I often get asked if acupuncture can actually cure back pain. The answer is: yes, in many cases. All therapy, including western interventions like surgery, are never perfect. In fact less than 50% of back surgeries are considered successful. Its hard to clock the success rate of acupuncture because success is such a subjective word. I would say that a very large portion of our patients are happy with their treatments. A good portion of them come back for tuneups, for other issues, and send their family and friends in. Now and then I see a patient outside the office who tell me that I fixed their back or shoulder or plantar fasciitis. I don't like to say that I fixed them, it's always a collaboration. So we do get cures, not everyone, but many.
I of course primarily specialize in Chinese Medicine. But it is very important for me to also know western medicine well. So I have been trained in and also keep up with the latest developments in western medicine. I have to know about what my patients tell me about their condition and the things they have tried. I have to be familiar with the drugs they are on. I have also for many years had an interest in Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient medicine of India. Ayurvedic medicine is supposedly even older than Chinese medicine, so we are talking about 6000 years old. How could there not be some useful wisdom from such an old science? I like to combine the best of these 3 types of medicine to get the best, quickest and most permanent results possible for my patients. It is very important to us that our patients get better.
I have been treating rheumatoid arthritis for years and I have taken note of a few things. First of all, I personally have only treated women who have it. There are most likely men with RA but I have not seen any, not one. Secondly a large portion of patients with RA that I have seen are menopausal or perimenopausal (I would estimate a good 90% or more). One of the tenants of Chinese medicine is the concept of yin and yang. The yang in our bodies is just the energy that runs things, such as what makes our heart beat or our muscles move. Any movement or activity in the body is yang in nature and also generates heat. Yin is the opposite of yang and is the fluid, soft part of our body. The yin is also our coolant, to keep the activity of yang from generating too much heat. Another name for heat might be inflammation. So our yin keeps our inflammation from getting out of hand. During peri or full menopause, the yin and yang in a woman becomes unbalanced. There is not enough yin to balance the heat generating yang and inflammation can become a real problem and in some can lead to the set of symptoms called rheumatoid arthritis. So how is this treated/cured using acupuncture? Acupuncture and herbs can cut inflammation and they can also boast the yin or coolant in the body, restoring balance and health. It can work, I have seen it.
Often our patients will come in for one thing and after taking care of that issue will come to us for other medical problems. I remember once a new patient asked me what Chinese medicine can treat and I said, 'Everything!' She didn't much like this and she said she didn't believe me. That is fine, but as the medicine of China, our medicine has indeed been used to treat any and all conditions. In the US, all the we are not allowed to treat is active cancer. But they do treat that, and quite well, in China. The reason we can treat many things is that really all we are trying to do is to balance yin and yang, to bring balance and health back to the body. The normal state of our body is perfect health. When yin and yang are balanced there is no room for illness. To me that is the beauty of our medicine, that you put one needle in and everything gets better.
I see many people who get migraines of various degree and frequency. Many are taking some really strong medications that are often prescribed off label or are on strong pain killers that have some bad side effects. Neither of these approaches treat the root cause of the condition. Many migraine patients are young women who are otherwise very healthy. Sometimes the doctors are missing something that western medicine may not have a name for, an imbalance in the body that just needs to be corrected. Because western medicine treats the disease and not the person, its can be hard for them to see an issue that may be subtle and individual. Our medicine looks at the person as unique and the circumstances of the illness as unique. And usually with migraine cases the cause, and therefore the cure, is often very simple. You can read a bit more about how we treat migraine and also many other conditions by clicking here.
The poor neck has to hold up the large human head all day. This is quite a task and the neck often suffers. Also, many, if not most of us, tend to hold our stress in the neck and shoulders. This can lead to neck pain and very commonly headaches or even migraines. But acupuncture and cupping can get rid of much of the tension in the neck and doing so helps restore proper blood flow, which in turn can make the muscles stronger (a positive feedback loop). So this is helping fix a common problem which is often that the muscles, due to stress, knots and tightness over many years, have actually atrophied making our large homosapien heads even harder to hold up. These treatments, because they increase the flow of blood to the area, can also help with structural issues such as bulging disks as well.
It seems that lower back pain gets all the publicity. But the mid and upper back can also be a problem for many. And the good news is: this area usually responds very well to acupuncture. I never make promises, but a combo of acupuncture and cupping to the mid and upper back is almost surely going to result in something positive. It's just such an easy area for us to treat. Check out our bios for info on what we treat and our qualifications to do so.
One of the best things to treat with Chinese medicine is acute injury. I like treating this because it works so well and quickly. In my experience acupuncture can speed the healing of acute injury and pain to a great degree. If possible we will also do some light cupping in the area. Plus we have a great herbal formulation called Traumanex that continues to speed up the healing between treatments. Treating acute injury is one of the main reasons Olympic teams will have acupuncturists traveling with them. Most people remember the famous cupping of Michael Phelps in the last summer Olympics but most people didn't see the pictures of him getting acupuncture as well.
Treating sciatica is straightforward but can take several treatments. My method for treating sciatica is to use acupuncture needles in the low back area (almost always involved in sciatica) as well as along the path of the pain, usually in through the glute and down the side or back of the leg or sometimes down the front of the leg. I then will use cupping in the area of low back involved and usually either cupping or massage down the path to relieve the muscle pain. Chinese herbs are given (sometimes) in order to promote healing in the low back or other area that has been damaged causing the sciatica. We currently have a pain special that can be used for sciatica or any other type of pain. Click here for details on the pain special.
One important thing to realize about Chinese medicine is that it is very different than western medicine. This can be a good thing, because quite often we will see patients who have literally spent years and thousands of dollars trying to figure out what is wrong with them, and we will, after a session or 2, tell them exactly what is going on and how to fix it. It's not that we are better, its just that looking at things from a different perspective, a different angle, is just what is needed sometimes. We don't have MRIs, or any large machines to tell us what to do, so we have to be very observant, we have to use our experience and the strength of our medical philosophy to figure out what is going on. And we will depend on your story to help us, because no one knows you or your story better than you. Chinese medicine just looks at the way the body works differently, and uses a different philosophy in general. I always tell my patients that if something strange or out of the ordinary is going on with you then go to your acupuncturist first. This is because most of the time solutions to our health issues are quite simple. The human body is a miraculous machine and most of the time it hums right along. Sometime it does have issues, but these issues are often simple to deal with. So check with your acupuncturist first.
Monte Jackson, owner Acupuncture Center of Richmond