Thursday, August 6, 2020

Pandemic Fatigue: It's not all in your head

Pandemic Fatigue, or Quarantine Fatigue, it goes by many names. It's that underlying fatigue that we are all experiencing, regardless of how well we sleep. It is an emotional fatigue that has a very real, physical impact. It can feel like low level depression or dysphoria, lack of motivation, your "get up and go" has "got up and went."

Psychosomatic symptoms (psyche-mind, soma-body) are symptoms that are caused by the mind but experienced in the body. Many allopathic doctors use this term in a derogatory way, meaning, "it's all in your head, it's not real." Natural or Holistic doctors and practitioners see this as something very real, where what is happening in your head is causing physical symptoms; it is real and you should pay attention it.

In my acupuncture practice I see psychosomatic symptoms frequently, where long held emotions are causing physical pain and dysfunction. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the mind and the body are interconnected, where each internal organ has an emotion that is related to it. The 5 main organs that we look at are Liver, Spleen, Lung, Kidneys and Heart. Each organ has a characteristic emotion. When you feel that emotion it affects that particular organ, and over time the emotion can create an imbalance in that organ, or an imbalanced organ can lead to a particular emotion:

  • Liver--Anger, frustration, stress, unfulfilled desires, irritability, feeling emotionally stuck
  • Spleen--Overthinking, worrying, ruminating/obsessing, compulsivity, depression where you can't get out of bed due to exhaustion
  • Lung--Grief, sadness
  • Kidneys--Fear, shock, fright, lack of motivation
  • Heart--Feels all the emotions, joy, lack of joy, mania

It is normal, and human, to feel all of these emotions at some point. The problem is when you get stuck in these emotions, and are experiencing them chronically, the long term effects can translate into physical symptoms. Some examples:

  • Anger/frustration damaging the Liver: Headaches, migraines, muscle tightness, frequent sighing
  • Worrying damaging the Spleen/Stomach: Stomach aches, loose stools, foggy thinking, weakened immunity, fatigue/exhaustion, loss of appetite
  • Grief damaging the Lungs: Chronic or recurring bronchitis, asthma, allergies, recurrent sinus infections, frequent colds
  • Fear damaging the Kidneys: Lower back ache/instability, knee pain, bone pain, low libido
  • Too much Joy or lack of Joy damaging the Heart: Mania, anxiety/panic attacks, having a flat affect, palpitations, unusual sweating
The fatigue that many people are experiencing right now during this pandemic is like a slow leak from a bucket. The constant fear or anxiety, even if it is at a low level, running in the background, is slowly draining your energy, like water leaking from a bucket. Over time, the water level in the bucket drops and you find yourself feeling really tired, even though overtly, nothing has really changed in your life (aside from having to wear a mask, staying away from people and washing your hands constantly). The worry is damaging your Spleen, the grief from missing people (and your pre-COVID life) is damaging your Lungs, the fear is damaging your Kidneys, the frustration is damaging your Liver and the Heart feels, and is affected by, all of the emotions. These are all very real and valid things to be feeling right now. Stepping up your self care is important so that the physical symptoms above don't start to creep in. 

Self-Care Ideas:

  • Sleep--getting enough hours of good quality sleep
  • Eating high quality, nutritional foods--vary your diet, include plenty of fruits and veggies and high quality protein
  • Finding time to relax and recharge-- read a book, watch a movie, draw, paint, dance, be creative, anything that is quiet and allows you to recharge your batteries
  • Exercise-- exercise should improve your energy. If you feel more tired after exercising, change things up a bit. Exercise should make you feel better, not worse. Maybe take it easy and just move your body, stretch, breathe, go for a walk. Anything to get out of your head and back into your body.
  • Meditation-- even 3 minutes of meditation can improve your mindset and help you feel more centered. Just watch your breath; if your mind wanders, just start again. It's all part of the process.
  • Journaling-- a great thing to do before bed. Dump out all of your worries and stressors onto the page so that you don't have them swirling around in your head while you are trying to sleep.
  • Acupuncture-- it can help you sleep better, calm your anxiety, clear your foggy head and improve your energy and well-being.

All of these things will repair your leaky bucket and help you feel better in your daily life. Give them a try, let me know how it goes!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

6 Ways to Boost Your Immunity

With all of this talk about COVID-19, it is easy to get all worked up. Anxiety and generalized stress are at an all time high. Nothing brings on anxiety like the unknown: will I get sick? Will someone I know and love get sick? How bad will it be? Unfortunately, no one has these answers, but what we do know is that the #1 immune suppressant is STRESS.

Stress suppresses the immune system. Yes, you read that correctly. Originally it was a brilliant evolutionary design where in moments of stress, the Sympathetic Nervous System would up regulate, increasing the heart rate, tightening the muscles, increasing breathing so that you could escape from danger quickly. During that time the body would down regulate processes that were unnecessary for survival, i.e. digestion, fertility and immunity. Once the danger passed, we would move out of "fight or flight" and up regulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which would return us to the calmer state of "rest and digest."

In modern times, however, stress is no longer lasting for moments, but can be days, weeks, months, even years at a time. Right now, with everyone worried about getting sick, we are worrying ourselves out of our much needed immunity; we are weakening our own ability to fight off illness. So what do we do?

The best thing you can do (in addition to washing your hands, not touching your face and following recommendations by the CDC) is to manage your physical and mental/emotional stress. Here are 6 ways to do that:

1.) 5 Deep Breaths. This is something that costs nothing and is extremely effective in a period of stress to help you get back into balance. You can do it while working, driving, pretty much anytime during the day. Place your hands on your lower abdomen and inhale through your nose, filling the abdomen with breath; feel it expand under your hands like a balloon inflating. Exhale slowly through the nose for longer than you inhaled. This will slow the heart rate and slow the mind, getting you back in touch with the present moment.

2.) Mindfulness practices like mediation, yoga, T'ai Chi, etc. These practices teach you to be present. In this moment there is no stress, no anxiety, as anxiety lives in the future. It is the thought of "what if" or feeling like you have no control that gives you anxiety. You have the most control over the present. In the present you have choice and can act on that choice, so by practicing techniques that bring you back into the present, into a calmer state, on a regular basis, you will know what that feels like and can access that feeling more easily. Plus, activities like yoga and t'ai chi move your body to get you out of your head, where stress can start .

3.) Sleep. One thing that should be prioritized is sleep. If you are not giving yourself sufficient rest (7-9 hours per night) your body cannot heal itself properly and you will be in a state of physical stress. If you do get sick (colds, flu, other viruses) you won't recover as quickly without proper sleep, as it is during sleep when the body heals itself. Sleep deprivation causes the body to be stressed even if you don't feel emotionally stressed. Your body will still down regulate digestion, fertility and immunity. Sufficient, good quality sleep is essential for good health.

4.) Proper Diet. While there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone, eating a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and drinking plenty of fresh water are a good place to start. Try to avoid processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners/colors/additives and instead choose foods that you recognize as food. If a 3rd grader can't pronounce an ingredient on the box, it probably isn't food and should be avoided.

5.) Exercise. Move your body a little every day. You don't need to go to the gym and punish yourself on the treadmill for an hour, just make sure that movement is part of your day. Moderate exercise is better than intense exercise which can cause more stress to the body, and it doesn't need to happen all at once. You can exercise for an hour, or do 3-6 10-minute increments throughout the day. Take a class, go for a walk, dance in your living room, roll out a yoga mat and just move your body for 20 minutes or more. Park further away from your destination and take the stairs instead of the elevator. There are lots of ways to put movement into your day if you are not a regular gym or studio goer. Moving your body is a great stress reliever.

6.) Acupuncture. Acupuncture can help you sleep better, improve your energy and calm the nervous system bringing you out of fight or flight and back into a state of calm and well-being. If you tend to run on the anxious side in general, acupuncture can help give your mind a break. Acupuncture increases activity in the para-sympathetic nervous system helping you "rest and digest." It can also improve the strength and efficacy of the immune system, making it easier for your body to fight off disease.

The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to take care of your health. The stronger and healthier you are, the more easily you will fight off whatever bug comes your way. Just do the best you can. That's all any of us can do.

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Friday, January 31, 2020

Why Movement Matters: A TCM Perspective

Most people know that exercise is beneficial to your health. If you are not quite convinced, a quick Google search (or clicking the links below) might give you some more reinforcement.

Exercise has been shown to help improve the quality of life and health for people with chronic disease and pain, depression and anxiety, osteoporosis, and can even improve your sex life! Any movement that you do will have a positive effect on your body, and you don't need to go to the gym to feel the benefits of movement.

One of the reasons that exercise is beneficial is that it increases the circulation of Blood, Fluids and Qi in the body. There is a saying in Chinese medicine:

"When there is pain, there is no free flow;
When there is free flow, there is no pain."

The Liver is in charge of the free flow of Qi in the body. When the Liver is imbalanced, it causes various types of pain in the body and mind. The Liver can be out of balance due to emotional reasons like stress, anger, frustration or unfulfilled desires, or due to physical lack of bodily movement. When the Qi doesn't flow well; we call this "Stagnation." Qi Stagnation can manifest as different symptoms:

  • Musculoskeletal pain in the muscles and joints, muscle tightness, low range of motion, body stiffness
  • Emotional pain, feeling stuck, depression, irritability, short temper
  • Headaches, eye strain, menstrual pain (cramps, breast tenderness, lower back ache)
  • Sighing, frequent yawning when you are not tired
Movement is something that you can do to unblock the stagnation and free up your internal flow, which will make you feel better.

Movement can be going for a walk in the woods, playing with your children, dancing, yoga, pilates, T'ai Chi, running, weight lifting, etc. but, what matters most is that you have fun doing it. If you dread moving your body, you won't do it. In order to lead a healthy life, movement needs to be part of your daily activities. That being said, you don't need to exercise for an hour every day, or at least not an hour in a row. Every little bit counts. 5 or 10 minutes here and there over the course of the day have the same or greater impact as exercising all at once.

Easy movement additions are park further away from your destination, or take the stairs rather than the elevator. Other ideas are, if you have a desk job, every hour stand up and stretch for 5 minutes, maybe walk around your office, maybe have a little mini dance party (this is best if you work from home, but if you have cooperative office mates, this might be a fun group activity). Get creative. Make it fun. Intentionally move your Qi! When you move what is stuck, you feel less pain and have improved mood, increased creativity, better balance and increased freedom of movement.

If you still need support with pain or with any of the above symptoms, acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment option. The needles improve the flow in the muscles, joints and fascia to improve how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. 

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Acupuncture vs Dry Needling: What's the Difference?

What is Dry Needling (DN) and how does it differ from Acupuncture?

Acupuncture, as defined by The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health "describes a family of procedures involving the stimulation of points on the body using a variety of techniques. The acupuncture technique that has been most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation. Practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, acupuncture is on of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine."*  There are many forms of acupuncture (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Orthopedic, 5 Element, to name a few) and each style is a bit different. Overall, acupuncture is used to create healing in the body for both acute and chronic problems due to injury or illness. It is a holistic form of medicine that has been used for thousands of years. Usually an acupuncture treatment is a comfortable, relaxing experience that leaves the patient with an overall sense of well being, and symptom relief either immediately or within 24-48 hours of treatment, depending on the issue.

Dry Needling (as opposed to the "wet" needling of injection therapy) is a form of acupuncture where an acupuncture needle is inserted into a trigger or motor point to elicit a twitch response. This twitch releases the muscle making it more relaxed to improve its function. This tends to be a more symptom based treatment dealing with musculo-skeletal problems, rather than internal problems, like insomnia, anxiety, IBS or hormonal regulation, which are better treated by acupuncture. The treatment can be a little uncomfortable, but the discomfort is short lived. After DN the patient should leave with an overall decrease in their pain levels.

There is an ongoing debate in the physical medicine world about Dry Needling. Physical Therapists and Chiropractors are treating their patients with DN for the purpose of healing symptoms and improving physical function, because needling the body is effective; this has been proven by Acupuncturists all over the world for millenia. So what's the problem?

The biggest problem is lack of proper training. A licensed acupuncturist has had 2-3 years of supervised needling training by the time they go into the student clinic to begin to treat patients and by graduation, 3-5 years. Most Dry Needling courses take place over the course of a weekend and typically have only about 10 hours of needle practice. The students are not being trained by Acupuncturists, who understand not only how to needle, but what and why to needle, they are being trained by other Chiropractors or PTs.

Would you go to see an acupuncturist to get your spine adjusted after (s)he took a weekend chiropractic course? I wouldn't. It's like calling a plumber to work on your electrical problem. Great skills, just the wrong set of skills for the job at hand.

My biggest concern is safety. PTs and Chiropractors have extensive training on how the physical body works: how to rehab a knee replacement, how to create strength and stability in the hips, how to realign the spine and pelvis, how dysfunction in one area can affect another, etc. What they don't have is extensive training in needling the body. Massaging a tight muscle and putting a needle into it are two different skill sets. With massage you don't need to worry as much about where blood vessels and nerves are, or how deep (or shallow) the Lungs or Intestines are relative to the surface. Acupuncturists have an entire semester course learning about acupuncture points, not only where they are located, but how deep and at what angle you should needle each point. Understanding these needling depths and angles (which are based on the anatomy beneath them), keeps a licensed Acupuncturist from creating a pneumothorax (puncturing a Lung) or hitting an artery. This course is separate from the course taken about the functions of each point. When DN is taught by someone not trained in depths and angles, this can be very dangerous for a patient. Even when a practitioner is not needling an acupuncture point per se, but perhaps a motor point or trigger point, there is still the underlying anatomy to consider. Acupuncturists needle acu-points (which are located along the 14 main meridians), "extra" points (not on the main meridians), "ashi" points (points when pressed there is a sore sensation, also not necessarily on main meridians), motor points (a point on a muscle that when stimulated causes the muscle to contract) and trigger points (a sore point that causes generalized muscle pain when over stimulated). There was a Dry Needling training video that circulated the Internet a few years ago where an instructor actually caused a pnuemothorax during the training because he used a needle that was too long and he went too deep into the upper back of a relatively thin person. He made this mistake due to not fully understanding how to properly needle that area, despite what he believed was taking proper precautions.

In my practice I have seen the sequelae of DN performed by well meaning, but insufficiently trained practitioners (like large swellings, increased inflammation, decreased range of motion, increased pain). Most of my patients know that if they need Dry Needling, they come to see me.

It is this lack of education that I believe is the biggest health risk when it comes to DN. Is it effective? Yes, but only when performed by a trained, Licensed Acupuncturist, or a health practitioner who has taken much more than just a weekend course.

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Monday, May 6, 2019

Pelvic Floor Pain: How Acupuncture Can Help

When it comes to pain, not everyone thinks about acupuncture as the solution. With intense pelvic floor pain, the idea of needles anywhere near the pelvic floor can have you running in the other direction. You will be pleased to know that although it is possible to needle the muscles in the pelvic floor, it is not necessary to be able to address pelvic floor pain with acupuncture. One of the benefits of using acupuncture for pain is that there are many ways to treat the body, many ways to see the body and a seemingly indirect treatment can be the most powerful.

Case Study

59 year old female came to my office with her Chief Complaint as Pelvic Floor Pain that she had been experiencing 6 times per year for 15 years. The pain was intense, an 8-9 out of 10 and lasted at that intensity for 45-60 minutes. It usually appeared at night, waking her, but recently it had happened while at work or while driving. The pain was in the rectum as well as at the base of her spine and was a throbbing, pounding pain. The pain would start suddenly, then stop just as suddenly. The patient had seen multiple types of specialists, none of whom could do anything but give her pain killers for when she had the pain, and physical therapy hadn't helped; no one was able to help her with prevention, and could help only mildly with pain management. The pain was slightly better with NSAIDs and nitroglycerin but nothing prevented the pain from occuring; she just had to wait it out.

I first saw her in late February and the last episode of the pain had been late December.

Observing her posture, her rib cage was shifted to the left relative to her pelvis and her right Quadratus Lumborum (QL) was tight and contracted. Her left SI joint was jammed causing a medial shift when she lifted her knee. Her left psoas was tighter than her right and her right pubic bone was slightly deep relative to her left. There was no movement in her right ThoracoLumbar Fascia (TLF) or sacrum, which was jammed moving superiorly. The movement of her TLF and sacrum were detected by using a light touch to detect the body's various rhythms subtle movements.

I saw her weekly for 2 weeks, then every other week for 4 more treatments. After the first treatment her SI joints were moving properly and evenly, and her QL tightness had released. Her rib shift was also gone. As the acupuncture treatments progressed, I addressed imbalances in her piriformis and hamstrings and continued to address the sacrum which improved with every treatment. We were able to trace the problem back to her left foot which had had a seismoid bone resection many years before that affected her overall alignment, causing her to overuse her right side.

Typically the pain had occurred every 2 months for 15 years. During the 3 months that I saw this patient, she had no recurrence of the pain. Our last treatment was in May, so she had been pain free for 5 months.

I find that looking at the whole body, rather than just focusing on the one part in pain, it's the best way to get rid of pain more permanently. The body is a master at compensating and over time subtle, often unconscious shifts in posture and gait can lead to bigger problems down the road. By correcting the way a person moves through their life by correcting their imbalances, it can have a profound effect on how someone feels on a daily basis.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Cupping for Athletes

Cupping is a hot topic among athletes these days, spurred on by the purple spots on competitors like Michael Phelps and Wang Qun at the Olympics and more and more celebrities and professional athletes across numerous sports. The Chinese (as well as Europeans) have been using cupping for thousands of years, for all sorts of muscle and joint pain, as well as for respiratory infections and digestive issues.

You can read about the basics of cupping in my previous post, "Cupping and Gua Sha: What are they and what are their benefits?" by clicking here. This post will focus on how cupping works to benefit athletic performance and recovery, as well as treating sports injuries.

Any athlete, whether a professional, an amateur or a weekend warrior, knows that soreness and injury is par for the course. Soreness is the build up of lactic acid and micro-tearing of tissue that when healed, creates a stronger muscle. With intense use, muscles can get tight or inflamed, and many people use ice to battle that inflammation. Unfortunately this practice is outdated and is actually interfering with the healing process. You can read more about that here. By restricting blood flow, you are actually impairing the body's ability to heal itself. It's like a fever: when you have a fever, the body has raised its temperature to kill off the virus or bacteria that is making you sick. When you reduce a fever, the body can't do its job as well (I am referring to fevers under 102.5 degrees; anything above is more serious and may require other interventions). Icing an acute injury delays the healing process by interrupting blood flow to the area. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) you are infusing cold into the area which leads to a stagnation of energy, or Qi (pronounced Chee) and causes pain. Many times ice will numb the area, but won't actually get rid of the pain, since once the numbness wears off, the pain returns.

Practices like acupuncture and cupping are very helpful for recovery as they move the lactic acid out of the muscles, encouraging Qi and blood flow, helping the body recover. Cupping is great for muscle tightness, acting like a deep massage, to help release what is stuck and return the muscle to better functioning. Acupuncture encourages blood flow to the area so that the body can more efficiently heal the micro-tears and return the muscles to strength and stability. These two practices complement each other, but each can also stand alone when it comes to recovery.

In terms of healing injury, depending on the injury, acupuncture is my first go to, as it encourages blood flow to encourage healing. Moxa is another great modality for treating injury for the same reason. Our blood contains the nutrients that help us heal; encouraging blood flow encourages healing. Moving Qi and Blood can also reduce pain and swelling, often immediately after treatment.  Cupping can be helpful as long as there is no muscle tearing as part of the injury. It is great for muscle spasms or tightness, and can be helpful with scar healing, once the scar is stable and closed. Cupping (or Gua Sha, see the above link to the article "Cupping and Gua Sha: What are they and What are their Benefits"), can help the scar become more supple, prevent adhesions and help the body return to proper function.

Scars can be very problematic, post-surgery or otherwise, if they don't heal well. Puckered or tight scars can impair function not only of the affected area, but can also cause problems in other related areas, like nearby joints. I had a patient who had a lumpectomy and the scar was very deep and tight. She came to me because of a shoulder injury on that same side. Once I released the tension in the scar, her shoulder felt much better. Cupping, Gua Sha and acupuncture are all great ways to treat scars and encourage them to complete the healing process so you can return to the activities that you love.

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Musings of an Acupuncturist Treating Veterans

Musings of an acupuncturist treating veterans:

I love the vision of people, mostly men but some women, coming into the Veterans Acupuncture Care clinic,
a little nervous, a little unsure. Before they’ve been treated they don’t know what’s going to happen. Does it hurt?
How will I feel after? Does it hurt? What should I expect? Does it hurt?
They walk in, sign in and take a seat in one of of almost a dozen wing chair and couch seats. They sit down,
swab their ears with alcohol and await the needles. Within 5 minutes or so of receiving the needles, I see the peace
and calm wash over their faces. Soon the subtle sounds of gentle snoring mix with the flute music playing in the
background. They sit until they feel complete, for some it is 30 minutes, for some 90 minutes, for many it is
something in between. I take my cues from them. After the treatment, they arise, refreshed and ready to take on
whatever their life may bring. Initially the contentment may last only a few hours or a few days, but over time the
effects last longer and longer. The treatments build up in the system helping them hold on the more good feelings
than bad. Bodies have an amazing ability to heal themselves; I only facilitate that action. That’s why I do what I do.
I am an acupuncturist.

* * * * *

Everyone experiences stress in their lives, but after experiencing war and combat, the stress is a little different.
At first it may be subtle, like feeling irritable and isolated, or yelling at your spouse and children. Then it might be
more invasive, interrupting your sleep, causing nightmares and flashbacks, driving your desire to drink or behave
recklessly. PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not always immediately apparent to the person experiencing it.
If you or someone your love has been affected by a traumatic event in war or combat, know that help is available.
Veterans Acupuncture Care (VAC) Metrowest offers free acupuncture treatments specifically geared toward easing
your experience of your trauma and giving you a deep sense of peace and well-being.
For more information, please visit