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Acupuncture in Action with Kat: Conflicts Inside and Out

A peek into an acupuncture treatment with Kat Ao.

Yesterday a young man booked his first acupuncture session, looking for relief for an aching upper back muscle. Over half way into the treatment, he mentions the point I just used, the eighth in the session, is the first that’s actually felt like a needle (the previous points didn’t bring on a needle-like sensation). This cued me to explain one of my favorite features of Japanese-style acupuncture: If the short-term goal is to help our bodies out of a stressed state that causes pain, then the process has to be just as stress-free. In other words, healing is a process.

Back to the treatment. I explained how tension on his right hip, abdomen, and left shoulder can contribute to that nagging upper back. To test that I used points that released these distal tensions. And that nagging spot also toned down. So some myofascial connections were there. I listen to his story and we agreed the persistence of the pain (seven years!) didn’t seem to line up with what started it. And so I offered a possible pathophysiological explanation that may line up with the myofascial tensions. This cued me to explain two more great things about J-style: 1) musculoskeletal anatomy interacts with internal functions. In short, everything’s connected. 2) The long-term goal is to help our bodies respond appropriately to our present contexts. In short, change happens.

The hour ends and he feels different, like the conflict between him and his back has shifted. Results can happen when we respect that: a) healing is a process, b) everything’s connected, and c) change happens. These principles are relevant beyond an acupuncture treatment, and it’s that integrity between how we live in our bodies and what’s in our external environment that can be so inspiring. I’m grateful for communities that live by these principles and stand up for our future. And hope that in our own way as acupuncturists and as receivers of acupuncture, we contribute to something better.

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

To Heal Better (from Injuries) and Stay Healthier (Post Surgery), Look Back (Part one)

In Victoria, BC, where people are relying on walk-in clinics, often with a one-concern-per-visit policy, acupuncture offers a different take on recovering from injuries and surgeries. Because while it may seem like that sore back or strained knee just came out of nowhere, your temple wasn’t built in a day. A Registered Acupuncturist will gather the random milestones of your health history, incorporate this into your current concern, and keep you in a better state for longer.

There’s a filipino saying, “If you can’t look back to where you’ve come from, you’ll never get to where you’re going.” Here are three common experiences and how they shape our current health concerns.

1. Minor, Yet Recurring Health Issues

Recurring health issues are the temporary concerns that you may have resigned to living with such as seasonal allergies, monthly migraines, and morning muscle aches. Occasional medications may be necessary to get you through the day. But for those that don’t want to rely on medication, acupuncture is an option. Acupuncture applies the general systems theory to find out what’s keeping your body functioning inefficiently. This means assessing the fascial connections and testing their relevance. In other words, what clutter is your nervous system dealing with on a regular basis? Could that be keeping you from being healthier?

2. Major Surgeries and Hospitalizations

This includes laparoscopic procedures where you may have only needed a couple hours in Outpatient Care. Surgeries such as caesarean sections, appendectomies, hysterectomies, and hernia repair often involve cutting through layers of abdominal fascia. The scar tissue in turn often reshapes how our bodies work, both structurally and physiologically. Treatments by a Registered Acupuncturist differ from Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) because attention is given not only to what muscles currently hurt.  The myofascial systems that run deep to internal organs matter to an acupuncturist. And if you’ve had major surgeries in the past, they should also matter to you.

Most of us view our hospital visits as a thing of the past soon after we’re discharged. But it may have relevance to the present. One example is health concerns years after gall bladder removal. It’s been documented well enough that it’s earned a name: post-cholecystectomy syndrome.

3. Old, Old, Old Complex Injuries

Much like the effect of old surgeries, major injuries that took months or years to recover may still be a part of the problem. Injured soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, and tendons) recover best when allowed to progress through the stages of healing. This means moving from inflammation to rebuilding. But if you’re active and regularly tweaking something, everyday a musical round of the various phases of soft tissue healing is playing inside us. And at some point the nervous system orchestrating this won’t respond to our needs. Acupuncture’s take on new injuries? Respect those old problems.

Acupuncture can work well because of the emphasis on diagnosing and treating the connections between old health concerns and new problems. So when shoulder’s in a sling and someone asks what happened, there’s more to your story. And there’s a part two to this story. Stay connected.

Post-traumatic stress disorder in our community

The clinical term is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And it’s a part of so many of us. I offer acupuncture temporarily at Lifemark Esquimalt. Working there I meet people that serve in the Canadian Forces. The stories their bodies share come to mind when I read this recent commentary by Romeo Dallaire on a recent tragedy,
“The brain is as vital to life as any organ in the human body. To treat an injury to the brain as less urgent, less in need of care and compassion than other, more obvious types of injury is misguided and ignorant. Our efforts to treat our veterans with PTSD must be comparable to our efforts to repair damaged hearts, provide timely kidney transplants, avoid amputations or restore eyesight.” Read more from Romeo Dallaire here.
And if you like research results, this from the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, and this from the American Public Health Association both show results of acupuncture’s efficacy in managing PTSD symptoms in veterans.To define PTSD there’s the criteria set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s a list of mostly psychological symptoms. Connecting these to physical symptoms and addressing both is where acupuncture and Chinese Medicine shines.

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.

What can I do to ensure easy breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is a great way to give your child the nutrients they need during their early stages of development. The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Producing breastmilk and making it available involves the brain’s pituitary gland, nervous system, lymphatic system, and local muscles. Lactation is not an isolated function. The health of other systems that seem unrelated can affect and be affected by lactation and breastfeeding. Recent research has found that stress hormones and the depression rates are lower in breastfeeding mothers compared to women who are not breastfeeding.

One way to improve your ability to provide breastmilk is to manage your stress levels. Don’t hesitate to accept help from friends and family after the baby arrives – it’s a huge adjustment and that extra support goes a long way. A key component to successful breastfeeding is to relieve tense muscles in the shoulders, chest, and upper back.  Most people tend to carry their stress behind the shoulder joints, above the shoulder blade and towards the base of the neck.  To relieve this tension, have someone thumb over this area applying light pressure. To encourage the lymphatic flow, apply light finger pressure along your ribs just below each breast, starting at the center where your upper abdomen and chest meet, and work your way to your sides just below your armpit.

Deep breathing can not only ensure problem-free breastfeeding, but it can also encourage the recovery of your body. This can be done while breastfeeding: get settled in a comfortable position with good posture; with each slow breath, inflate and deflate your lower abdomen below your bellybutton; as you do this you can just imagine the natural hormone oxytocin flowing through you: your uterus and abdominal ligaments reestablish their strength, you heart rate and blood pressure slow down, and your mood lightens as you fall in love with the little one you’re caring so well for.

It can take time to get the hang of breastfeeding. If you’re struggling, remember there are lots of great resources out there to offer guidance and support.