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!

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 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.

 

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.