Sciatic Pain: How to Feel Great Again

That pain radiating throughout your lower back, into your hips and buttocks, and down the back of your leg is most likely sciatica, an inflammatory response most often caused when a bone spur or a herniated disc compresses the sciatic nerve.  The sciatic nerve is the single longest nerve in the human body.

At any point in time, between one and ten percent of the American population is suffering from sciatica.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sciatica and other types of back pain are responsible for 62 percent of all work absences caused by pain.

Alternative Treatments for Sciatica
Acupuncture, Chinese massage, cupping, and stretching are all effective treatments for sciatica.  Treatment must include the muscles of your back, hips, pelvis and thighs since they’re all implicated in sciatic pain to some degree.

Acupuncture helps alleviate sciatic pain by stimulating meridian channels that affect the muscles in your lower back and legs. The thin needles used in acupuncture also stimulate your body to release endorphins, endogenous peptides that mimic the action of opioid analgesics.

Stretches for Sciatica
Stretching exercises can ease the discomfort associated with sciatica.  These exercises provide relief from pain, and they also help condition muscles so that sciatica is less likely to occur in the future.
•  Flexing the back:  Lie on your back.  Now, pull both your knees and your head toward your centerline so you are flexing slightly.  Hold this posture long enough to let your muscles loosen up before moving gently back down.
•  Knee to chest flex:  Lie on your back with your knees flexed and both feet on the floor.  Put your hands behind one knee, pull it very gently toward your chest and then release.  This will condition your hamstring muscles.
•  Hip and buttock stretch:  Stand with your right foot half a step in back of your hips.  Bend your left knee, keep your right leg straight, and reach down your right leg until you feel a gentle stretch in your hip.

Nutritional supplements can also alleviate sciatica discomfort by decreasing the levels of prostaglandins implicated in inflammatory responses.  Omega-3 fatty acids, an enzyme found in pineapple called bromelain, and the plant-based phytochemical quercetin have all proven effective in treating sciatica.

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Happy Menopause

Menopause is the cessation of menstrual periods, usually between the ages of 45 and 55, and no two women go through exactly the same experience.  You may be relatively symptom-free, or it may spark uncomfortable alterations in your body and your mood that last as long as five years.

Common menopause symptoms include:
•  Hot flashes caused by the dilation of blood vessels near the surface of the skin
•  Flushed skin
•  Night sweats and insomnia due to hormonal fluctuations
•  Mood swings including depression and anxiety due to hormonal fluctuations
•  Vaginal dryness and atrophy due to declining levels of estrogen
•  Decreased libido due to declining levels of estrogen and testosterone

Although menopause is a natural part of life, it can induce extreme stress and anxiety in women experiencing it.  Stress in turn exacerbates the other symptoms of menopause.  Menopause is an excellent time in your life to start experimenting with alternative health therapies like diet, herbs and supplements, massage, and acupuncture.

Herbs That Ease Menopause Symptoms
Herbs may help you ease the symptoms associated with menopause.  Herbal teas made from black cohosh have been used to alleviate menopause symptoms since the Middle Ages.  Scientific studies show that black cohosh has estrogenic effects on your body.  Not only does black cohosh help your body tolerate hot flashes and mood swings, it may also protect bones from osteoporosis.

Raspberry leaf teas and ginseng teas are also effective in controlling menopause symptoms.  Ginseng stimulates the release of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), which helps the body deal with stressors, while raspberry normalizes hormone imbalances.

Foods That Exacerbate Menopause Symptoms
You benefit from avoiding certain foods during menopause.  Research has found that soy-based supplements and foods do not alleviate symptoms such as hot flashes and decreased bone density associated with menopause.  In fact, women who use soy products regularly run a much higher risk of developing endometrial hyperplasia, a precursor to endometrial cancer.

Sugar can also be detrimental to you when you’re going through menopause since menopausal women have a tendency to put on weight.  Sugar can also cause your blood glucose levels to fluctuate wildly out of control.

Eating healthy, using herbs, exercising to relieve stress, and getting plenty of sleep can help you have a more positive experience as you go through this change.

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Insomnia (Helping You Get to Sleep)

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can strike at any time and make it difficult for you to get a full night’s rest.  The reasons for insomnia vary; however, if you suffer from insomnia you may be susceptible to serious health issues that can occur from a lack of sleep.  Depression, anxiety, and memory problems are just a few of the possible long term effects of insomnia.  Fortunately, insomnia can be treated by making a few of the following simple changes in your lifestyle.

Create a Sleep Schedule
In today’s fast-paced world with so much to do, you may wake up earlier and stay up later. Your schedule may also vary from one day to the next.  Unfortunately, this can make it hard for your body to know when to fall asleep.  By creating a schedule that includes a consistent bedtime and time to wake up, you will send a signal to your body that it’s time to rest.

Avoid Stimulants
To get through the day, many people rely on stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine.  While this may help you get your work done, it can wreak havoc on your body’s natural processes.  It is best to avoid stimulants altogether; however, if you must have caffeine, stick to enjoying it before lunch.  And alcohol may make you sleepy initially; its stimulating effects may cause you to have disrupted sleep.

Get Some Exercise
For the best health benefits, everyone can benefit from exercise for at least 20 to 30 minutes a day. This enables your body to expend its energy while also providing you with mind-boosting benefits that promote relaxation.  While exercise will help you to get to sleep, it’s helpful to avoid exercising for at least three hours before bedtime so that your body has time to cool down.

Learn to Relax
During stressful periods in your life, it may be challenging to relax at the end of the day. Therefore, you may need to find a method for relaxing that works for you.  Try a hot bath at the end of the day or spend a few minutes working on a favorite hobby. A cup of Relax or Calm tea after dinner can also be beneficial. By helping yourself learn to relax, you will begin to find it easier to fall and stay asleep.

For tougher cases of insomnia many people are turning to alternative, therapeutic treatments such as massage or acupuncture.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep! Sweet dreams!

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Let’s Talk Poo, Part Deux

Last week I wrote about constipation.  This week I’ll go over the fact that treating constipation is not always a simple matter of eating more fiber and vegetables. The science of Chinese medicine proposes the theory that there are many causes of constipation and that it’s not simply a lack of fiber.  Some of the more common causes are blood deficiency (anemia) and poor circulation, cold in your abdomen, among others.

We speak of blood deficiency in Chinese medicine – this is what western medicine calls anemia.  There are varying degrees of blood deficiency, and symptoms  can appear before blood work shows low levels.  Blood deficiency can be caused by surgery and traumas (even those without outward signs of bleeding), through poor absorption in your digestive tract, and many other ways.

Poor circulation is a close cousin to blood deficiency.  Not enough blood means your circulation is not optimal, and not as efficient in taking vital nutrients and oxygen to feed all of your cells.  Poor circulation, alone or in combination with blood deficiency, can also lead to constipation.  When you don’t have enough blood or proper circulation there is not enough “water to float the boat,” an old and common saying in oriental medicine meaning that there is not enough circulation to carry the poo – the “boat” – out.

Cold in your body, specifically in your abdomen, is a theory that doesn’t have a clear correlation in western medicine.  Cold in your abdomen, from the perspective of Chinese medicine, is a fairly common occurrence, especially in women.  (It’s especially common in those who swam a lot or sat on cold grounds or concrete at sporting events.) Eating a lot of cold or raw foods, and/or drinking a lot of iced drinks can slow down the whole digestive process.  Similar to what happens to traffic when the weather turns cold and snowy, your body’s functions slow to a crawl when you are cold.  You can help yourself by eating more cooked meals, reducing the frequency of frozen drinks (for example, smoothies), and drinking beverages at room temperature or hotter.  Using a heating pad on your abdomen can also begin to warm up your core.

While cold in the body is relatively easy to rectify, what we don’t account for in western medicine is the difficulty you may experience in recovering from surgery.  For some it is quite difficult to recover from C-Sections, abdominal surgeries, or hysterectomies, as well as other traumas that are not directly linked to the abdomen.  It can be difficult to get back to healthy blood levels or clear circulation.  It is a frequent occurrence to hear, “I’ve never been the same since that surgery/baby/accident.”

In addition to changing your diet to address blood deficiency and warming your core, adding rhubarb to your diet can help (it’s often used in formulas to help move the “boat”).  And, as usual, Chinese herbs and acupuncture can help to get your body back to that healthy balance.  Once back in balance, your symptoms are relieved.

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Let’s Talk Poo

Everyone does it.  We just don’t usually speak about it in polite company.  For being such a vital function for our well-being, we don’t say too much about it.  Poo.  The complex processing of food includes production of saliva, breaking down food with acids and bile, production of enzymes, and the intestines separating and absorbing vital nutrients from the portion of foods that will become waste.  When this function isn’t happening on a regular basis the effects are seen throughout our body – everything from discomfort and a bloated belly to acne or poor skin luster to bad moods and headaches.

What kind of poo is normal and healthy?  One to two bowel movements per day, formed in one piece, and easy to pass with no discomfort or strain.  Outside of this and you may be constipated.

If you’re constipated, adding more vegetables and fiber-rich foods is absolutely useful and necessary.  A beautifully-written book, “Healing with Whole Foods,” by Paul Pitchford, states: “Fiber is beneficial in curing and/or preventing appendicitis, colon cancer, diverticulosis, constipation and hemorrhoids.   It encourages healthy bacterial growth in the colon, which aids in assimilation of nutrients and the formation of cancer-resistant bowel acids. While taking pure fiber can have therapeutic results in extreme cases, the most balanced approach is to eat a variety of different types of fiber in the form of whole vegetal foods.  Eating a variety of fiber-rich foods will also booster your immunity and the lung/colon function in general.”

If you’re constipated, there are two things that you can do to help yourself:

1.) Eat more whole food (foods that are minimally processed) that are rich in fiber.  Some fiber-rich categories are beans, berries, peas, nuts, green leafy veggies,  and whole grains (grains not processed).  Rhubarb is a common herb that we use in formulas to aid constipation. It’s beautifully powerful.  Adding it to your diet can be helpful for those rare times when you may need help.

2.) Adding magnesium to your diet through magnesium-rich foods can also aid your body.  While there are many magnesium-rich foods, a magnesium supplement can be very beneficial.  Start with the recommended dose.  You can increase the dose a little every 3 – 4 days until your stools start to pass easier.  Magnesium works on muscles, and constipation can largely be a muscle issue.  (Magnesium is also good for other muscle issues – aches, pains, restless legs.)  Many of the foods listed above are also rich in magnesium.

In upcoming posts, I’ll write a bit about other reasons that you may be constipated, and when simply adding more fiber doesn’t help you to go.

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New Year’s Resolutions

Here we are in a brand new year.  Many of you may have New Year’s Resolutions to go along with the ringing in of  said new year. Less weight, more exercise, less smoking, more quality time with the family, better quality food, more focused time on your business.  All of these resolutions comes along with high expectations to DO! DO! DO! and to achieve those goals.  If the expectations aren’t met – to your satisfaction or to your desire – there can often be a big let down or disappointment. And some harsh words.  “Self,” you may say, “you’re weak. and lazy. and unmotivated.  you can’t even accomplish this one thing you set your mind to do. Sheesh.”

May I suggest something different this time around?  Celebrate the small gains.  Celebrate walking an extra block.  Celebrate smoking one less cigarette today than you did yesterday.  Celebrate that quiet moment of tenderness spent with your kids saying bedtime prayers.  Celebrate one less cookie consumed.  Celebrate what you Do accomplish.

Be kind to yourself.  “Self,” you may say, “way to go.  You walked further today than yesterday. Yippee!!”  “Self, you are rockin’ this thing called Life.  There was a full plate of muffins and donuts lying out at work today.   And you only ate 1! Last year you would have eaten 4 or 5! Wahoooo!”

When you’re in bed at night, celebrate what you DID mark off the to-do list, rather than all that you didn’t manage to complete.  Celebrate even the smallest of steps towards that resolution. Even if…?  Yes, even if it wasn’t 100% of what you set out to do.  Even if.  The smallest steps, taken again and again, lead to bigger distances covered. Bigger gains.

Leave love notes for yourself (and your family, if you’re so inclined) reminding yourself how special, unique and wonderful you are.   Get ready for your day with a decorated mirror smiling at you every morning.  Surround yourself with positive.

Having “good thoughts” has a positive impact on your brain – it physically changes your neurotransmitters.  And encourages more of the same.  It gets easier and easier to then accomplish those goals you set for yourself.

This resolution season, be more kind to yourself.

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Digestive Disorders treated with Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs

The US Department of Health reports that approximately 65 million Americans suffer from some type of digestive disorder. There are many reasons you may be suffering from a digestive disorder; it could be in your genetic makeup, because of your diet, or due to stress and other outside variables. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can greatly help correct digestive disorders. More people are turning to alternative and natural treatments, rather than relying on cellular-altering medications.

How acupuncture helps digestive disorders
Acupuncture physicians determine which points in your body are causing disruptions or are pertinent parts of the disorder. The needles help encourage blood flow and immune system function.

Acupuncture helps your blood get to the various parts of your body that are hurting for essential nutrients. Acupuncture also helps stimulate hormone production, which can greatly help your body function at its most optimal potential.

The various hormones in your body are essential for a healthy digestive tract. Your pancreas is especially important because it helps produce insulin and other substances responsible for breaking down nutrients and absorbing them into the blood stream.

Chinese herbs
In addition to acupuncture, Chinese herbs can help aid your digestive system and correct many disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease. Chamomile and kava root are just two examples of herbs that are host to strong antioxidants. Antioxidants can also greatly help your body clean any waste that is inhibiting its functions.

Don’t let your digestive disorder get in the way of you enjoying this holiday season with your friends and family. There are alternatives to pharmaceutical medications – alternatives that give your body the information that it needs to correct any internal disorder.  Acupuncture is simply one way to that end.

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Natural Ways to De-stress

Many people love the feeling of the holidays, even though the season can also be very stressful. Luckily, there are ways to de-stress over the holidays. If you prefer to stay away from medication to help alleviate stress, there are great natural ways you can relieve stress.

Meditation helps you relax and center your thoughts. There have been many studies on the effects that meditation can have on you, and the results are very positive. A large number of people report they truly feel less stress after they spend time alone in a quiet room with nothing but their thoughts. If you want to meditate to help relieve stress, find a nice quiet room that is clean and free from clutter. Try to focus on one positive thought, whether it is a memory, a word, or even a sound. If you find your mind wandering, simply bring it back to that one positive thought. You’ll find that with practice your mind wanders less and less.

Acupuncture is a great practice to help relieve stress. However, if you’re not able to get in to see your acupuncture physician or you simply need to DE-STRESS NOW, acupressure is an effective way to help yourself. Both acupuncture and acupressure help your body circulate more blood, which leads to more energy, and that keeps you in good health both mentally and physically.

Two great acupressure points are on the top of your feet and on the center of your breastbone. On your feet, rub with your thumbs (or a pencil eraser if preferred) the soft tissue between the big toe and the second toe. As you move from the toes toward the ankles, you will find that the soft tissue will turn to bone about halfway up your foot. Rub the soft tissue, not the bone. Rub towards your toes…from the ankle towards the toes. Rub for three minutes (or longer) each day on each foot to reduce your stress.

For the center of your breastbone, simply tap it softly with two fingers for a couple of minutes. Tap the point where cleavage begins or slightly higher. The added benefit of this point is that it increases your immunity as well. These two points stimulate your neuro-transmitters and endorphins, creating a sense of relaxation and ease.

Don’t Forget: Hobbies and Activities
All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl. And it isn’t good for her! Remember to take a break to have fun with friends and family. Laughter is a great way to relieve stress. Additionally, spend some time on your own hobbies.

There’s no reason to go through the entire holiday season being stressed. Practice these tips to help you relax and enjoy your time to the fullest.

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Customized Herbal Prescriptions

I was recently asked what the difference was between a “plain ‘ole herbal formula” and a customized formula, modified specifically for a patient’s condition at a specific moment in time.

Firstly, when used correctly herbs and a combination of herbs (formulas) can be of great benefit to your body, helping to relieve symptoms.  Formulas created by a licensed acupuncture physician can relieve symptoms without causing side effects or damage to other parts of your body.  Herbs are a great way to knock out that cold before it can take hold, without the side effects of pharmaceutical antibiotics.

The difference between a standard formula to clear that cold from taking hold and a customized formula for you specifically at this time, these symptoms, and your nature can be quite significant.  For example: Cinnamon Twig Formula (Gui Zhi Tang in Chinese) is a commonly used standard formula for cold and flu season.  Its ingredients: Cinnamon Twig, White Peony Root, Fresh Ginger Rhizome, Dates (Jujube), and Honey-Fried Licorice Root.

To customize this particular formula, your acupuncture physician takes into account the type of your symptoms and the severity of them: chills and fever not alleviated by sweating, stiff neck, headache, aversion to wind, etc. (common cold symptoms).  You may need more of the Cinnamon Twig and less of the Ginger than the standard “recipe” calls for.  You may benefit from the addition Ledebouriella Root if you have significant nasal congestion and sneezing.  Perhaps you have a swollen and heavy sensation in your head indicating the addition of Chrysanthemum Flower.  A lot of heat?  perhaps gypsum or Anemarrhenae Rhizome or Scullcap Root (the decision of which depends on the kind of heat, where the heat is most felt, and time of day).

A specific formula Just for You, just for the picture of entire symptoms with which you present today will mean a much quicker and targeted response with fewer side effects, and you getting back to the symptom-free You much quicker, ready to take on the world feeling great.

Ask your acupuncture physician for a formula made Just for You!

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Scared of needles? Natural Herbs Are a Great Benefit in Treating a Multitude of Symptoms

For many people, the fear of needles is enough to keep them from seeking acupuncture care for their medical conditions. However, staying healthy does not always mean that you must suffer for the sake of your health. Natural medicine can offer relief from a variety of symptoms through the use of herbs, and these herbs can be just as soothing for your mind as they are for your body. Natural herbs have long been used to treat common conditions such as the flu, arthritis, and pain, without the side effects of pharmaceuticals. Medical science is beginning to offer more insight into the wonderful health benefits that herbs provide for both preventing and treating the symptoms of modern illnesses. Here are just a few of the common herbs that are used in natural medicine:

Chamomile is well-known for its relaxing effects and is frequently brewed into a tea. It is used for treating anxiety, insomnia, and other stress-related ailments. It also promotes better digestion and provides relief from irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders.

Lavender not only smells good, it also has tremendous benefits for a person’s health. Lavender oil is frequently used in lotions and creams to provide relief from arthritis and muscle pain. Lavender promotes relaxation, and it also has antiseptic properties that can make it effective against germs.

Ginger is a pungent herb that is frequently used in teas and food to create a delicious flavor. When ingested, ginger can help to treat digestive problems such as nausea and vomiting. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it ideal for treating chronic pain. It is also stocked with anti-oxidants that can help prevent aging.

Garlic is another herb that is known for adding great flavor to food. This herb is an excellent immune system booster, and can help prevent colds, the flu, and aging. It also has anti-fungal properties that make it effective for treating symptoms that are caused by yeast.

These are only some of the common herbs that are used to provide relief from symptoms. The possibilities are endless for treating common ailments with herbs, and herbal remedies are less likely to cause side effects that traditional medicines can cause. They can also be used along with many prescribed medications, making them the perfect enhancement for your health.

Ask your acupuncture physician, trained in the science of an herbal pharmacy, what formulas may be right for you.

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