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!


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!

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

Clear Skin Naturally

As a Chinese Medicine Practitioner specializing in Women’s Health, I often treat skin disorders, especially acne, eczema, and rosacea, among others. My female patients are, of course, dismayed to see these conditions happening on their face.  Yuck! The good news is that all of these patients have greatly improved their skin, and in the course of treatment, they invariable ask me what I do to have clear skin.  I’ve thought about writing about this for a while, but have hesitated because many women find what I do difficult to implement.  It’s simple, just against the grain of our culture.  However, it’s worked for me, so I will pass it along.

First it’s important to understand that, from Chinese Medicine point of view, the health of the skin, and therefore what we often consider beautiful, comes greatly from within.  How we live our lives and what we eat can have a big impact.  Also, I have had some difficulty with acne in the past, but learned how to largely get rid of it, so I have had experience with it.  That said, here is what keeps my skin healthy:

  • ExerciseI have always exercised regularly, but moderately, from a very young age, from organized sports to hiking and yoga now.  Exercise keeps the Qi energy flowing.  Stagnant Qi easily leads to the heat, damp and stasis that causes acne and other skin disorders.  The only caveat I would give is that I found it’s important to at least rinse your face after sweating or especially bicycling in the city.  I used to get some acne when bicycling across Oakland to work, and found that an invisible layer of grime was getting on my face and causing acne.  If I rinsed it off as soon as I got to work, that helped.  Also, too much exercise can deplete the Qi and Yin, which has its’ own problems.  Moderate.
  • Don’t touch you face! – Our hand are often dirty.  Seems simple, but can be hard to implement.  I used to have trouble, and I had to train myself to not touch.  Takes some determination, but it CAN be done!
  • Splash Cold Water – In my twenties, I worked as a waitress while going to grad schools.  While working at Kimballs Jazz Club in San Francisco, there was a young gay man working with me who had beautiful skin.  When asked what he did, he said the secret was that he splashed his face 30 times with very cold water every day.  I began doing this, and still do it to this day, although I don’t usually do 30 times.  Often I do 3-4 on my face, and 3-4 on each side of my neck.  I keep a separate towel for my face ONLY, and tap it gently dry afterwards.  I change the towel to a clean one once a week.
  • Don’t put anything on your face – EXCEPT a very light, hypoallergenic, fragrance free lotion.  I ONLY use Earth Science Fragrance Free Almond Aloe Facial Moisturizer.  That’s it.  All I ever put on my face is a very small amount of lotion each morning, that I lightly massage in around my eyes, and with upward strokes on my cheeks and neck. Exercise can be hard, but this is the part that many women find extremely difficult: no makeup.  I actually did wear makeup briefly in my late teens and early twenties, although I switched very quickly from the full shabang to using only a natural powder for rouge and eye shadow.  (It came in a little clay bottle with a cork, does anyone remember that? I don’t remember the name, now!).  Still, I was consistently getting some acne, especially little red bumps.  I was trying all kinds of products and scrubs, Then I saw a doctor who said to me, “If I was you, I wouldn’t put anything on my face.” She also told me about the link between synthetic fragrance and skin eruptions, especially when combined with sunshine.  At the time, I was very surprised, because I had read that sunshine could help acne, but it was true that mine seemed to get worse after being out in the sun.  I tried her advice, found a fragrance free lotion, and stopped putting anything else at all on my face.  Bingo, I stopped getting outbreaks of these little red bumps.  Since then, I have tried wearing makeup, only natural makeup, and have found that as soon as I do, I get some acne within a day or two, especially at the chin line. I also use fragrance free shampoo, conditioner, and laundry detergent.  (to protect from fragrance reactions from use of sheets, towels, and hair touching the skin)
  • Anti-Inflammatory Diet – I’m generally pretty careful with my diet, with occasional splurges.  I don’t drink coffee or alcohol and don’t smoke anything at all.  I don’t eat spicy food. These are all very heating.  I avoid dairy and greasy food.  These create dampness.  Acne and Eczema are both related to heat and dampness.  I do eat lots of greens, whole grains, and fish, and buy organic and hormone-free produce when I can.
  • Acupuncture and herbs – Even with all this clean living, I still sometimes got some acne just before my period.  Soon, I came across Chinese Medicine, and decided to give it a try.  Within a few months of consistent treatments and herbs, I stopped getting premenstrual acne or headaches.  I had been thinking about it, and this is what clinched my decision to go to Acupuncture school.  I continue to get Acupuncture regularly, at least twice a month and often more, since life is full of stress and change, and Qi Stagnation inevitably builds up.  I take Chinese herbs almost every day, as I consider it part of my diet.
  • Deep Relaxation, Express your Emotions – Emotions, especially stress and anger, can often “bubble up” onto the face, especially if they are repressed.  So it’s NOT that you’re not supposed to have these emotions.  They need to be expressed, in a healthy way.  Figuring out your emotional triggers can by key. It’s also important to learn how to manage stress.  We all have it, so try to reduced it the best you can, and then try some sort of deep relaxation.  I’ve been a meditator for 30 years, and that works for me.  That might interest you, or you might prefer to listen to guided relaxations. These days, “there’s an app for that!

So that’s it!  No complicated facial care regime, no lists of products.  Just “simple” diet and lifestyle, and actually leaving your face alone as much as possible.  Somehow, that can be the hardest thing to do, but it’s worth it!  Good luck!

Stars and Athletes Who Use Acupuncture!!

acu in kneeI’ve often heard that many famous athletes and stars use Acupuncture. Recently, I saw a list in the publication, Acupuncture Today. They tell us that athletes use acupuncture to “recover from soreness and fatigue faster, to feel stronger and feel more balanced.”  That inspired me to look further online, and I found that using Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is actually a trend among many stars!  This highlights the fact that Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be used even if you are feeling healthy, to promote optimal well-being, or to recover from minor injuries.   These are just a few of the most famous athletes and stars.  Follow some of the links I’ve embedded to read about many, many more!

Kobe Bryant –  This NBA superstar actually posted photos of his leg with acupuncture needles in it on his social media platforms.  He wanted to show his fans he was using  Eastern medicine along with conventional therapies to recover form a recent injury.

Mickael Pietrus –  Another famous NBA player originally from France, Mickael was treated while at the Shaolin Temple in China! Afterwards, he said he no longer had any pain in his knee and was ready to go back to play earlier than expected.

Sandra Bullock –  It’s well-known that Sandra gets acupuncture regularly, and even requires that it be included in her contract!  It’s her “secret weapon” for staying younger looking and keeping up vitality.

Robert Downy, Jr. –  My girlfriends and I have had a crush on Robert for a long time, and now I know why!  He uses TCM regularly, and says it has “had a profound a profound impact in all areas of his life for many years.”  He even does Qi Gong, and was given an award for his advocacy of TCM.  Maybe I felt his energy all along!

Jason Hammel  –  A pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles at the time (now he’s with the Cubs), Jason used Acupuncture at the suggestion of his wife, and said he was “astonished” at how good it made him feel!  It helped his energy, to enliven a “dead arm,”, and he also went in to use it as an alternative to medications for cholesterol.  The cholesterol meds had given him body aches and hampered his abilities.

Finally, many Olympic athletes use Acupuncture and TCM.  Kevin Overland, a Canadian speed skater, used it to recover from a hip injury and won a Bronze medal, according to Acupuncture Today.  Many athletes in the London Olympics also used Acupuncture.  Five time Olympian high jumper Amy Acuff uses Acupuncture to heal from injuries and regulate her nervous system.  And there are many, many more!  In summary, Acupuncture is becoming known for being good for what ails you.


Musings about Flus and Healing Lungs

I just had a really, really nasty flu, as did many other people.  You know, the one with high fever and coughing and such aches thatlungs you retreat inside yourself and wonder if it will ever end.  I didn’t get tested, but a couple of healthcare professionals told me the severity of it sounded like it could have been the dreaded H1N1.  Luckily, I did herbs and acupuncture, and recovered fairly quickly, didn’t get an infection, and didn’t die (yes, I’m still here!) , but did end up with a lingering cough.  So, as you might expect, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time thinking about flus, and about healing lungs, since the cough with this is so persistent.

First off, let me tell you, it’s no easy thing being an Acupuncturist who touts wellness and how to avoid colds and flus, and then gets one.  I’m supposed to be the example of wellness, and here I am sick.  I can be pretty hard on myself, but luckily, I meditate a lot, and know that I’m being hard on myself, and ease up (eventually).  Part of how I eased up on this one was remembering the Chinese Medicine teachings on invasion of pathogens.  You can get sick either because your immune system, or “Defensive Qi”, was weak and so allowed invasion more easily (which can happen to any of us as soon as there’s a bit a stress); OR, you can get sick because the pathogen was SO strong it overwhelmed your defenses.  Now, I will admit that my defenses may have been a little down due to all the turmoil I’ve had lately with moving and my mother’s decline in her health.  But at the same time, this was obviously an intensely strong pathogen.  In fact, the CDC says you can get it from someone coughing six feet away from you.  Somehow I got exposed, not sure from where, but I do ride Bart to work now, just that is enough!

The other thing about such a strong pathogen is that it can be really hard on your body, and on the mucous membranes in your sinuses, throat, bronchii, and lungs.  This is usually why people have a lingering cough, not because of bacterial infection.   Unless you are having purulent green or brown phlegm and feel tired again or get a fever again, don’t rush to take antibiotics, and let a good doctor decide if you really need them.  Taking them when they are not needed can actually be bad for your health.  If you do need antibiotics, there’s nothing else like them, so go ahead.

What happens is that the mucus membranes get irritated and inflamed, and it takes them a while to heal, usually three weeks at least.   This can be worse for those who tend to have bronchial asthma.  But there are things you can do to help them heal!  I like to use the acronym MORE AH(more o’ this, more o’ that), for Moisture, Oxygen, Rest, Exercise, Acupuncture, and Herbs:

Moisture:   Your lungs and membranes need a lot of moisture to clean themselves up, both inside and out.  It’s easy to get dehydrated when you have a fever, and if you are inside heated buildings in the winter, or if it is just dry out or you are not drinking enough.  Drinking plenty of fluids will help keep things moist enough for your body to get things out of there, AND adding moisture to the air you breath is vital.  This can be done in the form of humidifiers, taking showers, doing steam inhalations over a bowl of hot water, or going to steam rooms.

Oxygen:   The other best thing for your lungs is oxygen!  Bringing oxygen into your lungs and expelling carbon dioxide is cleansing!  So don’t forget to breath, and, in fact, deep breathing is very beneficial.  Breath all the way down into your abdomen, and then fully up into the top of your lungs for a count 6, hold for 2 seconds, then exhale slowly.  Do this 9 times. Or see my abdominal breathing post!

Rest:  It takes effort for your lungs to clean themselves up.  If you’re using it running around all over the place and getting stressed, the lungs can’t do the extra work of healing and cleansing.  Rest is very important.  Sometimes sleeping a couple of 10-12 hour nights in a row with a couple of quiet days does the trick.  To this I would add Relaxation.  Stress can also interfere with the healing process.  I experienced this when my lungs were almost better, then I got stressed about some difficulties my daughter was having in Japan and got worse again.  She’s ok, and now my lungs are on the mend again.

Exercise:  When you are in the middle of being sick, it is important to just rest, rest, rest, but once you get your energy back, aerobic exercise is great for clearing out the lungs.  Could be after a week, or two, depending on the severity of the virus you had.  I had to wait almost 2 weeks.  But then some moderate aerobic exercise is excellent.  You’re getting lots of circulation going to the lungs, lots of oxygen coming in, if you go out in nature, you’re getting fresh air, maybe moist air (the ocean!), and, think about it, it’s like the lungs are a pump, just pumping gunk out of there! I like to go out to a park and enjoy nature and trudge up a few hills in the process.

AH!:  The AH is Acupuncture and Herbs.  And they really do provide that Ah! sensation.  Acupuncture helps promote circulation lung herbto the lungs and open them up, and can help expel and dry phlegm. From Chinese Medicine point of view, it can also help address any underlying issues that are aggravating things, like heat, or stagnation from stress.  The herbs can really help moisten and open the lungs, and also expel phlegm.  Many herbs are known for their excellent lung healing properties.  Both herbs and acupuncture can also help improve your energy.  I was bad the first couple weeks during and after my flu and didn’t cook herbs.  That’s also why my cough lingered.  Now I am taking herbs, and really feeling, Ah, wonderful!