By Mikel Davenport L.Ac. and Dr. Moshe Lewis,
In Chinese medicine, there is a saying: where there is blockage there is pain, but where there is no blockage there is no pain. We know this to be true in western medicine, as well. When we are hurt, inflammation effectively blocks and redirects our body’s healing resources to the site of an injury or infection.
As a result, we often manipulate inflammation as a tool to bring about healing. For example, the orthopedic technique of prolotherapy requires injection of an irritant such as a sugar solution into a weak joint. This irritant induces inflammation, thus increasing the healing of nearby tendons and ligaments.
The traditional Chinese practice of acupuncture works in much the same way: it creates minute traumas along the skin’s surface to bring a beneficial inflammatory response. Acupuncture does more than simply irritate local tissue, though. By directing inflammation to areas that stimulate orthopedic trigger points and our neural pain sensors, the effect of each needle can bring widespread and lasting relief. In my own practice I’ve found acupuncture to be a boon to chronic pain sufferers.
Traditional Chinese Medicine centers on the stimulation of Acupuncture points that are organized around specific energetic pathways along the surface of the body. These "meridians" are thought to link pathways of energy or "Qi" between the surface and the interior of the body. Another type of acupuncture point, the Ahsi points (literally, “Oh, that’s the point”), don't necessarily lay along a specific meridian but are found around the area of injury or typically where there is pain or blockage.
Acupuncture was controversial for years because modern science couldn’t find any evidence for these meridians. Yet a 1977 study by Melzack and his colleagues showed that many points coincide with trigger points, and we know that stimulating trigger points causes lasting pain relief far from the trigger point itself. A 2002 study by Wu and colleagues showed that acupuncture at meridian locations stimulates the brain’s pain-related neuromatrix. Even though meridians don’t seem to correspond with a definite anatomical feature, we have plenty of scientific evidence to back up the clinical success of acupuncture in treating chronic pain.
Why to use acupuncture
Acupuncture is a great complement to Western medicine because it boosts the healing and pain relief process in situations that we’d usually wait out. For example, a severe inversion sprain of the ankle would typically demand ice, ibuprofen, time, and patience. Adding acupuncture makes the recuperation faster and less uncomfortable. Ahsi point stimulation and scalp acupuncture could provide pain relief, while meridian acupuncture could reduce the inflammation so that physical therapy would be more effective.
Chronic pain sufferers can also use acupuncture to manage flare-ups. Take the all-too-common case of a reinjured herniated disc that is causing acute muscle spasms; acupuncture can be utilized to reduce both the pain and the spasms. In general, acupuncture can be used to combat any condition that causes long-term pain, with none of the side effects associated with pain medication.
The many faces of acupuncture
In pop culture, acupuncture is synonymous with needles, and lots of them. In actual practice, acupuncture’s strategic stimulation can be achieved many different ways—great news for needlephobes! If needles give you the shivers, what about about suction cups and spoons? Cupping, a favorite of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, creates suction along the body surface to increase blood flow to the underlying tissue. Guan Sha utilizes a porcelain spoon and medicated oil to encourage blood flow and break down scar tissue.
Though all forms of acupuncture are relaxing, techniques that resemble massage therapy are an excellent way to feel pampered while improving health. Acupressure and Tui Na (which means pushing and grasping) are similar to manual therapy. These massage-based acupuncture methods treat soft tissue and joint structures to decrease pain, increase range of motion, and reduce inflammation. Acupuncture has its own answer to hot stone massages, as well: moxa, a technique that uses hot mugwort to warm the skin or the needle. The warm herbal compress increases circulation, and, is especially effective in treating temperature-sensitive conditions like arthritis.
For those who are willing to endure more shock value, electro-acupuncture combines the benefits of needle acupuncture with the circulatory benefits of electrical therapy such as Bionicare. Electro-acupuncture utilizes a TENs unit, similar to those used by physical therapists, applied to the needles to reduce muscle spasms and nerve pain.
It’s a shame that acupuncture is so frequently overlooked by patients, clinicians, and insurance providers alike. Acupuncture effectively relieves pain, increases range of movement, reduces muscle spasms, and aids in the treatment of acute and chronic injuries. Though it is often dismissively labeled as “alternative medicine”, acupuncture is actually a conservative therapy-- it can be prescribed as a low-risk, non-invasive alternative to surgeries or interventions. Best of all, it can complement western surgical techniques by speeding up the healing process and reducing recovery time.
Melzack, R et al. "Trigger Points And Acupuncture Points for Pain: Correlations and Implications". Pain.
Volume 3, Issue 1, February 1977, Pages 3-23
Wu, MT et al. "Neuronal Specificity of Acupuncture Response: a fMRI study with electroacupuncture". Neuroimage. 2002 Volume 16, 1028-1037.
I am proud to announce that I am now certified in Acupuncture Orthopedics by The National Board of Acupuncture Orthopedics. It was a long year of studying but well worth the vast knowledge I have attained! I am also now working for a national workers compensation group called U.S. HealthWorks. I am currently working for this practice four days a week and am seeing patients on Fridays at St. Luke's. In the near future I will have some more hours available at St. Luke's including Saturday mornings.
Some exciting new developments are unfolding. I am now going to have a location at St. Luke's hospital working in the clinic at SOMA Orthopedics Medical Group http://www.somaortho.com/. This will give my patients access to a complementary orthopedic medical group as well as access to a network of doctors of different specialties, special imaging, labs, and medical practitioners of different modalities. Also, I am in the process of applying to get on staff at the hospital. Another location I will be treating at is Pacific Pain Treatment Center http://www.pacpain.com/. This is a chronic pain center that is also in the process of starting an acute pain program. I will still be seeing patients in my comfortable and quiet Precita Park clinic as well.
The latest tool I am treating patients with at my clinic is a electronic stimulator, similar to a tens unit, that has been shown in clinical research to effectively treat pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, addiction, and much more. The Alpha-Stim uses microcurrent tuned to the bodies own frequency to treat these conditions. When attached via clips to the earlobes it stimulates an alpha state similar to meditating. When using the probes to treat pain the the device stimulates nerves to block pain and actually promote healing of damaged nerves. There are over 55 five research articles and it has been treating many conditions effectively for 24 years. Here is a link to their web site with vast information and research. Please inquire about Alpha-Stim at your next appointment. http://alpha-stim.com/
Dit Da Jiao literally means "trauma wine". This is an external herbal remedy traditionally used by Kung Fu masters to treat broken bones, sprains, strains, and bruises. Every master has their own proprietary formula and they are very guarded about them. This formula is basically a topical analgesic and anti inflammatory that promotes circulation and quick healing. Typically herbs are soaked for a minimum of a month in rice wine and the longer they are soaked the better. Dit Da Jiao is a great remedy for high impact athletes or for anyone to keep around the house for those occasional accidents. I have seen bruises disappear by the next day when applying this formula. I make my own Dit Da Jiao which is a modified version of my Kung Fu teacher's formula and provide it for my patients in four ounce bottles.
I have just completed module five of my Acupuncture Orthopedics program. Now I will have the skills necessary to examine, evaluate, and diagnose problems associated with the musculoskeletal system. Some of the diagnostic tools I have gained are testing range of motion, muscle strength tests, reflexes, gross neurological exams, and I can measure posture, as well as perform various orthopedic tests to allow me to treat accordingly or make an appropriate referral. These past modules have also taught me some therapeutic tools such as manual therapy, and various stretches and exercises which will compliment my acupuncture treatments as well. I am also very excited because with the completion of this last module I will now be observing in doctors offices of different specialties! Stay tuned for upcoming modules which include systematic disorders, physical therapy, acupuncture orthopedics, and more.
My new and biggest rave in maintaining optimum health is the use of proteolytic enzymes for prevention and maintenance. There has been a lot of research on the use of proteolytic not only as an anti-inflammatory but also to treat and prevent cancer as well as other systematic disorders. Dr. Beard published some of the first medical literature on the use of enzymes to treat cancer in 1906. Dr. Gonzales is currently the most widely recognized expert on enzyme therapy to treat cancer and has conducted vast research on the topic following Dr. Beards research (http://www.dr-gonzalez.com/). Dr Thal (http://www.drthal.com/) , my personal doctor, once told me that if he ever was to be diagnosed with cancer he would go see Dr Gonzales first. Proteolytic enzymes are widely accepted as a powerful anti- inflammatory for athletes as well. There is much research on this dating back the the 1950's. I am currently prescribing proteolytic enzymes as part of my nutritional regiment for athletes and anyone interested in the prevention of inflammatory diseases. The company I use, Marco Pharma (http://www.marcopharma.net/products.htm), is located in Germany and only uses the highest grade Pharmaceutical quality enzymes and herbs. Please inquire upon your next visit to my clinic.