This section explains how problems are treated according to Chinese medical thinking and uses Chinese terms in describing each problem and its treatment. Scroll down this alphabetical selection of conditions treated at the Chinese Medicine Works acupuncture clinic, in San Francisco, or use the Index of conditions to link directly to a condition.
Pain is generally due to congestion or blockage of Qi (pronounced “chee”) and Blood. Acupuncture relieves pain by increasing the circulation of Qi and Blood, thus relieving congestion and blockage. Acupuncture can help relieve the pain due to intestinal cramps, uterine cramps, gas and bloating, constipation or diarrhea, and post-surgical discomfort.
Acne is usually caused by heat, dampness, and toxins that accumulate in the skin due to poor digestion, allergies, medications, hormone or metabolic imbalances. Acupuncture can help to eliminate acne by aiding digestion and metabolism of fats, detoxification of blood toxins, and by improving local circulation and reducing inflammation.
Acupuncture helps to facilitate drug withdrawal by calming the nervous system, improving mood, restoring appetite, reducing irritability, relieving headaches and body aches, and accelerating the detoxification of drug compounds. (See also Smoking cessation below.)
Upper respiratory allergies like hayfever are often accompanied by inflammation of the sinuses, nose, eyes, ears, and throat. Often it’s difficult to distinguish an allergy from a cold and sometimes one follows on the heels of the other. Chinese medicine explains these allergies as being the result of an invasion of Wind and Heat, Wind and Cold, or Wind and Dampness, or all three. And often the symptoms occur in windy, humid, cold, or hot weather. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help to alleviate these conditions by helping the body to expel the Wind, Heat, Dampness, and Cold, thus antidoting the inflammatory reaction that produces the symptoms of itching, sneezing, congestion, soreness, headache, and cough (due to post-nasal drainage).
Nervousness, agitation, panic, worry, fright, and apprehension are due to disturbances of Qi and Blood caused by excess Heat (inflammation or hyperactivity) in the Liver and Heart. According to Chinese medicine, these two Organ Networks are the primary ones that govern the emotional, sensory, and cognitive aspects of the mind (called Jing-Shen). Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help these problems by harmonizing the circulation of Qi and Blood, getting rid of surplus Heat, and relaxing the muscles and nerves.
The bones, tendons, muscles, and blood vessels are governed respectively by the Kidney, Liver, Spleen, and Heart. The symptoms of arthritis – pain, swelling, stiffness, inflammation and aggravations in response to heat, cold, humidity and pressure – are fundamentally caused by congestion or obstruction of the circulation of Qi and Blood so that the connective tissues and structural components of the body are not adequately nourished and lubricated. This can be the result of acute trauma, long-term stresses and strains, or chronic illness, particularly of the auto-immune variety. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can improve or sometimes even eliminate the symptoms of arthritis by improving the circulation Qi and the quality of the Blood, eliminating toxic accumulations that generate inflammation or Heat.
Wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath due to exertion, illness, or allergic reactions are the result of stagnation or inadequacy of Qi in the Lung Network (upper and lower respiratory system). This Qi stagnation is often caused or aggravated by cold, heat, humidity, dryness, air pollution, and many other factors, some known and some unknown. Improper diet, food sensitivities, environmental sensitivities, genetic or congenital factors, chronic fatigue, and prolonged illness influence the severity and chronicity of asthma. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs treat asthma by improving respiratory function, digestive function, physical stamina, and resistance to infections and allergens.
If treated early, within the first one to three months of onset, acupuncture alone can often completely relieve the symptoms of Bell’s Palsy. Sometimes, the condition will heal without treatment. But in many cases some level of facial paralysis will remain if left untreated. Even chronic cases that have persisted for a year or more can benefit significantly from acupuncture. Acupuncture helps to restore local circulation and normal function of the muscles and nerves, relieving numbness, stiffness, flaccidity, and tenderness.
Cystitis, urethritis, nephritis, incontinence, and spasm of the bladder and urinary tract can be helped with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Together they improve and normalize the function of the urinary tract along with that of the kidneys and bladder by improving circulation, relaxing or toning muscles and nerves, and helping the body to eliminate toxins in the blood and urine. In cases of infection, acupuncture and Chinese herbs will complement and enhance the action of antibiotics and other conventional therapies and hasten resolution and recovery.
According to Chinese medicine, pain is always due to stagnation or obstruction of the circulation of Qi and Blood. Solid tumors in the internal organs as well as cancer of the blood and lymph represent severe conditions of stagnation and obstruction due to a myriad of causes. Most, if not all, cancers develop over a period of several years as a result of chronic conditions of toxicity, poor circulation, nutritional and metabolic deficiencies that are complex in their origins. As with less serious illnesses, acupuncture and Chinese herbs enhance healthy physiological functions that can revive circulation, eliminate toxins, improve digestion and assimilation, and restore normality to diseased tissues or, at least, improve the overall health of the body so that the cancerous process can be considerably slowed or halted. Chinese medicine in the treatment of cancer works best in concert with conventional therapies and helps to mitigate the side effects of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy while enhancing their anti-cancer effects. Cancer-related pain is one of the more distressing symptoms that challenges patients; and Chinese medicine – especially acupuncture – is very effective for managing or relieving pain.
Pain and swelling of the nerves, tendons and muscles in the forearms, hands, and wrists is an increasingly common problem of people who do work that requires repetitive movements of the arms and hands. Chinese medicine defines this syndrome as an accumulation of Heat in the muscles, nerves, tendons, and acupuncture channels. The overuse of the small joints in the wrist and hands causes “friction,” which generates excess Heat (inflammation) that in turn causes swelling of the ulnar, median, and radial nerves that pass from the elbow through the small spaces between the bones in the wrists. This excess Heat congests the flow of Qi and Blood, which further aggravates the symptoms. Acupuncture, moxibustion (a form of heat therpay in which cones or cigars made of the dried leaves of Chinese mugwort are burned and the heat is allowed to penetrate either acupuncture points or painful areas), and the external application of medicinal herbal plasters (large, herb-impregnated adhesive bandages) and/or liniments (oils, gels, salves, and alcohol extracts) can speedily reverse this problem if treated early, thus avoiding recourse to surgical intervention. However, if surgery becomes necessary, these treatments will optimize the results and accelerate post-operative recovery.
While the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome largely remain a mystery, Chinese medicine explains that it results from primarily a dysfunction of the organ networks of the Kidney, Spleen, and Heart, causing a severe depletion of Qi (Kidney and Spleen) and disturbance of Shen (Heart), which results in a profound lack of energy, sleep disturbances and anxiety, emotional depression and apathy, fibromyalgia (see Fibromyalgia below), extreme fluctuations in weight and appetite, disorders of metabolism and digestion, and reduced resistance to infections. Because of the chronicity of this condition, it often takes many months of treatment (including acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary modification, and gentle, moderate exercise) to restore the body’s capacity to generate Qi and normalize the functions of the circulatory, digestive, immune, and nervous systems. Experience has shown the modalities Chinese medicine to be some of the most effective methods that can be employed to achieve recovery.
Colds and flus are caused by the “invasion of external pathogenic factors” according to Chinese medicine. These “pathogenic factors” are Heat, Cold, Dampness, and Wind. People often get sick after becoming chilled, overheated, fatigued, or dehydrated. We know, of course, that the primary causes of these illnesses are viral or bacterial infections. However, many people who are exposed to germs only become sick when their resistance is diminished due to sudden, unusual, or prolonged stressors. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are very effective at increasing a person’s tolerance for all kinds of stress, keeping resistance high, lessening the severity of an illness, should it occur, and speeding recovery. Chinese herbal medicine can also be extremely helpful, sometimes eliminating the symptoms of a cold or flu before it has fully taken hold.
Irregular bowel movements are a frequent concomitant of many digestive disorders. Overeating, ingesting spoiled food, food “allergies”, antibiotics and other medications, abdominal surgery, and chronic illness can all cause constipation, diarrhea, or both alternating with each other. By regulating Qi and Blood, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicines, and dietary modifications (according to the principles of Chinese medicine) are effective ways of restoring the healthy function of the stomach and intestines and can help overcome both acute and chronic bowel irregularity.
Coughs and bronchitis are effectively treated by acupuncture and Chinese herbs. The same treatments using acupuncture and Chinese herbs that help people suffering with asthma can help people recover from coughs and bronchitis.
Prolonged or recurring sadness, grief, disappointment, frustration, anxiety, disillusionment, and even chronic fatigue can lead to what is commonly called depression. Persistent negative emotional states and mental or physical exhaustion, lead to stagnation of Qi and Blood and other disturbances of the body and mind that can adversely affect all of the Organ Networks (Kidney, Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lung). Usually, as with anxiety disorders (see Anxiety above), the Organ Networks most affected are the Liver and Heart, but the Kidney may also be involved – especially when apathy, fatigue, and morbid thoughts are major complaints. The anxiety, apathy, irritability, melancholy, weakness, anorexia, and negative thinking that characterize acute and chronic depression, as with almost all physical and mental problems, are due to various conditions of stagnation and depletion of Qi and Blood. According to Chinese medicine principles, chronic stagnation leads to depletion, and chronic depletion leads to stagnation. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can effectively improve or resolve these problems.
Chinese medicine describes diabetes as a chronic condition of severe dehydration– the drying up of internal secretions affecting the Kidney, Spleen, and Lung Networks. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can often help to resolve Type II diabetes, enabling the patient to live a healthy life without oral anti-diabetic drugs. Those diabetics who are insulin-dependent (Type I), can stabilize their blood sugar and often reduce the dosage of insulin that they require. Peripheral neuropathy, a problem that sometimes develops over time in Type I diabetes, is often relieved with acupuncture. Of course, properly managing the patient’s diet is essential in achieving an optimal outcome, whatever the stage or severity of the condition.
Acute diarrhea accompanied by nausea, cramping, weakness, and sometimes fever are the symptoms of bacterial or amoebic dysentery from drinking unclean water. These symptoms also occur after eating poorly prepared food that is contaminated with unfriendly bacteria (salmonella, e-coli). Inflammation caused by these pathogenic microorganisms generates a condition of Damp Heat in the intestines and, if treated early, special Chinese herbs and herbal formulas can stimulate an immune response, inhibit the pathogenic organisms, and restore normal intestinal function. In severe cases, antibiotics or other emergency medical intervention may be necessary. Even in such cases, however, Chinese herbal medicine combined with acupuncture can facilitate recovery and restore the health of the digestive organs.
Ear ache, or otitis media, is a common problem of babies and young children. Although many pediatricians still routinely prescribe antibiotics for this condition, research has shown that they are not effective in resolving the problem over the long term. Repeated administration of antibiotics to babies and young children weakens their sensitive digestive systems and lowers their resistance, making them generally more vulnerable to infectious illnesses. Ear infections, like colds and flus, are caused by an “invasion of external pathogenic factors” (see Colds & flus above). Simple, gentle Chinese herbal formulas that “dispel” Wind, Heat, Cold and Dampness” are extremely safe and effective remedies that can quickly remedy an acute ear ache and help the chronically afflicted child recover her health and eliminate the problem altogether.
The loss of tone, moisture, and smoothness of the skin is considered to be the result of a drying up of Moisture and Blood and a deterioration of local circulation of Qi. Fine acupuncture needles inserted in the face and neck – at the sites of known acupuncture points as well as areas of wrinkling, dryness and roughness – will actually cause a “rejuvenation” of the skin by stimulating local circulation, repair of damaged tissue, production of collagen, relaxation of facial muscles, and the healthy secretion of the skin’s natural oils. Marked improvement in texture, moisture, luster, and tone can be observed in as few as 10-12 acupuncture treatments received once or twice per week.
Pain and spasm of nerves and muscles in the face can have many causes, including an infected nerve root in a tooth, damage to the facial nerves due to an injury (accident, tooth extraction, or exposure to cold wind), or an infection (herpes zoster, herpes simplex, Lyme disease). According to Chinese medicine, pain and numbness are caused by obstruction of the circulation of Qi and Blood. In this case, some external factor (trauma or infection) causes the obstruction. Regardless of the cause, acupuncture restores the normal movement of Qi and Blood, which in turn reduces the swelling and inflammation that are producing the pain. Sometimes moxibustion is also employed to enhance the effect on local circulation and counter the effects of exposure to cold and wind.
See Chronic fatigue syndrome.
According to Chinese medicine, the capacity to conceive and have both a healthy pregnancy and delivery is governed by the organ networks of the Liver, Spleen and Kidney. Together they generate, distribute, and store up the Blood and Essence.These are necessary in order to produce the robust eggs and sperm required to conceive and support the healthy function of the uterus during pregnancy. Acupuncture, along with special Chinese herbal formulas, optimizes fertility by stimulating the endogenous (within the body) secretion of sex hormones, improving hormone sensitivity, regulating menstruation and ovulation, and improving the number, morphology, and motility of sperm. Recent clinical research has also demonstrated that utilizing acupuncture in tandem with conventional fertility treatments (artificial insemination, hormone replacement and stimulation, in vitro fertilization) can significantly improve the outcomes.
Fibroids develop as a result of an accumulation of Blood in the uterus that leads to a condition of Blood Stagnation, which, in Chinese medicine terms, leads to a “solidification” of Blood that then manifests as an overgrowth of uterine tissue. This condition is often a result of a pattern of Qi stagnation in the organ network of the Liver, which regulates the viscosity (thickness) and distribution of Blood (unlike the Western medicine model of physiology, which considers the heart to be the primary organ governing circulation). There is a parallel with Western medicine: in Western terms, fibroid tumors – also called uterine myomas – grow under the influence of excess estrogen, and the level of circulating estrogen is regulated by the liver. This is why fibroids tend to shrink during menopause, when estrogen levels are naturally declining. Uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts have a similar etiology according to Chinese medicine, and all of these conditions are treated in similar ways with acupuncture and herbal medicine. The principle is to “break up the Blood stagnation” and “nourish the Blood.”
According to Chinese medicine, fibromyalgia is caused by external factors (including environmental insults such as harsh weather, pollution, toxic exposure, and viral infections) that become lodged in the skin and muscles, obstructing the free circulation of fluids, Blood, and vital energy or Qi. Acupuncture and moxibustion (a form of heat therpay in which cones or cigars made of the dried leaves of Chinese mugwort are burned and the heat is allowed to penetrate either acupuncture points or painful areas) can be very effective for the relief of muscle and joint pain. However, fibromyalgia is not always easy to treat, because it is often associated with a pre-existing condition of depletion that has undermined the body’s ability to adapt to or cope with stress. Chinese herbal medicine, massage, diet therapy, and forms of exercise like Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and yoga may be used in combination with acupuncture and moxibustion to improve circulation, enhance resistance, and increase the strength of the body as a whole.
Dysfunctions of the gallbladder can cause digestive disturbances due to an insufficiency of bile in the small intestine, spasms of the gallbladder and small intestine, and gallstones that can completely block the secretion of bile. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can often restore normal function to the gallbladder if there are not already too many gallstones or ones that are large enough to cause obstruction of the bile duct. Sometimes, even when there are many gallstones, the combination of acupuncture and medicinal herbs can stimulate the gallbladder to discharge the stones, which are then passed out of the body through the intestines. However, if surgical removal of the gallbladder becomes necessary, acupuncture and Chinese herbs will speed recovery and help to restore normal functioning of the digestive system.
The symptoms of hayfever – an upper respiratory allergy syndrome – itchy eyes, tearing, sneezing, runny nose, headache, sinus congestion, fatigue, sore throat, and cough are very similar to those of a cold or flu, but without fever or body aches and pains. The acupuncture points and medicinal herbs that are used to treat colds and flus are therefore very similar (see Colds & flus above). The causes, according to Chinese medicine, are the “invasion of Wind and Cold, Wind and Heat, or Wind and Dampness” or all three – the same etiology as that for colds and flus. One or two acupuncture treatments can often alleviate hayfever. For chronic or stubborn cases, the addition of Chinese herbal formulas insures that the treatment will be successful.
Heartburn – also called gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD) – is one of the most common symptoms of indigestion commonly thought to be caused by “hyperacidity.” However, heartburn is only a symptom – a sign that the stomach is not properly digesting food and liquid. It may signal a temporary reaction to overeating or drinking – especially of foods and beverages such as tomatoes and citrus fruits, hot spicy foods, coffee, alcohol, and greasy or fried foods – or a chronic condition of indigestion.
According to Chinese medicine, heartburn and a sensation of air or food rising up into the chest or throat, is a sign of excess heat and a reversal of the normal peristaltic action of the stomach. This is termed gastric reflux in Western medicine and called uprising of stomach Qi in Chinese medicine. But not all heartburn is due to an excess of acid – what would be called excess heat – but rather to a weakness of the stomach that allows food and stomach acid to regurgitate upwards and irritate or even burn the top of the stomach where it connects with the esophagus. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can reduce the symptoms of heartburn and help to resolve the underlying causes of indigestion.
According to Chinese medicine, headaches (including migraines) may be caused by external factors (Wind, Cold, Heat, Dampness), internal factors (Heat, Dampness, Wind, Blood Stagnation, Phlegm accumulation) or a combination of both. How the headache is treated depends on the quality of the pain (sharp, dull, persistent, intermittent), what aggravates it (Heat, Cold, Dampness, change of weather, fatigue), and when it occurs (daytime, nighttime, a particular season, pre-menstrually, after sex, after eating, when hungry). Which meridians course through the location of the headache (front, back, sides, top, neck, eyes) and which organ networks seem to be involved (often the Liver, Stomach, Lung, Large Intestine, Gallbladder) determine which acupuncture points are needled and which herbal formulas are prescribed. Headaches can be simple or complex, chronic or acute. Sometimes treatment will cure them quickly and sometimes it will take weeks or months to alleviate a chronic condition.
Chinese medicine classifies heart conditions in basically three categories: heart rhythm irregularities (palpitations, missed beats, extra beats), heart weakness (enlarged, very slow rate, low blood pressure, shortness of breath), and heart strain (high blood pressure, very rapid rate, chest pain). Of course two or more of these syndromes can combine to form a very complex condition. Disturbances of the Heart network are considered to be due to deficiencies of Qi and Blood, stagnation of Qi and Blood, emotional and mental strain (anxiety, worry, “stress”), overwork, and chronic fatigue. Acupuncture and herbal medicine are usually combined and, since heart problems usually develop over a long period of time, treatment will often continue for several months.
Herpes outbreaks (lesions on the genital organs, on the lips or in the mouth, on the skin) have the characteristics of Heat (burning sensation), Dampness (fluid-filled sores), and Wind (sudden appearance). If the sores appear in the lower body (below the waist), they are said to be caused by Damp Heat. If they occur in the upper body (chest, head, mouth), they are said to be caused by Wind, Heat, and Dampness. Also, an outbreak of herpes is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms (herpes is a virus like those that cause colds and flus): fever, body ache, headache, fatigue. But in addition to flu-like symptoms there is also tingling, burning pain, and “nerve” pain. Acupuncture is very effective for relieving the pain, and herbal medicine is effective for relieving the inflammation. Acupuncture is extremely helpful in the treatment of shingles, which often occurs in older people or those who are “immune compromised” due to chronic illness, chemotherapy, or excessive stress.
Chinese medicine understands high blood pressure (hypertension) as the result of a disorder of the organ networks of the Liver and Kidney which, in turn, causes the heart to work too hard. The Liver governs the distribution and viscosity (thickness) of blood, and the volume of the blood in the vessels. If the blood is too thick and/or the volume is too great, the heart must work harder to move the blood through the arteries. The Kidney governs the relationship between Yin and Yang (cold and heat, dampness and dryness, contraction and expansion, downward and upward movement of fluids) and, therefore, affects the body as a whole, including the Liver and the Heart. According to Western medicine, the kidneys produce a hormone (called angiotensin), which is then modified by an enzyme (angiotensin converting enzyme, thus the name ACE inhibitor), which regulates tension in the arteries and raises blood pressure. So there is a parallel between the Chinese medicine perspective and that of Western medicine: both identify function as a physiological basis for high blood pressure. By balancing Yin and Yang, Blood and Qi, acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas synchronize the relationship between the Liver and the Kidney, which relaxes the nerves and blood vessels and relieves the strain on the heart.
Elevated cholesterol is a common term for hyperlipidemia, a condition in which there is relative excess of certain fats in the blood (LDL, low-density lipoprotein and VLDL, very low-density lipoprotein) and a relative deficiency of other fats (HDL, high-density lipoprotein). This imbalance is considered to be an important risk factor in the development of atherosclerotic cardio-vascular and cerebro-vascular disease: blockage of the arteries in the heart and brain due to the formation and accumulation of fatty deposits (plaque) on the inner lining of the vessels. According to Chinese medicine, these fatty accumulations are due to excess Heat and Phlegm that injures the vessels: Heat causes the fluid portion of the blood to dry up and therefore to thicken the blood, and Phlegm causes the thickened blood to become sticky and form clots, a condition known as “blood stagnation and ecchymosis.” Just as in Western medicine, the view of Chinese medicine is that the origin of this problem is due to the long-term effects of improper diet and stress, which cause inflammation (Heat). Acupuncture and herbal formulas help to eliminate the Blood stagnation, eliminate the Phlegm and correct the lipid imbalances, thus reducing the risk of disease.
There are numerous possible causes of indigestion, including a viral or bacterial infection of the intestines, candidiasis (overgrowth of yeast in the small and large intestines), hormonal imbalances, hyper- or hypo-acidity, and food sensitivities. Regardless of the original cause, the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approach is to use acupuncture, dietary modification, and medicinal herbs to restore healthy function.
Inflammation of the mucus membrane of the small and large intestine produces many symptoms, including constipation, diarrhea (see Constipation/diarrhea above), gas, bloating, loss of appetite, weight loss, weakness, fatigue, pain, and diminished immunity, just to name a few. Chinese medicine views these disorders as stemming from a dysfunction of the Spleen and Stomach (deficiency and stagnation of Qi), which govern all digestive functions, including those of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. The ability to digest food and liquids and to assimilate nutrients is the primary function of the Stomach and Spleen. In Chinese medicine terms, inflammation translates as Heat. Heat literally “burns” the lining of the stomach and intestines, drying up the Moisture (mucus) and depleting the Blood (poor circulation creates ulcers and scar tissue) and damages the little organs called “villi” that manufacture all of the enzymes necessary for good digestion and assimilation. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can eliminate the Heat, replenish Moisture and Blood, and strengthen (normalize) the functions of the Spleen and Stomach.
Sleep disturbances take many forms: difficulty falling asleep, waking often during the night and difficulty getting back to sleep, disturbing dreams, restless sleep, being awakened easily during the night by noise or movement. In the view of Chinese medicine, the tranquility and clarity of the mind (Shen) is governed by the organ networks of the Liver and Heart. And since both of these networks are involved with regulating the Blood, the condition of the Blood affects them, they affect the Blood, and, therefore, they also affect the mind. If the mind is not quiet (anxiety, worry, excitement, trauma), slumber will be disturbed or, in the worst case, sleep may be impossible to achieve. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can calm the mind, relax the nerves, nourish the Blood, and harmonize the relationship between the Liver and the Heart, and is usually very effective for relieving insomnia. However, insomnia is often only one of many symptoms that characterize an illness or disorder and may be relieved only when the underlying condition is effectively treated.
Problems for nursing mothers such as engorgement, mastitis, lack of breast milk, or suppression of lactation are easily and effectively treated with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. The breast is primarily governed by the organ networks of the Stomach (generates nutritive fluid and Blood) and Liver (nourishes and regulates Blood), and, also, the acupuncture channels (meridians) of the Liver and Stomach pass through the breast. Regulating and nourishing the Blood with Chinese herbs while activating the Qi in the Liver and Stomach channels can quickly relieve lactation problems.
At least one episode of low back pain (LBP) is experienced by 80% of Americans, lasting from a few days to 3 months. When it lasts longer, it is defined as chronic low back pain (CLBP) and is the second most common cause of disability. Acute and chronic low back pain account for 3% of all visits to emergency rooms at an overall cost of $100-200 billion annually and represent 149 million lost work days.
Chinese medicine evaluates the symptoms of low back pain according to the location, quality and distribution of the discomfort, ranging from localized aching and soreness to excruciating, stabbing, throbbing and electric-like pain. Sometimes the pain radiates from the low back into the buttock, hip, leg and foot. When pain radiates into the buttock, leg and foot, it is often the result of irritation, swelling and inflammation of the sciatic nerve, known as sciatica. Sciatica can occur with or without low back pain, and low back pain can occur without sciatic pain.
Chinese traditional medicine regards low back and sciatic pain as disturbances of the meridians known as the Bladder, Gallbladder, Liver, Kidney and Spleen that traverse the legs, buttocks, hips, pelvis, sacrum, and lumbar spine. Acupuncture along the affected meridians reduces swelling and inflammation by eliminating the blockages to the circulation of Qi, Blood and fluids necessary for the healthy function of muscles, nerves, and joints, markedly reducing or eliminating the pain and muscle spasm.
Acupuncture and related techniques such as vacuum cupping, moxibustion (the local application of heat to acupuncture points and meridians) and massage activate the release of the body’s own pain-relieving hormones, endorphins and enkephalins, as well as activating the vagus neural network that controls inflammation. As a result, pain, swelling and inflammation are markedly reduced or relieved completely. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Report of 1997, acupuncture is highly effective for the treatment of these all too common and disabling conditions.
In the language of Chinese medicine, hot flashes represent a disruption of the coordinated interaction of Yin and Yang – in this case, between cold and heat, moisture and dryness. Acupuncture and special medicinal herbs and foods can restore stability by adjusting circulation, replenishing moisture and fluid secretions, eliminating excess heat, and calming the nervous system. Together these methods help to “nourish the Yin” elements of the body (blood, fluids, marrow, internal secretions) and restore the vigor of the Kidney Network, which governs the reproductive system.
Irregular and painful periods – and the concomitant PMS (see Premenstrual Syndrome below) – are a common problem that often begins in adolescence as soon as menstruation begins (menarche). Hormonal imbalances (ratios of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid hormones) are often to blame. However, because acupuncture can activate and regulate the function of the internal organs, healthy hormonal balance can be achieved and the rhythm of normal, pain-free periods and menstrual cycles can be established or re-established.
Nausea and vomiting are natural defense mechanisms of the body for quickly eliminating bad food, pathogenic organisms, and poisons. However, in some conditions like pregnancy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments or certain disorders like gastritis, gall stones, hepatitis, migraine, persistent nausea with or without vomiting can become a serious problem in itself. Chinese medicine explains that these symptoms are a result of the reversed movement of Qi: normally, food and fluids descend from the mouth and esophagus and move gradually downward through the stomach and into the intestines; and regurgitation (the reverse movement of the Qi) occurs when the stomach attempts to expel food and fluids out of the body through the mouth. Acupuncture can very quickly settle the stomach and relieve nausea. After the nausea and vomiting have ceased, Chinese herbs will help to restore the proper function of the stomach, and the desire and ability to eat and drink will return. Because they are so effective for these problems, acupuncture and herbal formulas are appropriate for treating morning sickness and the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.
Regardless of whether pain is a result of external traumas (sprains, strains, bruises, fractures) or internal disease (arthritis, cancer, diabetes), Chinese medicine explains all pain as a result of the obstruction of the movement of Qi, Moisture, and Blood (see Basic Concepts I for an explanation of these terms). Acupuncture is one of the most effective treatments for pain because it can directly and immediately restore the unobstructed circulation of Qi: when Qi can move freely, so can Blood and Moisture. There are three basic categories of pain described in Chinese medicine: pain due to stagnation of Qi (non-specific, non-descript pain that is hard to localize and migrates from place to place, is exacerbated by lack of movement and may be relieved by pressure), stagnation of Moisture (dull pain that may be localized to a particular area like a muscle or joint and may be exacerbated by humidity or cold), and stagnation of Blood (sharp pain that occurs in a very specific location in a muscle, joint, bone or internal organ and is exacerbated by pressure, heat, cold, and lack of movement).
Chinese herbs that improve the circulation of Qi and Blood and eliminate Dampness are also effective for treating pain – taken internally, applied externally (to injured areas) or both. Modern research has clearly identified the mechanisms by which acupuncture relieves both acute and chronic pain: mechanical or electrical stimulation of acupuncture points activates the release of analgesic and anti-inflammatory hormones called endorphins and enkephalins at the acupuncture site, in the spinal cord, and in the brain.
See Nausea and vomiting above.
According to Chinese medicine, the menstrual cycle is regulated primarily by the Kidney and Liver Networks. The Kidney Network is said to govern the organs of reproduction, as well as fluid balance and metabolism, while the Liver Network manages the volume, pressure, and quality of circulating blood, as well as the contraction and relaxation of muscles and nerves. PMS is often characterized by swelling of the abdomen and sometimes the hands and feet; uterine cramps before the period begins; headache, often coupled with or arising from muscle tension in the neck and upper back; weakness and aching of the low back and legs; irritability, sensitivity, moodiness, labile emotions, and diminished ability to focus or concentrate. Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and dietary adjustments will improve the function of the Kidney and Liver Networks and effectively reduce or eliminate the symptoms of PMS.
See Smoking cessation below.
The inability of a man to maintain an erection or of a woman to achieve orgasm are both considered to be due to weaknesses of the Kidney and Liver Networks: the Kidney Network governs the reproductive organs and fertility; and the sexual arousal (physically and mentally) necessary to achieve adequate penetration, ejaculation, and orgasm is regulated by the Liver Network. Sexual desire is a fundamental life impulse and the natural expression of a person’s urge to connect intimately with another as well as to procreate. Since the Kidney Network is considered to be the source of bodily life, a diminution or loss of that urge is seen as a deficiency of the Kidney Qi, which is called Essence. Acupuncture and special Chinese herbal formulas are very effective at reviving sexual desire and restoring sexual function and the fertility that goes with it.
Shingles is a viral illness affecting the nerves in the skin. Caused by the herpes zoster or varicella virus, it causes a red rash to develop that eventually forms fluid filled blisters and inflames local nerves, causing anything from moderate itching to severe pain.
Shingles outbreaks typically last anywhere from 14-28 days, usually appearing on the buttocks, rib cage, chest, neck, head and face. In moderate to severe cases, the symptoms are medically treated with anti-viral and analgesic drugs. Steroid medications like Prednisone may be employed to reduce swelling and inflammation, particularly if the face or eye are involved. It is not unusual for pain known as post-herpetic neuralgia to persist once the rash and blisters have disappeared.
Chinese medicine explains Shingles as a syndrome of Excess Fire and Toxin (acute inflammation) that primarily involves the Liver, Gallbladder, Triple Burner and Stomach meridians whose channels traverse the flanks, trunk, rib cage, chest, arms, shoulders, neck, head and face. Acupuncture along the affected channels can quickly and effectively reduce the inflammation and pain. In severe cases, Chinese herbal formulas are also administered to “purge the Fire” and “eliminate the Toxin”. In addition to acupuncture and herbal formulas taken orally, herbal creams, oils and ointments that can be applied externally to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
Sinus congestion and inflammation usually occurs following an allergic reaction (hayfever, food intolerance, drug sensitivity) or a viral infection (cold, flu). Wind and Heat inflame the mucus membranes of the sinus cavities, causing the mucus to become thick and dry, which prevents the sinuses from draining properly: symptoms of pain, swelling, pressure, headache, and nausea can result. The acupuncture meridians (channels) that course through the nose and sinuses correspond to the Large Intestine, Stomach, Bladder and Gallbladder. It is often the case that chronic, recurring sinusitis is due to an underlying disorder of the digestive and eliminative organs. Local acupuncture around the nose and sinuses can quickly open the passages and stimulate drainage of the accumulated mucus and phlegm, while Chinese herbal formulas purge the Wind and Heat, reducing the inflammation and re-moisturizing the delicate membranes.
Dermatitis – which simply means skin (derma) inflammation (titis) – is considered to be a condition caused by Heat and Toxins in the Blood (see Basic Concepts II for an explanatin of these terms): these toxins (actual poisons or normal metabolic waste products) cause a reaction of Heat, which appears as skin inflammation. According to Chinese medicine, as in Western medicine, the blood carries nutrients into tissues and organs and carries the waste products of metabolism out of the tissues and organs. If, for some reason, the blood is unable to discharge this waste or other toxins through the normal organs of elimination (lungs, large intestine, bladder), it attempts to do so through the skin. However, the skin is not a very efficient eliminative organ, and the attempt to detoxify the blood this way is not always effective. Chronic sores, pustules, boils, wheals, and rashes that recur and do not heal are signs that the Blood is contaminated and that the function of the organs of detoxification and elimination (liver, kidneys, large intestine, lungs, bladder) is compromised. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas can help to “clean” the Blood and activate elimination and discharge of the Toxic Heat. Once adequate detoxification and elimination has occurred, the skin will heal and the sores and rashes will disappear.
Withdrawal from nicotine as well as other drugs (alcohol, speed, cocaine, heroin, narcotic pain killers, anti-anxiety drugs) can be facilitated and eased by acupuncture. There is a special procedure that has been developed called the NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) Protocol, which is very effective in assisting people in recovering from many types of addiction. Many acupuncturists know the principles of the NADA Protocol and are able to administer it. Empirical, clinical research has shown that the most effective acupuncture points for facilitating and accelerating withdrawal from addictive substances are located on the external ear. And when the ear point treatments are combined with body points, the results are even better. For smoking cessation, about four to ten treatments, administered every other day, are usually adequate. Acupuncture for withdrawal from other drugs, like narcotics or alcohol, may take longer and is most successful when part of an integrated treatment program that includes group counseling and support such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
Generalized discomfort in the body and mind due to overwork, worry, and mental and physical strain can cause the Qi to become stagnant and/or depleted. Stagnation of the Qi will lead to feelings of stiffness, soreness, and pain in the muscles, joints, and head, and Qi depletion will lead to feelings of fatigue, restlessness, anxiety, and lack of motivation. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas can quickly and effectively relieve the symptoms of stress and tension since they both replenish the Qi and activate its circulation.
See Bladder and kidney problems above.
Dizziness and a sensation of swirling or spinning are caused by “Wind,” according to Chinese medicine. This can be the result of Wind penetrating the body and the brain from the outside (acute allergy like hayfever, or viral illness like the flu) or Wind that is generated internally by a weakness of the organ networks of the Liver and Kidney: the Yin (Kidney) cannot control the Yang (Liver). The Yang Qi of the Liver is said to rise upward like a sudden wind and disturb the equilibrium of the brain and the sense organs. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can relieve vertigo by expelling the external Wind or strengthening the Kidney and adjusting the interaction between the Kidney and the Liver.
Becoming overweight may be the result of incessant over-consumption of food, but it may also be the result of disorders of digestion and metabolism. According to Chinese medicine, digestion is governed by the Spleen Network, and metabolism (the capacity to turn food and air into energy) is governed by the Kidney Network: the ability of the Spleen to digest and assimilate is dependent on the ability of the Kidney to sustain metabolic activity. When the functions of the Spleen become weak, nutrients are stored as fat instead of being transformed into healthy Qi and Blood (physical and mental energy). To a certain extent, acupuncture alone can help people control their appetite (see Smoking cessation above) if their excess weight is due simply to chronic overeating. For those whose weight problem is due to digestive and metabolic imbalances, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are combined to improve digestion and increase metabolism. In either case, a proper diet and appropriate eating habits are key to a successful outcome.