acupuncture

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I have a fertility-turned-obstetric patient who just emailed me to cancel her appointment for this morning. She was in labor and wouldn’t be needing an induction treatment as we had planned. This is someone who had faithfully come in for treatment throughout her pregnancy, and to whom we applied pre-birth acupuncture from week 36 on. She went into labor 5 days after her due date.

This is typical of primigravidas (first time moms). Having pre-birth acupuncture most typically results in babies that come during the 40th-41st weeks. Rarely do I see those who come in weekly for this treatment get to week 42. The protocol is simple, and the hour spent in session gives the mom some much needed self-care time. Not only is the pre-birth acupuncture helpful for getting labor going in due time, but it has also been shown to reduce the overall time in early labor by an average of 2 hours. 2 hours might not sound like a lot, but believe me, to a woman in labor it is significant. In addition, there is strong anecdotal evidence that women who receive pre-birth acupuncture require less medical intervention during labor than women who do not. I encourage all of my obstetric patients to come in once a week from week 36 to week 41. Once we pass week 41, we can apply a stronger induction-style treatment 3 times in a week as these moms may be facing a decision to medically induce with Pitocin should they reach week 42. I do not actively induce moms before their due dates, and I find that those who receive pre-birth treatment rarely require it.

For acupuncturists interested in incorporating the pre-birth protocol into their obstetric practice, I use the following points as a base of treatment, and add any points that I feel will benefit the particular patient depending on other symptoms present and using a differential diagnosis.

Weesk 36-38: (using no stimulation) GB34, ST36, Sp6 (if there is a history of rapid uncontrolled labor, substitue with Ki8), Bl62, yin tang. If the baby’s position is not optimal, add Bl67 and Bl60

Weeks 38-40: (using no stimulation) GB34, St36, Sp6, Bl62 (again, add Bl67 and Bl60 if needed), yin tang, GB21

Week 41: (using strong stimulation) GB34, St36, Sp6, Bl62 Bl60,, Bl67, yin tang, GB21, LI4 Bl31, Bl32

These points can all be needled bilaterally in a seated position, or unilaterally in a side-lying position. I favor side-lying as many moms become quite relaxed and meditative.

 

 

 

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When I was in my last semester of acupuncture school, I was pregnant with my first daughter. Once that fact became obvious to my teachers and classmates, my two Chinese instructors insisted that I needed to needle Kidney 9 regularly. It is thought that this point will produce a beautiful baby when needled throughout the pregnancy. I thought it was humorous at the time, but I have since come to rely on this point with all of my pregnant patients, as it is one of the most useful for securing a pregnancy and preventing miscarriage. I joke with my patients that we are needling the “beautiful baby” point, but in truth, I am using it to be sure that the uterine environment is as healthy as possible for the growing embryo and fetus.

From the book Acupuncture in Midwifery (which I highly recommend to acupuncturists focusing on Obstetrics) by Yelland:

“Kidney 9 is said to produce a child with particularly luminous complexion who would sleep at night, laugh in the daytime, be virtually immune to diseases or if he/she did catch a disease would heal quickly, be sane in mind, morals and body.”

 

Interesting note: Peter Deadman’s A Manual of Acupuncture, which is the main text used in American acupuncture schools, does not include miscarriage prevention or “beautiful baby” as indications for this point. The name of the point, however, translates to Guest House. To me, this sounds as though it is for the uterus while it is “housing” a guest, aka, a baby.

 

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Located in the thenar eminence between the thumb and first finger, He gu means Joining Valley or Union Valley. This point is a very powerful and often used point. It is the command point of the face and mouth and can be added to any prescription when that area is affected such as TMJ, tooth pain, headache, etc. Another common use for this point is to ward off colds, or wind, as we say in Chinese Medicine. This point both clears wind on it’s own, and also as the Large Intestine channel is paired with the Lung channel, it can effect the Lung and Wei qi, or immune function. I always include this point when a patient has a cold, or feels one is coming on, regardless of the pattern.

When combined with the point Liver 3, we have what is called the “four gates.” This point combination is especially powerful at moving qi and is used quite frequently for this purpose.

When combined with the points Large Intestine 11 and Large Intestine 15, we have what is called a “chain and lock.” This combination is useful when treating any issues with the arm from tendonitis to numbness to muscle pain.

Large Intestine 4, He gu, is one of several points used to induce labor, and is therefore contraindicated in pregnancy unless labor is desired.

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I’ve heard this question a lot over the years. Coming from a culture in which the primary medicine is one-size-fits all, it is not surprising that we have a hard time grasping the way acupuncture works. In Western medicine if you have a particular symptom or disease, there is a specific treatment for that, a drug or a therapy or what-have-you. There is sometimes a bit of tailoring in which, of the 5 drug options, you are given one based on factors that are unique to you. In general though,  each disease has a set treatment, no matter the patient’s constitution or other symptoms.

In Chinese Medicine, the opposite is true. Each person is looked at individually, all symptoms are considered relevant, and the underlying imbalance is treated. We often say, we treat the person not the disease. For instance, if there are 5 people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the Chinese Medicine doctor will look at each of the five individually. Each will get a Chinese Medicine diagnosis, possibly all 5 will be different. One might have qi stagnation causing the IBS, one might have Spleen qi deficiency, one might damp phlegm collecting, one might have too much heat, etc. The doctor will then prescribe points and herbs specific to those five individual imbalances. There are points that move the qi, and do so very well in the digestive system. There are points that build spleen qi, and so on. There would likely be some crossover, but it is very unlikely that each person would receive the same exact prescription of points.  

Acupuncture points do not treat specific diseases, rather, they have the effect of adjusting the imbalances in the body in different ways. Stomach 36 is a powerful digestive point, but western disease diagnoses do not correlate to specific points. Sometimes St 36 would be called for in someone with IBS, sometimes it would not depending on the imbalance in that particular patient. Points are combined in such a way as to bring the individual back into balance thereby eliminating symptoms of dis-ease.

This is why seeing a licenced acupuncturist for acupuncture rather than an MD or Chiropractor with a few hours of “acupuncture training” is so important. While the MD may be able to reduce a little pain using acupuncture needles, to get to the root of the imblance using Chinese Medicine, a differential diagnosis needs to be made so that elegant point combinations can be chosen. Acupuncture was never meant to be practiced in a “this point is good for this disease” way and it is far more effective when used within the broader framework of Chinese Medicine as a whole system of medicine.

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Sanyinjiao translates to Three Yin Intersection. This point is unique in that the three yin channels of the leg intersect here. The Spleen, Liver and Kidney channels can all be accessed through this point making it very powerful, and very useful.

Locate sanyinjiao 3 cun (approximately 3 inches) up from the medial malleolus (the inner ankle bone) just behind the crest of the tibia, or leg bone. The point is often tender and might feel like a slight depression in the muscle tissue.

I use this point often, especially on women, as it is a lovely point for tonifying the qi of the Spleen and Stomach, thereby aiding in building blood. This has broad use, from menstrual irregularities to digestive discomfort. It resolves damp conditions and invigorates the blood, making it useful for regulating menstruation and also for inducing labor. It is therefore, contraindicated in pregnancy unless labor is desired. It is usefully for calming the spirit and rules the lower of the 3 jiao, meaning the intestines, bladder, uterus/tubes/ovaries, and the sexual organs.

Sanyinjiao is useful for any gynecological, urinary, sexual, digestive and emotional issues. Few points have so many, and such broad application, making Spleen 6 one of the most widely used acupuncture points.

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Shonishin is a Japanese acupressure technique that is well suited to babies and young children. Acupuncture channels and points are stimulated with a light stroking or pressing technique with small tools, sometimes even shells or stones. It can be used to treat all the typical childhood complaints such as colic, digestive problems, rashes, colds, etc. Even more effective, is the use of monthly shonishin on healthy young ones to help them maintain a state of wellness. It will calm them down, help them sleep better, and boost their immune function.

As you can see in the above picture, children enjoy the process of shonishin and might even enjoy “playing doctor” with it at home. It is a safe, painless, non-invasive way to help our babies and children maintain good health.

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I have always had faith in the wisdom of a pregnant body. For the most part, babies come when they’re ready. Unfortunately, there are circumstances in which a medical induction with pitocin or cytotec are indicated. If a woman or baby’s health is in jeapordy, induction becomes necessary. All too often, medical caretakes do not feel comfortable with a woman who hasn’t started labor by the 41st week and induction is recommended for no other reason than being “overdue.”

When a woman is facing medical induction with drugs, I do provide acupuncture induction to start labor naturally. Contractions initiated with Pitocin are more intense than natural contractions and often lead a woman straight to an epidural, which carries with it many risks. Naturally inducing labor with acupuncture does not have the intensifying effect.

In my experience, first time moms often need up to 3 treatments to get labor going, although I have seen many cases in which 1 treatment does the trick. It is a safe protocol, and worth trying before resorting to more invasive, less safe inductions with drugs.

Interestingly, women who have done prebirth acupuncture once a week from week 36 on, usually go not require even acupuncture induction, as they generally go into labor on their own by week 41.

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My 3 days have been filling up quickly lately. In an effort to accomodate everyone’s requests for treatment I have decided to add one day a week to my schedule. I will now be available on Tuesdays in addition to Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Don’t forget you can book online by clicking the “Book Now” button on the top left of this page.

Hope to see you soon!

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“It’s 5am and I’m sitting at the airport and am in complete amazement! I woke up with a full range of motion in my neck and not an ounce of pain. I haven’t even taken any advil yet.  I can hardly believe it! I am one happy girl.”

That is an email I received from a patient who had come in the day before with acute neck pain. Because she was flying the following day, she was desperate to get some relief from pain and the limited range of motion in her neck which had been plagueing her for 3 days. Advil took the edge off, but wasn’t giving her complete relief, and was doing nothing for her inability to turn her head to the right.

Upon palpation I found several very tight areas between her spine and her scapula on the right side, and also in the muscles on the right side of her neck. I did acupuncture locally, and also used a combination of points on her wrists and ankles on the acupuncture channels that traverse the upper back and neck.

The acupuncture certainly contributed to her quick recovery, but I think the key to treatment success in this case was the gua sha which I applied to her upper back following the acupuncture.

Gua sha is an ancient technique in which a smooth-edged tool, usually a ceramic soup spoon, is scraped along the skin in one area repeatedly. The technique stimulates blood flow and produces heat which releases toxins and helps muscles to relax. The feeling is one of a strong massage, and can leave reddish marks referred to as “petichiae”. Using gua sha on the muscles of my patient’s neck and upper back were the key to her relief from pain and return to normal range of motion. I use gua sha quite a bit in the spring when neck pain and spasm are a common phenomenon.

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This time of year I hear a lot of patients talking about how their kids are coughing constantly. When children catch colds, they often get coughs, sometimes dry, sometimes phlegmy, and especially at night. These episodes are miserable for everyone. Western cough syrups are very strong drugs and many parents don’t want to use them but resort to them so that everyone can get some sleep.

There is a wonderful Chinese Medicine alternative. Blue Poppy Herbs makes a pediatric formula called Lung Qi Jr. that works wonders on those pesky coughing fits. I have been giving it to my children since they were infants whenever they had colds with coughs. Not only does it help to calm the coughing, it has several herbs in it that fight the infection at the source of the cough. It is one of those formulas that I think anyone with kids should have in the medicine cabinet. It comes in a liquid form and contains vegetable glycerin to sweeten it up so that it is more palateable to young tongues. I squirt it directly into my children’s mouths, but it can also be added to juice, milk, yogurt, or anything else.

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