Not Just For Pain Relief - The Five Top Reasons to Schedule an Appointment for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

1.) Injury

One of the more important indications for acupuncture and moxabustion (zhen-jiu in Chinese), and tuina (tui-ná) is acute injury to the muscles, ligaments and bones. Forces that push a joint out of its normal range will usually cause a complex set of injuries to the tendons and muscles around the joint that usually requires attention to several anatomic structures.

Impact injuries that cause bruising and bleeding should be treated as soon as is practical. This includes injuries that result from athletic activities, exercise programs, and martial arts practices as well as from falls and motor vehicle accidents.

Concussions, which are direct injuries to the brain from falls or blows to the head, are a significant source of dysfunction and disability. These signs and symptoms may be permanent to some degree, and can lead to a variety of medical issues. Most physicians not trained in Oriental medicine will recommend just waiting and observation after a concussion. In contrast, my teachers recommended treatment as soon as possible to address the complaints after a concussion or injury to the nervous system.

Injuries to the central and peripheral nervous system can also cause radiating pain or neuropathy. A forceful blow to the head, spinal cord, or tailbone (the coccyx, as with a fall into a sitting position) can affect the brain and the spinal cord, causing radiating pain, numbness, and weakness that radiates into the extremities or trunk.

Another important issue to address is the emotional effect of an injury: very often the fear and distress that results from injuries are underappreciated, minimized, or even ignored completely. It is my experience that almost 100 per cent of the victims of moderate to serious injuries have emotional after-effects which can and should be treated.

2.) Post-Surgical Pain Relief

Millions of surgical procedures are performed every year. In most cases, surgical scars heal and patients do well. However, chronic post surgical pain may affect as many as 1.5 million people each year in the United States.

Sometimes this pain lasts for years, and sometimes it is severe. It can also take many forms: if the original reason for the surgery was pain, the original pain may not be eliminated. In some cases this pain is more severe than it was before the surgery. Pain in new places may occur, as well as discomfort with activities that were previously fine. Unpleasant sensitivity of scars and areas around surgery should also be treated.

Damage to nerves during surgery or as a result of the original trauma may result in a chronic regional pain syndrome that is extremely difficult to tolerate and treat. Various names have been given to this disorder, including reflex sympathetic dystrophy, causalgia syndrome, Sudek’s atrophy, algoneurodystrophy, as well as others.

Estimates of the likelihood of having chronic pain after a procedure ranges widely among studies, but some estimates are as follows:

Vasectomy 37%

Hip replacement 12%

Dental surgery 5-13%

Chest surgery 5-35%

Coronary bypass 30-50%

Mastectomy 11-57%

Inguinal hernia repair 5-63%

Caesarean section 6-55%

Gall bladder removal 3-50%

If you or anyone you know still has pain after surgery, no matter how long ago it happened, please ask me about it: Many patients suffer with this pain because they don’t realize it can be effectively treated.

Although no treatment works for everyone, I have found that even longstanding post surgical pain syndromes can respond to acupuncture, moxibustion and tuina.

3.)Musculoskeletal Pain Relief

Day to day workplace accumulated injury, as well as pain that occurs with movement or certain postures is another strong candidate for Oriental physical therapy. Many pains that are diagnosed as “arthritis” are actually disorders in the tendons, muscles, and channels that surround the joints and make movement possible.

In contrast to Western medical treatment, which treats issues which originate in the connective tissue of the body with systemic drugs, the focused treatment of Oriental medicine provides a low risk alternative. Disorders in the tendinomuscular system can often be addressed with tuina, a hands-on system that is in itself a demanding study.

Chronic musculoskeletal and repetitive stress injuries are often not treated effectively when they cause acute pain, so it is common for progression to chronic pain.

Long standing painful imbalances can lead to symptoms in multiple areas and a much more comprehensive treatment program is necessary.

For example, shoulder pain or neck pain may begin with relatively straighforward imbalances in the muscle groups around the shoulder joint or among the many muscles that allow the head to rotate, flex and extend. It is not unusual to find referred pain in the chest, upper back, or areas in the arm, elbow, forearm and fingers. Neck problems can also refer pain along the spine or into the abdomen or leg.

Strange as it may seem, sometimes the referred pain can become more intense than in original location. Focus solely on the referred pain will usually not be as satisfactory as when the original problem is also corrected.

Some pain syndromes which start in the joints or muscles may with time create a neuropathy type of pain problem that may include weakness or abnormal sensations. It is also true that various disorders of the nervous system can cause what seems to be arthritis or muscular pain, leading to a misdiagnosis.

This is why a careful examination of muscles, tendons and joints, as well as sensation to touch and temperature (even if it seems far from the place where the pain is felt) is just as important as the examination of the channels and meridians for effective therapy for chronic and acute pain.

4.) Emotional Stress

In contrast to Western medical practice, emotional disorders and physical disorders are viewed in all the Oriental medical systems as fundamentally interconnected. Recent trends to recognize this in modern medical training and practice are far less sophisticated in practice than the centuries of experience and application found in all the traditional Oriental medical systems I have studied.

Emotional imbalances of anger, sorrow, worry, fear, and anxiety are always present simultaneously with significant physical disorders, and most chronic emotional problems will eventually result in physical signs and symptoms. Emotionally traumatic experiences from the past can persist as post traumatic stress syndrome, which can also include a variety of seemingly unrelated manifestations. Stressful work or family situations are also a common cause of physical and emotional complaints.

In these situations, applying our present “modern” system of medicine is cumbersome and inefficient, requiring coordinated treatment by separate specialists. Even under the rare circumstances when this is possible, I have found Oriental medicine to be far more sophisticated and effective, without risking the unwanted and sometimes counterproductive side effects of psychoactive drugs.

5.) Complex or Unresponsive Syndromes

Much to the detriment of practitioners and patients, the modern emphasis on “standardized” diagnosis and treatment has created tunnel vision when it comes to complex and chronic disorders: That is to say, in most people who come to doctors for relief.

The dissatisfaction with specialists who only see what they expect to see led to a mid 20th century movement towards the “primary care” specialist, who was supposed to see the whole picture and oppose the tendency to classify diseases and patients in narrow and unrealistic ways.

In practice this has not worked out for two reasons: physician training in medical schools and hospitals has not advanced beyond the 19th and early 20th century specialty definitions, and economic pressures on practitioners to create more cash flow for the medical centers and insurance companies.

Related to the pressure to create more billable events in less time is the pernicious development of electronic records, which limits physician clinical input to arbitrary options. In this way, the multiple choice doctor of the 20th century has transformed into the template doctor of the 21st.

The less time that a doctor spends evaluating and thinking about a patient, the more simplistic their approach will be: A September 6, 2016 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that doctors spend twice as much time on electronic record keeping as they do with patients. This trend has continued into the present day, and the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the isolation of patient care from hands-on practitioners.

This time pressure presents extra barriers to obaining a working diagnosis when a condition or syndrome does not easily fit into the ever-changing international codes of diagnosis. (the "ICD" codes)

Oriental medicine often has answers for the disorders that modern medicine classifies as "functional": situations where the cause of the disorder is still in doubt, but symptoms are often persistent, difficult to treat, and are often severe enough to interfere with daily activities.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, certain chronic pain patterns, premenstrual, menopausal, and fibromyalgia syndromes are commonly encountered examples of functional disorders. The coexistence of physical and psychological symptoms is also frequently found with functional disorders.

Functional disorders can also involve digestive complaints, where heartburn, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or "dyspepsia" are associated with musculoskeletal or neuroendocrine problems. Many functional disorders overlap into different organ systems in ways familiar to those with Oriental medical training but remain unrecognized by Western specialists.

Many difficult to treat chronic disorders also derive from acute viral and bacterial infections, such as the long haul disorder associated with post coronavirus infection (SARS-1 and SARS-2) syndromes. Even though these issues have been known to occur with other coronaviruses, the present covid-19 pandemic creates some unique and potentially dangerous risks for a select number of patients.

Though modern medicine is still evaluating why "long-haul" patients are affected differently than others, various Japanese and Chinese medical protocols suggest how to approach these issues. Time and experience will be necessary to see to what degree Oriental medicine will be able to help address these frustrating post-viral syndromes.

Other infections have been associated with persistent symptoms following the acute phase, including Lyme disease, Nile virus, Zika virus, MERS virus, and many others. Even the common cold viruses such as adenoviruses and rhinoviruses, will occasionally engender more complex symptomology.

Complex multisystem disorders, as well as disorders that are not easily classified or are not part of the worldview presented in medical schools, may in fact be more effectively approached with the unifying theory and practice of Oriental medicine.

Although no system of medicine is helpful in all situations, a consultation with an experienced practitioner is the best way to determine if acupuncture, moxabustion, tuina, or meditational practice might be a way to reduce the suffering of acute and chronic disease.

The World Health Organization has also made a list of diseases and conditions that have potential to be treated with acupuncture.