6 Reasons To Get Acupuncture After Surgery (Even if it was a long time ago)

1. Speed up healing time – Acupuncture focuses on optimizing your nervous system’s autonomic responses to stress. When the nervous system is in balance, we can reduce systemic inflammation and ensure your immune responses are switched on and targeting the correct tissues. Treating local areas affected by surgery – usually with heat rather than needles – restores circulation, bringing fresh blood and nutrients to the damaged tissue to be repaired. Ultimately speeding natural healing responses and recovery time.

2. Release and prevents scar adhesions– Adhesions are like snags in the underlying fascia around the incision site. They present as bumps, uneven dermis, discoloration, numbness, tingling or pain on or around the scar. Scar adhesions block circulation and energy flow and have been linked to some chronic postoperative conditions like pain, headaches, and depression. Japanese Acupuncture protocols never needle the scar directly but instead around and sometimes under the scar, and heat for circulation, and bringing fresh blood and nutrients to the scar site with a combination of Moxa, infrared heat and/or diode rings or ion pumping cords.

3. Integration of trauma – whether or not you were awake for surgery or remember the original incident that preempted surgery, your body holds the implicit (out of direct cognition) somatic memory of being injured/sick and operated on. The trauma is held in a network of neural pathways in subcortical levels of the brain and may be reawakened with direct or subconscious stimuli. This can present post-op as depression/sadness, mood swings, anxiety, flashbacks and ghost/phantom pain. It may also mean lowered windows of tolerance to daily stimuli such as minor stressors, loud noises, or full work schedules as the nervous system remains in a state of overstimulation or hyper-vigilance. Acupuncture helps by stimulating the Dorso-lateral Prefrontal Cortex (part of the brain the stores traumatic memories) to release the “bracing” tension from the nervous system – where the nervous system is stuck in “fight or flight” – and helps to form new neuropathways (over time) around feelings of safety.

4. Detox anesthesia and pain management medications– Most commonly an anesthesia and/or pain meds will be administered during a procedure. These can be hard for the liver to metabolize, congest lymph, interfere with digestion and/or tax the kidneys. Kiiko style acupuncture has specific protocols for detoxing medications, reducing systemic toxicity, and restoring digestive functioning.

5. Rebalances after organ removal: Surgeries to remove organs such as the gall bladder, appendix or fibroids leave an imbalance from left to right in the inner workings of the fascia through the abdomen, which can throw off the alignment and tension patterns in the deep core abdominals. Based on the principals of Chinese medicine and Japanese Hara Diagnosis, these stagnant areas can eventually lead to constriction around organs and impaired function, but can also be released again with the right choice of treatment to counter-balance and release adhesions.

6. Aids ligament, joint and muscle function: If you had surgery on a limb, the movement patterns are affected both pre- and post-surgically due to casting/bracing/crutches/immobilization. During the recovery period, the gait and movement patterns shift to protect the affected area as it takes time to heal. The body wants to prevent any further injury, which is necessary in the short-term but gets in the way of normal function later on. Without slow re-education that “yes, it is safe to move the area again”, the muscles may start to freeze in response to pain. This then creates a cascade effect of over-compensation methods throughout the body (i.e. hip hikes up during a step because knee or ankle won’t bend, which then affects the low back, ribcage, shoulders and neck). Acupuncture, in line with physical therapy, helps safely and gently stimulate the nerves to “wake up”, speeding up activation of inhibited muscles and restoring alignment.

General Nutrition Advice for the Changing Seasons

Traditional medicine practices, from which acupuncture was formed, comprises not only needle work but lifestyle, herbs and diet. As such it is important, when considering wholistic wellness, to take some nutritional precautions along with your prescribed acupuncture protocol. Below are the basic principals as a general guideline. If you wish to have a tailored nutritional protocol for your individual constitution, seek out the services of a qualified practitioner.

Thermal Natures of food: the classical medical texts talk about the stomach as being a “100 degree soup”. Any food that we ingest needs to be warmed and preferably cooked as to not “cool down” the soup. Thus lowering body temperature, lowering metabolism and expending extra energy on digestive processes. It is said that raw, iced and cool food (anything colder than room temperature) will injure the digestion and lead to imbalances such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, undigested food in stools, lassitude, fatigue and poor memory. In fact many scientists link the ancient advancements of fire cooking food to the evolution of brain size and cognitive function. Even more interesting to note that studies are now showing that up to 50% of women on raw food diets develop amenorrhea – a sign that the body does not have enough energy to carry a pregnancy. Although some may argue that raw foods have higher nutrient density, cooking foods actually increases the bioavailability (what our body can break down to absorb) of those nutrients. That is not to say never eat raw food, but in general it is good to eat in moderation and according to the season. (more on seasonal eating below)

Energetics of food: Much like thermal natures of food, energetics of food is important for maintaining the “100 degree soup” needed for proper digestion. In general fruits and veggies are cooler in nature, grains and legumes are neutral, meats and spices are warming. Dairy, sugar, fried/greasy foods, wheat, and alcohol are all considered damp in nature. Of course there are many exceptions but this is the simplified way of looking at it. Cooking foods can change the energetic nature. For example steaming veggies will be considered more easily digestible than eating a salad. It is for this reason that vegans and vegetarians need to pay extra attention to their digestive energetics by adding warming spices and cooking foods thoroughly.

Seasonal eating: In this way of wholistic eating it is also important to consider the seasons and natural environment in which you live. External influences can also influence the “100 degree soup”. Living in colder, damp climates like we do on the west coast means we need to take extra precautions in the winter to eat warming foods. While during the summer heat it is suitable to eat fresh fruits and salads to balance the bodies warmer energies. As we consider our bodies are in constant relationship with the natural world, in general, whatever is growing fresh seasonally in your area are good choices for the body.

Individual constitution: Most importantly is to eat according to your individual constitution. This is where seeing a qualified practitioner can be very useful for customizing therapeutic food protocols. In general though, it is quite intuitive. If you are cold all the time, fatigued, lack energy/appetite, have weak digestion, gas, bloating and loose stools – it is best to eat warming foods, cooked thoroughly and moderately spiced. If you are hot or warm most of the time, anger easily, prone to headaches and neck tension, constipation, heartburn, insomnia and anxiety – its best to limit consumption of meats, spices, coffee, alcohol and greasy foods. If you are sluggish, foggy headed, prone to excess weight gain, have feelings of chest distention, experience acne, cysts, PCOS, you should avoid wheat, dairy, sugar, processed and greasy foods, alcohol and fatty meats.

Extra food for thought:

-Cultural eating practices are important! What your ancestors evolved eating will have an affect on your constitution and ability to assimilate nutrients.

-If prone to weak digestion, adding spices to your meals or drinking spiced teas after meals can help the break down and bioavailability of nutrients and prevent bloating, gas, indigestion and loose stools.

-Adding quality ferments like water kefir, kraut, kimchi, Kombucha, and miso can help rebuild probiotics in the gut and intestines to aid in digestion.

-If digestion Is a chronic ailment we always recommend seeing a naturopath or family doctor for further testing of intestinal overgrowth (SIBO, candida), parasites, food allergies or thyroid/autoimmune conditions in addition to your acupuncture protocols

Autoimmune disorders and acupuncture, part two

Acupuncture and Walls

Connections are everywhere, which makes boundaries even more significant. For autoimmune disorders such as celiac and Type 1 diabetes this means the small intestine wall. The purpose of the intestinal wall is to distinguish between what should be absorbed and what should be excreted. To do this well also requires adapting. These tasks are what doesn’t happen as well in problematic guts, measured in abnormal units of trans-epithelial electrical resistance1. Acupuncture reorganizes electrical imbalances in fascia all over the body. It does the same on the walls of the small intestine and the fascia connected to it. The result of this is that the immune-CNS communication reacts more appropriately.

Acupuncture and Boundaries

Acupuncture improves gut structure to improve mental function. These changes resonate beyond the gut and into the upper brain. In Chinese Medicine theory, a healthy mind is able to make sense of our experiences and separate what we need from what we don’t need. Beyond ourselves, a healthy mind can extend this to others and be critical of unjust relationships. In my practice I sometimes see a version of the Stolen Sisters in overworked health-care workers. I see a version of the Highway of Tears running through Victoria in the form of chronic pain and dismissed health issues. No doubt much less profound than what First Nations communities live with. My hope is that as we connect with our pain we gain the strength to stand with others.


1. Fasano, A. Zonulin, regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseases. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2012 Jul. 1258(1): 25-33. Accessed from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384703/ on Feb. 21, 2017.

A social justice mural by Victoria High School artists.

Autoimmune disorders and acupuncture, part one

It affects more women than men. Some professionals act on it but the problem persists. On an individual scale this refers to autoimmune disorders.

Autoimmune disorders happen when one’s immune system hurts the ones it’s closest to (much more than the poke of an acupuncture needle). It’s often undiagnosed. And sometimes test results are inconclusive. Following the symptoms can be a chase all over the body: aching joints and cardiovascular risks (rheumatoid arthritis), depression and feeling cold (thyroid imbalances), and uncomfortable digestion and infertility (celiac). Medications for these and other autoimmune disorders work as immunosuppressants1. Acupuncture can work in conjunction with medications. As a result the goal is to improve our innate ability to protect ourselves.

Autoimmune is interdisciplinary

But perhaps the symptoms seem all over the place because of how we look at it. So connect the dots. Autoimmune disorders can be understood as a problem relating to immune-neuro-endocrine interactions. It seems that a better understanding of autoimmune disorders comes from interdisciplinary perspectives on conventional medicine2. Notice how much more vulnerable you are to viral infections at stressful times; you know the nervous system affects immunity. And because autoimmune disorders are more prevalent in females than males, the endocrine system can’t be ignored. Research has shown that sex hormones can affect not only the number of immune cells but also their functions. But an explanation for the prevalence of autoimmune disorders in women is still unclear3.

Acupuncture is Interdisciplinary

If you’re a case where your autoimmune disorder doesn’t neatly fit the specialist boxes of conventional medicine, acupuncture can be a safe and effective therapy. Chinese Medicine’s perspectives are more in line with interdisciplinary research. And acupuncture makes the concept that everything is connected clinically relevant. In Chinese Medicine organizes the body into systems that each have a key role in the creation, circulation, and recycling of blood4. And so when immune responses that depend on blood circulation are overactive or underactive the diagnosis looks at what are behind these. With this in mind, a thorough treatment means finding how your medical history influences your current immune problems.

Image: A part of the 2016 social justice mural outside the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by Victoria High School artists.

1. Delves, P.J. Autoimmune Disorders. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Accessed from: http://www.merckmanuals.com/en-ca/home/immune-disorders/allergic-reactions-and-other-hypersensitivity-disorders/autoimmune-disorders on Feb.16, 2017.

2. Petrovsky, N. Towards a unified model of neuronendocrine-immune interaction. Immunology and Cell Biology (2001) 79, 350-357. Accessed from: http://www.nature.com/icb/journal/v79/n4/full/icb200152a.html on Feb. 21, 2017.

3. de Vos, P., M. Faas and B. Melgert. Sex Hormones and Immunoregulation. Posted on July 12, 2011. Accessed from http://brainimmune.com/sex-hormones-and-immunoregulation/ on Feb. 16, 2017.

4. Chen, Y. Nei Wei Qi Represents Immune System in TCM, Part 1. Acupuncture Today (2008) vol.9, issue 5. Accessed from: http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/mpacms/at/article.php?id=31725 on Feb. 16, 2017.

How acupuncture checks your second brain

In Japanese-style acupuncture (Chinese Medicine comes in all shapes and styles here in Victoria B.C.) understanding what’s behind any health concern requires feeling your abdomen, also known as your second brain. This is the enteric nervous system (ENS) in medical terminology. And because form follows function, how your gut brain responds to stress can relate to structural imbalances.
The ENS senses internal changes and initiates immune, digestive, hormonal, and emotional responses. From the esophagus to the large intestine, the various organs of the ENS are surrounded by fascia. And like layers of an onion fascia keeps our organs, bones, muscles and skin together. Fascia are full of mechanoreceptors that coordinate how our muscles move (or don’t move), maintain postures, and muster strength. Acupuncture works on the fascial lines (or meridians) that have become less stress-tolerant from chronic strain or old injuries. The goal is to restore agility in the neck, shoulders, abdomen and hips. Resolving these clears the clutter of sensory overstimulation to the ENS, and parasympathetic ‘rest and repair’ system. And better form leads to better function. This video talks about this mind-gut connection, and this research reminds us of the power of gut instincts.
A gentle acupuncture treatment may seem to focus on the surface, but the effects run deep.

Hey Victoria BC, we need a better way of letting go.

Sincerely, us now and in the future.

We’re on to the next phase of resolving our regional sewage problem. On a smaller scale, new research is clearing up how waste management happens in our bodies. The glimphatic system is a recent discovery that explains what happens with all the glucose our brains use. This system functions best during sleep, which explains the importance of sleep to cognitive functions. The glimphatic system also requires good lymphatic circulation.

Acupuncture puts this theory into clinical practice by diagnosing and improving connections between our head and the rest of our body. This means paying attention to new and old head injuries from sports or motor vehicle accidents, and assessing their impact on our current health concerns.

If you’ve noticed being less healthy since that major or minor incident, try a gentle approach that shifts your brain and body into working together better.

Acupuncture: Move Beyond Your Mystery Diagnosis

If you or someone you know have been left with unanswered questions by x-rays or lab results, consider the following…

A study published in the June 2011 issue of the British Journal of General Practice found regular acupuncture to be helpful for people with symptoms that are unexplainable by Western medicine. This research was carried out because medically unexplainable physical symptoms are common and often difficult to treat.

The study focused on 80 adults who visited their general practitioners at least eight times per year, mostly for chronic musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, headache, or mental health concerns. They were directed to see a licensed Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and received an average of nine acupuncture sessions over six months. The results were impressive; most of the participants reported improved health immediately and up to a year after receiving acupuncture.

The recommendations of this research: acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment that can be combined with Western Medicine. If you’re still unsure about acupuncture, ask yourself: if not now, when?

Use a Registered Acupuncturist in Victoria BC.

Acupuncture helps! Victoria BC Testimonials.

Acupuncture works wonders for most poeple! Here’s what others in Victoria BC have said:

Having been misdiagnosed by several medical professionals for multiple bowel issues I made a personal choice to explore other forms of health care and therapy. Katrina was referred by one of the top alternative health care professionals. Within the first few sessions I was physically feeling better, there was a complete shift of energy within me.  I have been experiencing less pain as well as improved sleep patterns, which has also allowed my body to continue to heal. Katrina is not only extremely knowledgeable and inquisitive but very intuitive with her personal approach. – S.S., ~ 40 years old


When I started my first session with Kat I was nervous and I had a headache. I was reassured it would be fine and not painful. Her calm personality and warm sunlight streaming though the window made this experience very relaxing. After my sessions I always felt content and lighter. We worked on where these headaches were coming from (neck issues and hormonal). With our ongoing sessions they became better and better. The one unexpected result that came to me was acupuncture was allowing my body to get out of the habit of a headache. – P.M., ~ 50 years old


I was really surprised by how relaxing acupuncture is.  I was so nervous about getting it done, as I am squeamish about needles, but Kat made the experience stress free and very relaxing!  I was even more surprised by how effective it is.  I didn’t expect to get such quick and effective results.  After trying everything I could think of to alleviate my back pain over the past ten years, I had finally given up and learned to live with it.  After four sessions with Kat I am pain free.  There was virtually no pain with acupuncture and only a sense of healing afterwards. It was the most relaxing healing experience I have ever had. – A.D., ~ 30 years old

How to Get the Most out of your Massage.

Do Your Exercises

Massage therapy can improve the nutrition of joints, increase the blood supply to the muscles, and undo or prevent formations of muscle adhesions. The positive changes initiated by a massage treatment start once you’re on the table, but they can continue for days or weeks if you keep up with stretching and strengthening exercises. Regular exercise continues the reorganizing response the treatment initiated on your connective tissue. This in turn relieves tension surrounding muscles, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and more.

Try Acupuncture

Acupuncture also works by reorganizing connective tissue, often referred to as fascia. The science behind acupuncture emphasizes the big picture connections of the body: how your hips are connected to your upper back or how your ankles are connected to your lower back.  Working on different, yet related, compensations in your body can complement and enhance to the work done by a massage therapist. The results of using the two therapies can be greater than from just an individual treatment.

In line with working on big picture connections, Japanese-style acupuncture addresses our overall health. One case is a middle-aged man dealing with tingling sensations and discomfort from his right shoulder to hand. A treatment that addressed the 10+ years of heavy lifting work he’d done over 10 years ago resulted in significantly noticeable changes right from the start. Another case is resolving the same symptoms on a woman by addressing the compensations set by her ceasarian-section deliveries 15 years ago.

Be Patient with Your Body

Slight recovery aggravates an illness. Many people become lackadaisical and unmindful as soon as they are feeling slightly better even though they have yet to fully recover. This can lead to a relapse. When you have recovered a bit, try to be more mindful. If you avoid negligence, you should recover quickly and will prevent the disaster of recurrence (Kaibara, E, 2008).”

This is a doctor’s advice to his clients. At Katrina Ao Acupuncture, I take the same level of commitment to your care, and you’ll see this in the treatment plans made specifically for you. The treatment plan is for achieving not only noticeable recovery as soon as possible, but also significant change to prevent future recurrences. Be patient with your body and take the time to heal now. And your active and healthy lifestyle just may last longer.

Ekiken, Kaibara. Cultivating ch’i: a samurai physician’s teachings on the way of health. Translated by W.S. Wilson. 2008. Shambhala Publications.