Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Balance Method

By Joshua Herr, L.Ac.

In Chinese medicine, there is a continual dialogue about how to achieve balance. One of the laws of nature is represented by the tai qi symbol, which is more popularly known as the yin yang symbol. The tai qi symbol represents a natural law of dynamic balance that is found in nature. For example, as the earth spins, there is a dynamic balance between night and day, and hot and cold, as the sun's position changes.

When you come to an extreme point of the day (the least or most amount of sunlight), the balance shifts, and the less dominant element becomes the predominating element. This is one basic concept that Chinese medical practitioners use to help patients. By assessing the state of the internal environment of the body and the balance of the meridians, a practitioner can choose the best herbs, foods, and acupuncture points to create harmony for the patient.

One common area of acupuncture study is called Microsystems. Microsystems is a term that is used to describe a unique map of acupuncture points that are distributed over a small area of the body. Microsystems use the concept of yin and yang to explain why an area of the body that has an anatomical resemblance of another part of the body can be used to treat that other area of the body.

You may have seen the ear acupuncture charts that we have around the office. In these diagrams, you can see that the points are distributed in a manner that represents the body parts of a person. The lobe of the ear is visually and structurally similar to the head. This is why acupuncture points found on the lobe of the ear effect illness of the head, including nose, ears, eyes, etc.

The Microsystem of the hand can also be seen as visually and structurally similar to the human body. In this system, the middle finger down to the wrist joint is the trunk, neck and head of the body. The 2nd and 4th fingers are the upper limbs, and the 1st and 5th are the lower limbs. The palm of the hand effects the internal organs of the body, while the back of the hand effects the back of the body and skeletal-muscular disorders of the shoulders, hips and back. There are additional Microsystems found on other areas of the body including the scalp and foot.

Another way of using acupuncture to send a message of balance to the body is by using the Primary Meridians to find which point will send the best message to that part of the body that is in distress. These points are usually very tender or sore when massaged. This technique of finding treating tender points on areas of the body that reflect illness located at another body site is commonly referred to as the Balance Method.

Primary Meridian is the term used to describe the 12 Primary Meridians that travel the length of the body, beginning or ending at the tips of the fingers or toes. These are the full body meridian charts that can be seen in the treatment rooms. When using the primary meridians to find a therapeutic balance, points along the entire arm and/or leg are used to heal other parts of the body. The practitioner first diagnoses which meridian has an imbalance (this is the meridian that travels through the area of the patient's illness). The second step is to determine which primary meridian will best balance the out-of-balance meridian by using the natural laws of yin and yang. The third task is to find points along the primary meridian chosen for treatment that will send the most effective signal to the distressed area of the body.

With this system, like the Microsystems, it can be observed that there is a visual and structural similarity between two distinct areas of the body. For example, the inside light skin area of the elbow can be used to treat the light skin area of the knee on the opposite side of the body.

At the end of this article I have listed the names and point locations for four acupuncture points of the hands that can be massaged to relieve a headache. The best point to choose is based on the location of the headache. When using these concepts to select the best point to treat the headache, the wrist of the person represents the neck and the hand represents the head and face. Have fun experimenting with the Balance Method and the next time you hurt your ankle, search for the very tender point that can be found in your wrist on the opposite side of the body.

Acupuncture Points To Relieve Headaches:

後洗"Back Stream" Small Intestine 3 - Trace the outside border of the pinky where the light and dark skin meet. This point is found in the depression that can be found on the hand just after you trace over the knuckle. Press deep to find the tender spot and massage to treat headaches located on the back of the head where the head rests when lying on a pillow.

少府 "Lesser Palace" Heart 8 - This point is found where the tip of the little finger rests when a fist is made. Press deep to find the tender spot and massage to treat headaches located on the side of the head and face.

合谷 "Joining Valley" Large Intestine 4 - This point is found on the back of the hand in the fleshy muscle found between the thumb and the first finger. Press to find the tender spot and massage to treat headaches located on the forehead or face.

When using these points, check to see which point is more tender. Is it the point on the left or right side of the body? When pain is located on one side of the body, generally the acupuncture point on the opposite side of the body in relation to the pain will be more tender and effective for treating the pain.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chinese Medicine for Menopause

By David Treviño, L.Ac.

Most women who live in industrialized societies experience menopause between the ages of 48 and 55. This natural transition from a fertile to a non-fertile stage in a woman's life is designated when menstruation permanently ceases. During this phase, many women experience uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, insomnia, headaches, lethargy, weight gain, water retention, vaginal dryness, and menstrual irregularities.

For the last several decades, western medicine has been prescribing hormone replacement therapy to help women deal with these uncomfortable menopausal symptoms. Research has found that these medications increase the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as cancer.

Fortunately, Chinese medicine has much to offer women who are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms associated with menopause. Acupuncture and herbal remedies and specific nutritional adjustments have been used for thousands of years in China to help women transition through these symptoms without the use of medications.

According to Chinese medicine, the physiological transition in a woman's life from a reproductive to a non-reproductive age occurs when kidney's yin and yang energies begin to decline. For example, when the kidney yin energies are deficient, the body is unable to cool or moisten. This can contribute to insomnia, palpitations, night sweating, constipation, tinnitus, and dryness. When kidney yang deficiency is also present, women often experience depression, hot flashes, night sweats early in the morning, cold hands and feet, fatigue, ankle swelling, and backache.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines are great in helping the body balance the specific energy deficiencies and reduce menopausal symptoms safely and naturally. Most women experience a reduction of menopausal symptoms only after a few acupuncture treatments, but are best treated by combining acupuncture with Chinese herbal medicine. Most of the Chinese herbal formulas prescribed today have been used for thousands of years to strengthen Qi, Blood, Yang, or Yin and can be used on a regular basis without adverse effects.

Other lifestyle factors such as stress, lack of exercise, spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine can aggravate menopausal symptoms. If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms, try eating whole foods and increase foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, exercise regularly, and practice activities that decrease stress and promote relaxation such as tai chi, yoga and meditation. If you continue to experience menopausal difficulties after adjusting your lifestyle, speak to one of our Licensed Acupuncturists. Chinese medicine can assist you in creating a harmonious shift and assist you in moving through this life transition.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Treating Pain: Chinese Herbs for Pain

By Ann Wolman, L.Ac.

Patients commonly seek Chinese medical care because they are in pain. Acupuncture is becoming well known for its ability to resolve pain. A growing number of studies are demonstrating its use in the treatment of painful conditions such as low back pain and sciatica.

In Chinese medical terms it is said, "where there is pain, there is stagnation." This means that pain is indicative of some kind of blockage in the Meridian or Channel System. Acupuncture has the ability to "move qi and blood" and is therefore a treatment of choice for pain relief.

What is not as well known is that there is a long tradition of using Chinese herbs internally, meaning taken by mouth, for the treatment of pain disorders. For example, some of the most useful Chinese herbal formulas fall into the category of "Tieh Tah," or "Hit Medicine." These are formulas that come from the martial arts tradition and historically have been an important branch of Chinese medical study. Many herbal formulas have pain relieving functions.

Chinese herbs have advantages over pharmaceuticals for resolving pain. While Western medications may be more quick acting, they have numerous side effects, and many patients have difficulty tolerating them. All substances that are ingested must some how be detoxified and expelled by the body. Drugs are processed through the liver or the kidneys, and some may irritate the stomach. The use of pain relievers daily can be problematic. For example Acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol, is toxic to the liver, and in high doses, taken over a period of time or in combination with alcohol, can lead to liver damage. Other NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen (Advil) can irritate the stomach and cause ulcers. Advil has also been linked to renal damage. Narcotic pain relievers like Vicodin are extremely habit forming, may be very sedating and cause symptoms like nausea and constipation.

The beauty of Chinese medicine is that by treating the "pattern of disharmony," presenting symptoms are alleviated. This means that if pain is caused by stagnation, pain will be relieved by herbs that regulate or move qi and/or blood. We can treat the "root and the branch" simultaneously, relieving pain and resolving the underlying disharmony.

Chinese herbs are easily administered at home. Herbs can be taken in the form of teas that are cooked at home, pills, granules or tinctures. Herbs can also be targeted to treat pain in a specific area of the body. For example, for tight muscles in the upper back and shoulder blades Ge Gen (Kudzu) will guide an herbal formula to that area. It can be combined with herbs that specifically relax spasms like Bai Shao and Zhi Gan Cao (White Peony and Baked Licorice) and medicinals like Ji Xue Teng (Milletia) that open the channels and invigorate and nourish the blood. Pharmaceuticals are broad-acting and often do not target specific areas of the body.

As an adjunct to the use of internal herbs, liniments, plasters, or soaks can be used in the management of pain. Self-massage, epsom salts baths, stretching exercises, relaxation techniques and the application of caster oil packs can also be helpful. If you are dealing with pain, feel free to talk with your practitioner about your treatment plan, home care suggestions and herbal formulas that may be helpful to resolve your condition and support your healing.