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.

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.

References

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.

References
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.