Some of the Disorders We Treat
Fertility and Gynecologic Problems
Women who are having problems with conception, premenstrual symptoms, or menopausal issues will often see positive results with Oriental medicine. It may be possible to reduce or eliminate the need for Western pharmaceuticals. If drugs or hormones must be used, side effects may be reduced.
The treatment of gynecologic imbalances is a well established specialty in Oriental medicine. Symptoms which have only been recently recognized in the West, such as "premenstrual syndrome" or "premenstrual dysphoric disease", as well as many other syndromes which are hard to classify or tend to involve multiple organ systems, are more exactly diagnosed in the Oriental system.
Western physicians tend to lump disparate signs and symptoms together, ignoring those which do not fit into established disease categories. There is also an unfortunate tendency to treat patients with different symptoms with standardized, routine protocols. Often, these standardized approaches have never been proven effective.
The Oriental system of diagnosis is more individualized, so that patients' symptoms and signs lead to a customized treatment. Current practice with Chinese medicine for gynecologic disorders emphasizes plant derived medicines, so it is important to see a physician with training in this area.
The use of "herbs" is a specialty area of study in China, and is only practiced by dedicated physicians who have pursued advanced training. Casual use of herbal medicine by amateurs and storefront "doctors" is not tolerated in countries where the value of extensive study and certification is understood. Acupuncture is of secondary importance to dietary therapy, but can be very helpful when applied skillfully to provide quick symptomatic relief.
For women who are experiencing disorders of conception, my own experience suggests that acupuncture and Chinese herbology is more effective and much less unpleasant and dangerous than hormonal treatments or in vitro fertilization procedures. The cost of these procedures is also 40 to 100 times greater than a comparable course of Oriental medicine.
It is not widely known in the U.S., but traditional physicians prefer to treat both partners if there are any conception disorders. This is actually a very good idea to align and coordinate the male and female polarities. In fact, one of my acupuncture teachers from Paris is so convinced of the value of this approach that he will not treat for infertility unless the couple seeks treatment together.
In addition, acupuncture and certain dietary changes may be helpful to reduce many of the normal discomforts associated with pregnancy. Morning sickness, insomnia, fatigue, and mood changes can often be helped, and some of the discomforts that occur in the later stages of pregnancy, such as back and pelvic discomfort and swelling of the lower extremities, can be reduced. Another very interesting application of acupuncture and moxibustion is to convince a baby to turn head-down before delivery. This technique is very successful if applied before the 32nd week of pregnancy, and is much more comfortable for the mother than "modern" methods.
After delivery, acupuncture is very helpful in addressing post partum depression and mood changes, nursing difficulties, and also assists in restoring a mother's body and function to non pregnant status. Chinese medicine understands that pregnancy, delivery and nursing create tremendous demands on a woman's physiology and reserve, and a variety of effective solutions are available to help restore stamina and assist the adjustments to motherhood.
Migraine, Vascular, Cluster, and Tension Headache
Physicians tend to like to classify headaches in one of the above categories. In reality, a significant number of patients suffer a variety of headaches over a period of years, and are more accurately understood to have what I call a "mixed headache disorder". Very few patients have one type of headache only, and one type of headache can "trigger" another type.
For example, a facial headache which originates from the sinuses can trigger a vascular, "migraine" type headache. Tension type headaches, often found at the base of the skull, can also lead to a migraine. Some headaches are associated with changes in hormone levels, and are more accurately seen as complications of premenstrual or menopausal imbalances. For information on this, see the section on Fertility and Gynecologic Problems.
As with many other pain syndromes, headache can cause a variety of symptoms which are not in the head. Digestive disorders, fatigue, interruption of sleep and mood changes can also be addressed at the same time as treatment of the headache.
Wholistic treatment with acupuncture avoids the common problem of many doctors treating different areas of the body with conflicting drugs. Drug therapy also creates the risk of developing "rebound" headaches which occur when the drugs wear off. These can be very difficult to treat, as the patient must be withdrawn from the headache drugs. As most physicians have nothing other than more drugs to offer, an endless cycle of complications is the result.
Physicians with Oriental training can accurately localize the affected channels which lead to headache, and apply specific acupuncture to more effectively treat the problem. Associated symptoms will be included in the treatment, as correction of a channel disorder always affects other areas of the body as well as the emotional balance. With time, the headaches become less frequent and less severe, with the goal of eliminating them altogether.
Sports and Work-related Injuries, Trauma
One of the areas in which acupuncture is most impressive is in the area of acute injury. Although this aspect of acupuncture is not well known to the public, I always advise a patient to try to have treatment within 48 hours of an injury. The results are often very satisfying to the patient in terms of pain relief, decrease of swelling, and rapid return to normal function.
Once, during an early class for my elective on Japanese acupuncture, a student had, just before the class, injured herself playing volleyball, and her wrist was already swollen and discolored. The students had not seen acupuncture in the real world, so, with the student's permission, I demonstrated a treatment of the tendinomuscular meridian involved. The students could actually see the swelling decrease during the 20 minutes of the treatment and hear the patient's amazement at the pain relief and how much more flexibility she had.
All sorts of trauma, from bruises to sprains to strains to concussions and fractures, can be partially or completely treated with acupuncture and plant derived medicines. I have seen very good results for professional athletes, martial artists, performers, animal trainers and horsewomen. Even overuse injuries and weekend sports injuries respond well.
It is unfortunate that more acupuncture is not provided to patients in emergency rooms, because there are significant advantages to quickly addressing pain and swelling without the possible side effects of drugs. Even if surgery is ultimately necessary, adept application of acupuncture will assist in the healing and rehabilitative phases.
Trauma also inevitably involves emotional effects. Many injuries occur in situations of great tension, and the result is often fear, anxiety, worry and obsession. Chinese medical techniques are uniquely helpful for many of the emotional imbalances which are associated with traumatic experiences.
Before and After Surgical Procedures
Elective or emergency surgery is also a situation where acupuncture can be very helpful. Surgery is really a type of trauma, but it is controlled by the surgeon to achieve a particular result. Nonetheless, there is still swelling, bruising and pain, and loss of function just as with accidental trauma. Sometimes there is post operative pain which does not improve as expected, and acupuncture can be used to try to reduce the painful sensations. In the lineage of Japanese acupuncture that I have studied, treatment is often applied to scars as they begin to heal. Acupuncture and plant medicines are also used for scars that remain painful, or are causing referred pain.
Sometimes scar-related symptoms are not obvious. For example, I have seen chronic headaches cured by treatment of scars from plastic facial surgery. I remember the first case of this I saw: the patient had not listed her surgery on the history form that I use, and so I did not check the scars for tenderness as I usually do. I was puzzled as to why the headaches were not responding to my treatment, but once I noted the scars within the hairline, the picture became clear and the headaches responded to treatment.
Post surgical pain is often frustrating for both surgeons and patients, and is generally poorly addressed by modern Western physicians. Before you start on pharmaceutical drugs or have nerve blocks or more surgery, consider Oriental medicine.
Reduce the Discomforts and Side Effects of Chemotherapy and Surgery for Cancer
Patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy should consider acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicinals to reduce the nausea, fatigue and discomfort of treatment. A variety of studies have indicated the effectiveness of acupuncture for the nausea that may accompany various chemotherapy agents.
I am seeing increasing numbers of people who suffer neuropathy and other neurologic problems as side effects of their treatment, and this can sometimes resolve very well with acupuncture and Chinese dietary therapy.
The diagnosis of cancer causes a great deal of stress and can result in emotional imbalances and depression. In addition to the toxic effect on the heart of chemotherapy and radiation, fear can create both physical and emotional diorders of the heart. Japanese and Tibetan medical techniques are uniquely suited to addressing these sorts of problems.
Overwhelming fatigue is also a problem which Chinese medicine can reduce, and it may be possible to decrease the negative effect of chemotherapy and radiation on normal tissues. Increases in red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets with appropriate treatment is a realistic goal, as well as other improvements in blood chemistries which may be more subtle.
Cancer surgery involves transecting the channels as well as issues unique to this type of procedure. Just as with other forms of surgery, acupuncture can be helpful in a variety of ways.
It is unclear at this point how effective Oriental techniques are for increasing the effectiveness of Western anti-cancer therapies. Ongoing research in China and other countries is producing promising results in this area. What is already clear is that by overcoming the discomforts and emotional stress of treatment, a person's natural resources become more fully available.
In a similar way, it is difficult to judge how beneficial Oriental medicine is for preventing recurrences and addressing the longer term consequence of chemotherapy and radiation causing secondary malignancy. However, I have seen very good results in motivated patients, and evidence is slowly accumulating in support of comprehensive integrated treatment.
Acupuncture for Musculoskeletal Disorders: Arthritis, Tendonitis, and Fibromyalgia
The pain of chronic diseases such as arthritis, tendonitis, and fibromylagia can often be lessened by the use of acupuncture and other Oriental methods. Modern medications for these disorders commonly cause side effects that are not seen with acupuncture treatment. Symptoms associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia, such as problems sleeping, fatigue, and depression, can also respond to skillfully applied acupuncture.
Muscular or joint symptoms which worsen with weather changes are also common. The use of moxibustion or dietary treatment can be very helpful for relief in this area. Exercise is also important to rehabilitate the joints and muscles, but it is necessary to relieve the pain to the degree necessary for the patient to begin an effective program of strengthening. The gentle movements of qi gong, tai qi, or yoga are an excellent foundation for more vigorous exercises with resistance bands or free weights.
Acupuncture for Allergy, Asthma and Chronic Sinus Disease
Asthma is a syndrome of airway inflammation and constriction which affects the patient with cough, wheezing and shortness of breath. Both allergy and viral infections can trigger an asthmatic episode, as well as exposure to directly irritating substances such as smoke and cosmetic fragrances. Asthma and allergy symptoms are increasing in our society, and often require treatment with powerful drugs which cause a variety of side effects.
Allergy to inhaled pollutants and pollen also contribute to asthmatic diseases. Most modern cities have problems with air quality outdoors, and indoor air is subject to pollution by furnishings, household chemicals, cosmetics and pet dander. Casual use of lawn chemicals that are functionally equivalent to combat nerve gases have also affected a number of my patients.
Symptoms of allergy and hypersensitivity may affect the body in the sinuses, the airways, the mucous membranes, the lungs or the skin. Some individuals develop problems in all of these areas. Sinus symptoms may include congestion, watery or sticky discharges, pain and pressure. Sinus inflammation can also trigger facial headaches as well as "migraine" type vascular headaches.
The use of acupuncture and dietary therapy can be very helpful to reduce or eliminate the signs and symptoms of allergic and irritant asthma and sinus disease. Patients report that they can use fewer medications and feel better.
Acupuncture for Smoking Cessation
(also applies to other forms of chronic tobacco use)
No one has an easy time altering psychological or physical habits. The addictive aspect of tobacco means that there is a variable withdrawal syndrome that people go through when they abruptly stop smoking. Acupuncture can reduce the discomfort of this phase considerably.
A more difficult aspect of the habit of smoking is the habitual associations of your smoking with other activities, such as driving, drinking coffee, etc. Acupuncture will not help you to reduce these associations, though they will lose some of their power as long as you continue as a nonsmoker. We have specific suggestions in this area which we cover in the first acupuncture session.
Most people are able to stop comfortably after one acupuncture session, although we recommend that you schedule another treatment should you find the craving for tobacco returning. If you do restart smoking, even if it is weeks or months later, we suggest that you schedule another treatment and again try to stop before the habit reestablishes itself. Ask for the brochure on how acupuncture can help you to stop smoking when you call our office.