Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dr. Andrew Weil

I've added a link to Dr. Weil's site. I get his "Self Healing" newsletter every month and it's quite informative. He's an MD but he makes a lot of sense. Go figure. What I like about this month's newsletter is an article on why multi-tasking isn't as efficient as people think. He makes a good argument as to why it's actually counter-productive. Check it out, another common sense perspective on healthcare.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Everyone’s been stuck with a sewing needle or gotten an injection and that hurts, therefore, acupuncture must hurt. Not true. Generally speaking, the insertion of acupuncture needles is painless.

That being said, everyone is different – practitioner and patient, so an acupuncture treatment may not be exactly pain free. People often anticipate painful needling sensation based on their experience with other sharp objects. They are often pleasantly surprised by how painless an acupuncture treatment can be but some people do experience discomfort. However, with the right technique this can largely be mitigated.

So what happens when there is pain? Well, your skin has many sensory receptors and each type of receptor registers only one type of sensation. When a needle passes through a pressure sensor, you might feel a light touch or nothing. When the needle passes through a temperature sensor, you might feel nothing. But when a needle passes through a pain sensor, you might feel a needle prick. Nearly all of the painful sensation from needling comes from the skin.

Technique of the practitioner is also important. Typically a fast moving needle, passing through the superficial layer of skin, yields little to no sensation at all. Many practitioners, like myself, use the tube that needles are packaged in as a guide to flick the needle into the skin.

An older technique is to simply hold the needle handle, pull the skin taught with the support hand and press the needle into the skin. This technique, properly done, also yields little or no sensation, but with differences in skin tone, it’s a little harder to get consistent results.

Anxiety about needling often produces the most discomfort. People often tense up before needling which actually makes the experience worse for them. Try to relax.

Patients always say, “I don’t like needles.” Well, I’ve never met anyone who did. But then again, I don’t know a lot of people in the piercing crowd. Some people refuse to try acupuncture because of their fear of needles. Many of my patients have referred friends or family members who simply wouldn’t come because acupuncture involves needles.

I had a patient whose sister suffers from migraine headaches. Debilitating, 3-day, lie in the dark headaches. She wouldn’t come because she thought the needling would hurt too much. And just for the record, of all the ailments I treat, headaches are among the most responsive.

Don’t deny yourself some relief because you fear needle pain. Acupuncture is certainly one situation where the remedy IS NOT worse than the disease.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Menstrual cramps are a fact of life for the women who are unfortunate enough to be afflicted. Or so you might think. Western medicine has little to offer beyond Midol, a prescription strength version or the gynecological panacea, birth control pills. The good news is that Chinese medicine is useful in the treatment of dysmenorrhea, PMS and many other problems associated with menstruation.

Patients seldom seek me out for the treatment of cramps. Probably because it’s culturally accepted that this is normal. It’s not life threatening, permanently debilitating and it is self-terminating. However, in Chinese medicine, it’s not normal.

So, if no one comes to me for cramps how do I know anything about them? Because women seek treatment for other problems; headache, fibroids, adhesions, endometriosis, depression, fatigue, fibromyalgia – and when I ask about their past medical history, menstrual problems are often presented or ongoing. For those patients with current difficulty, acupuncture treatment often helps the menstrual difficulty as well as the chief complaint.

I had a young woman come see me for migraine headaches. I didn’t inquire about her period, so I was unaware of any menstrual problems. About half way through our treatment course, the headaches had responded but weren’t gone. She did, however, mention that she was no longer suffering from cramping or fatigue during her period.

So what’s the correlation? In Chinese medicine, PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps are typically a result of Liver qi stagnation (there are other types but this is most common). Energy is tied up or blocked in the lower abdomen yielding the symptoms. Headaches, fibroids, adhesions, endometriosis and ovarian cysts are also diagnosed as a type of qi stagnation or evolving from qi stagnation.

Like an infection, left untreated, qi stagnation can worsen, expand to other areas or bring about other pathology. Some women do improve without treatment. Lifestyle changes, dietary changes, normal development or pregnancy can resolve menstrual cramps.

In my opinion menstrual problems and PMS symptoms can be an indicator of future gynecological difficulty. Since a hysterectomy and/or hormone replacement is often the solution for middle-aged women with gynecological issues, it may be wise not to ignore menstrual cramps. Acupuncture is a viable therapy in this situation. You might be investing in your future health and you may be able to resolve some pain in your life now.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Sciatica, stenosis, neuropathy, gastritis, neuroforaminal narrowing. OK. I know what these mean, as will all other acupuncturists because these are the types of terms used to describe problems to the patient by their physicians. Currently acupuncturists work within a greater system ruled by the western medical doctor. So we’re required to have and understanding of allopathic medicine in order understand what’s going on around us. The same doesn’t hold true for physicians. Mention qi stagnation, spleen qi deficiency or phlegm dampness, and you’ll get blank stares and “so, you’re a plumber?”

Terminology is important to a degree. It’s the language we use in order to have common understanding. But when you see an acupuncturist, this terminology becomes less important because Chinese medical diagnosis is based on a different set of criteria than in Western medicine.

I find that a lot of my patients get hung up on terminology. When I ask a patient to explain their problem, the response is often a single word or phrase, “I have stenosis,” as if that is all the information I need to go on to formulate a complete and individualized treatment plan. What else needs to be said?

Chinese medicine has an entirely different approach in dealing with pathology. We deal with entirely different concepts. For instance, there is the concept of the energetic component of the human body, which is generally not recognized in allopathic medicine. Consequently the language is different, too. “Qi” is the Chinese word that is often bandied about and its translation into English is often energy. But it is a difficult word to translate and explain. The literal translation of “qi” includes air and steam, but not electric like with nerve impulses. What is the relationship to qi to stenosis or neuropathy? I don’t know. We really are comparing apples to oranges here.

So western medical terminology, while I understand what is being said, has little usefulness to me in making an assessment of the patient. Seeing your acupuncturist isn’t like going to the chiropractor or physical therapist. These are both western medical traditions here. They look at your X-rays, use Latin words and tell you your IT band is not positioned properly. We really are using a different language here. Sure, in the end the results may be the same but how we get there is different. It’s like ordering lunch in France, you’re still going to eat, but yelling louder in English isn’t going to make the waiter understand you any better.

Don’t get caught up in the terminology. Whether you have bursitis, tendonitis or arthritis, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference when it’s your hip or back or neck that hurts. And that’s what we’re trying to treat. Just try to understand that your acupuncturist is working in your best interest and to try and tie them down to an idea or diagnosis that you’ve brought in with you will only hinder your own progress.

And as in everything else, educate yourself, communicate clearly and ask questions.

Remember 9/11

Friday, September 08, 2006

What is it good for?

I assume that anyone looking here already knows what acupuncture already is - NEEDLES. So I'll skip ahead and answer a more commonly asked question regarding acupuncture and Chinese medicine - What can you treat with acupuncture?

The short answer is - just about anything. Short of emergency situations, which obviously require a trip to the ER, and cancer, there is a viable treatment plan in Chinese medicine for just about any ailment that afflicts man. The caveat is, of course, that it isn't guaranteed to work. Realize that before western medicine arrived in China and most of Asia, sometime in the late 19th century, Chinese medicine was the only form of healthcare in the region.

What are the sorts of cases that I usually see? The big one is back pain. Then neck pain. After that is arthritis pain afflicting major joints. While acupuncture is great for pain issues, it's not limited to that alone. In no particular order, I've treated - headaches - any type outside of tumor-related; GI problems - Crohns, colitis, IBS, gastritis; shingles; gynecological issues - dysmenorrhea, fibroids, endometriosis; fertility; peri- and menopausal symptoms; I successfully treated a fellow with phantom limb pain - he'd lost the leg in WWII; skin conditions; mood-related disorders and sexual disfunction.

Acupuncture is good for a myriad of problems that you might not be aware. The key is to ask. If you're faced with a treatment that might be unsavory to you, it's worth your time to call your Chinese medicine practitioner and ask. The worst they can say is they can't help you.

The unconventional route, or the "road less traveled," isn't easy to find, especially with doctors who are too willing to prescribe an expensive drug. And even those who do have previous experience with acupuncture often forget about us until the problem is severe. A patient returned to my clinic today after 17 months complaining of a migraine headache so bad it caused vomiting. The patient didn't think to call us until the person who originally referred her to us, did so again.

For those seeking treatment, there's always an option or alternative to the conventional route. It may not always be better but a little research can often uncover it.