did have some increased tenderness afterward, which he came right in to clear up after he returned.

So if you or anyone you know has peripheral neuropathy, from chemotherapy, or for other reasons, please, please let them know about acupuncture, and how much it can help. I’ve also seen it help diabetic peripheral neuropathy, and neuropathy from nerve damage due to injuries. For instance, one patient had pain in her left foot ever since falling and breaking her left hip. She tried many things, and has found that acupuncture is the only thing that helps, again reducing her pain to next to nothing. Obviously, I could go on and on about many cases. Please, just don’t stay in pain, try acupuncture.

Chinese medicine and fertility, a success story!

Hurray! I’m so excited! Soon, a darling baby will be born, and Chinese Medicine helped all along the way. I want to share a story with you that is both happy, and illustrates how Chinese Medicine works. The mother has given her permission, but names have been changed to protect privacy.

Over two years ago, Melodie came to me to work on fertility. She was 31 or 32 at the time, still a prime age to get pregnant, and very hopeful. However, she was only menstruating every 3-4 months. This had been her pattern her entire adult life, ever since starting to menstruate. A very few women do only menstruate this often, so we assumed at the time that this was the way she was set up. Her idea was that since she had fewer chances to get pregnant, she wanted to enhance them by being as healthy as she could and promoting her fertility.

On examination, I found her to be generally very healthy, she had no major complaints, and her OB/GYN exam was normal. Other than the occasional headache, a normal amount of stress in her life, and these sporadic periods, she didn’t seem to have a lot of health problems. I mostly had to go by her tongue and pulse signs, which can be major indicators of health to an experienced Chinese Medicine practitioner. Even these were not too out of the ordinary, except that her pulses did show a weakness in the Kidneys, which from Chinese Medicine point of view is very much related to the reproductive system. The Kidney energetic system governs the reproductive system as well, and the Kidney Yin, Yang, and Essence have to be strong in order to reproduce.

The entire case study would be long and probably only interesting to another practitioner, so suffice it to say, we started treating. Melodie came almost every week for acupuncture, and I quickly got her to start cooking Chinese herbs at home. We used the acupuncture at first to encourage her organs and hormones to work as best as possible, once a week. She was also very dedicated about cooking the herbs at home. These were very important to nourish the Kidney “essence”, basically “fertilizing the ground”, and making the eggs nice and healthy. Since Melodie’s Kidney deficiency was probably long standing, this can take a long time, months, to over a year.

Interestingly, as time went on, Melodie started having periods more often. From every 3-4 months, she started menstruating closer together, down to every 2 months, and after about a year she was menstruating every month. Once Melodie’s menstruation became normal, we could use the acupuncture to regulate her cycles, doing different treatments at different times of month, to in turn nourish the growth of the endometrium, encourage ovulation, and maintain the endometrium.

After a couple more months, Melodie still wasn’t pregnant, though, and it’s true that coming every week and cooking herbs every day can take some time. She got a little discouraged, and decided to take a break and also take pills instead of cooking herbs. During that month, she didn’t have a period, and she realized how important the cooked herbs were. After a nice Christmas break, she came back to both the acupuncture and herbs, and within 2 months, she was pregnant!

You can only imagine how excited she and her husband were, and I along with them. It always feels so good to see these positive results from the Chinese Medicine, and getting pregnant is one of the happiest occasions. At the beginning of her pregnancy, Melodie didn’t have much nausea or other symptoms, so took a break from acupuncture. If she had had nausea, or morning sickness, I would have had her come in, because acupuncture is one of the best ways to alleviate it. Half way through her term, she came back, and we’ve used the acupuncture to help alleviate the heartburn, low back pain, and edema that can come in the later months. Then, at about 33-34 weeks, Melodie found out the baby was transverse, was not taking the head down position needed for a baby to be born normally. Again, there is acupuncture that can be used to encourage the baby to turn. We did the normal protocol, and 10 days later, voila, the baby was head down.

Now we’re in the home stretch, the baby could come any time in the next few weeks! I’m doing acupuncture that helps boost Melodie’s Qi, making sure she has plenty of energy for the intensive labor and delivery. Since she has been coming nearly every week for the last trimester, I anticipate things will go well. Patients who have gotten acupuncture weekly in their last trimester have almost always had a smooth labor and delivery. If only I’d known about all this when I was pregnant 20 years ago!!!!