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!

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.

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.


Meet Your Liver!!

As many of you know, I was busy this past fall taking care of my mother, who is now in End Stage Liver Disease due to a rare autoimmune condition.  Damn, I never thought I would know as much about the Liver as I do now!  At the moment, my mother has recovered from her last bout of blood loss (due to GI bleeding, common in this situation) and is gaining energy, in a kind of remission for a while, you might say.  This leaves me some time to write to you about all that new knowledge I’ve gained.


If you come to see me at all for Acupuncture or Chinese Herbs, you already know that your Liver is a pretty important organ.  In Chinese Medicine, it’s one of the first things to get messed up, with Liver Qi Stagnation, meaning the Qi energy is not moving well, kind of stuck.  This can lead to all sorts of other problems.  From a Western Medicine point of view, this makes total sense!  You might also already know that your Liver is your body’s filter.  It’s located on the right side of your body, just under the ribs, and they say it’s about the size of a slightly deflated football.  It filters toxins (including alcohol and fats) from the blood by using various enzyme processes to break things down and change things to forms we can either use or more easily excrete.

So Qi Stagnation is kind of like the filter getting clogged a bit, although in Chinese Medicine, we say this can happen not only from toxins we ingest, but also from emotions, particularly stress and anger.  That might seem “out there” to some, until you think about the fact that stress and anger causes the release of certain hormones in the body that the Liver then has to break down!  For most people, this clogging leads to irritability, maybe some aches and pains,especially around the ribs or in the shoulders, maybe some stomach upsets, PMS in women.  In more severe cases it can lead to headaches, insomnia, and even high blood pressure, to name just a few.

We also say in Chinese Medicine that the Liver stores the Blood.  Well, if you’ve seen a Liver, it is a pretty bloody looking thing, and ALL of our blood has to flow through it to get filtered.  But did you know that the Liver stores vitamins, minerals, and sugar until we need to use them?  So it IS a storage place!  And it’s said that the Liver demands 25% of the blood pumped by each heartbeat! So if you’re low on blood or anemic, it can really have an effect on the Liver.  I witnessed this happen as each time my mother’s blood levels got extremely low, Liver failure symptoms started to show up, like ascites (fluid in the abdomen) and edema (in the legs).  Once they gave her blood and stopped the bleeding, the Liver function gradually returned some, even though she only has 10% left!

One thing that I didn’t know that I found out through researching my mother’s condition is that the Liver also produces clotting factors.  This is why if the Liver function gets really low, like in End Stage Liver Disease where less than 10% of it is operating, there can be a difficulty to stop bleeding since there aren’t enough clotting factors.  Don’t worry, though, this only happens in extreme cases.

How can we take care of our Liver?  The good news is that Acupuncture and herbs work really well to clean things up once some stagnation has happened or build the blood if it is low.  Chinese Medicine also has always recommended exercise, and now Western Medicine does, too!  It’s considered one of the best ways to fight fatty Liver disease, which is important not only for the Liver, but also because fatty Liver disease can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

While I consider Chinese herbs and a good cleansing diet a couple of times a year to be the best ways to clear the Liver, vitamin E is also considered important.  Having at least 24 IU per day can lower the risk of Liver Cancer.  You can find it in almonds, olive oil, and spinach among others.  If you do have any concerns about your Liver, or would just like to cleanse, come and see me and I can help you out!

Sleeping Well

Sleeping Well


Another night of poor sleep, waking at 3 or 4 or 5 a.m. has left you tired? Multiple nights have left you exhausted? I hear this more often than you might think. In fact, while some people do have trouble falling asleep, many more that I have seen experience some waking at 3-5 a.m. Some fall back asleep, and some do not. It seems worthwhile to explore this and give some pointers from Chinese Medicine point a view. While taking sleep aids may very well make you sleep, it is only treating the symptom. Chinese Medicine gets to the underlying constitutional imbalance, treating the root of the problem

“Work at sunrise, rest at sunset.”

This is a Chinese saying that is well heeded. The human body follows these same cycles, and the saying reminds us we should follow the patterns of nature. As the sun rises, the Qi and Blood in our bodies moves from the inner organs to the exterior channels to facilitate activity. It stays there all day. Then, as the sun goes down, the Qi and Blood returns to the organs. Specifically, from 11p.m. to 3 a.m., is the time the Qi and Blood flow more through the Gall Bladder and Liver, as they filter and cleanse. If you are not resting during this time, these organs will not be able to do their job, and you will at the very least feel sluggish the next day. So it is very important to be asleep by 11pm.

The Liver (and Kidney) also needs plenty of blood to work effectively. If there is not enough, it’s like an engine running without enough oil. It’s more likely to heat up, get clogged and be noisy. It’s easy to imagine how this could interrupt sleep. Quite often, the heat and agitation builds up during Liver time (1-3am), to flare up just after, causing the waking at 3-5am. It’s also easy to imagine that any clogging of the Liver could cause these problems as well, we call it Liver Qi Stagnation.

Chinese Medicine is excellent for resolving these issues. While it is possible to nourish the blood with healthy food (meat, greens, beans especially), sometimes it gets too deficient, and a course of Chinese herbs can very strongly boost it up. And while exercise and deep relaxation can help prevent and ameliorate Qi Stagnation, sometimes it gets so clogged you need Acupuncture to get it moving, and a good cleanse with the appropriate herbs.

A nice treat:  Soaking your feet in warm water before bed can help provide relaxation and help harmonize the inner organs for sleep.

A nice treat: Soaking you feet in warm water before bed can help provide relaxation and help harmonize the inner organs for sleep.

But what can you do to help prevent this problem and improve your sleep? Besides the things I’ve mentioned already, (there’s a summary list below), one of the most important problems I run across is people being much too active, especially as they grow older. It’s difficult, because our current culture rewards activity, which corresponds to Yang, and not rest, which is Yin. Too much Yang activity burns up the Yin, which also includes things moist, like the blood. So it is very important to manage your time and not do too much in any one day. In addition, it’s important to ramp down in the evening. Continuing Yang activity up to bedtime makes it very difficult to just suddenly turn things over to the Yin side. Even if you fall asleep easily, this may be simply due to exhaustion, while your mind is still racing in the background somewhere. As soon as your body gets a little rest, you wake at 3 a.m. with all kinds of thoughts. Unfortunately, Yang activity also includes watching any kind of video screen or reading about disturbing or violent images, and digesting food. Some nice, easy time about 1-2 hours before going to bed, with no big meals, is vital. (On the other hand, a small snack of whole grains or protein before bed can help maintain sugar levels during the night.)

So let’s summarize what you can do to sleep better:

  • Be asleep by 11 p.m. and follow the cycles of nature;
  • Eat plenty of healthy, blood nourishing foods, like greens, beans, and meat in appropriate quantities (a few ounces at a time only, several times a week. Liver, and marrow in bones can really boost the Blood);
  • Exercise moderately regularly;
  • Do some sort of deep relaxation, even if it’s breathing deeply with a cup of tea for 10 min;
  • SLOW DOWN! Don’t do too much in any one day, and;
  • Have some nice relaxing time 1-2 hours before bed, including
  • avoiding  TV, computer, and disturbing reading 1-2 hours before bed
  • Do not eat too much just before bed: Another Chinese Saying: “If the Stomach is not comfortable, sleep is not peaceful.”

If you find that you have been having great difficulty sleeping for a while, and/or none of this helps, or you need help to stop using sleep medications, come and see me, and we’ll get you back in balance!

A nice treat: Soaking you feet in warm water before bed can help provide relaxation and help harmonize the inner organs for sleep.