This week the pain blog series continues by taking a look at the ancient practices of Eastern medicine with acupuncturist Stacy Davis of Peak Oriental Medicine in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
I met Stacy in 2008 when I braved acupuncture in hopes it would help me with my seasonal allergies. It did more than help. I left Stacy's office without seasonal allergies for the rest of the year and, as an unexpected bonus, ZERO joint pain for the next 9 months. That stands out still to this day because I'd had chronic joint pain since the age of 8. You'll learn a little more about Stacy and her business at the end of this blog.
DISCLAIMER: None of the information in this blog series is meant to take the place of your healthcare provider’s advice. Continue with your existing pain management plan and seek medical care as needed. Inform your healthcare provider of any changes, alternative treatments and self-care techniques you decide to implement.
Continuing with using my wrist injury as an example, Stacy and I discussed what it would be like for a patient to receive acupuncture and herbs as a treatment route for pain. Acupuncture is something that many in the states haven't tried and being poked with needles sounds scary.
Sheila Amir: Let's walk through what it is like to have acupuncture. I think to many it sounds horribly painful and a bit scary. I come to you as a patient explaining that I have severe pain in my wrists, especially the right wrist. I also tell you that I am experiencing loss of feeling and functionality in the right wrist several times a day. My neck and shoulders are tight. My elbows hurt as well. What happens first and where do we go from there?
Stacy Davis: Acupuncture is a called a practice for reason! No matter how long you’re in business, practitioners are always growing and changing. The way I practice now is very different from how I practiced even a few years ago, but the basic process is the same.
First, the patient would fill out a thorough health history and we would discuss the information on that health history. Then we would get more in depth for the reason(s) for the visit and if this was a follow up visit I would ask about how the previous treatment went.
Next, I would diagnose based on which meridians (energy pathways – like circuits) were involved with the problem, decide which meridians would best help balance the involved meridian and choose points based on what type of problem I was working on - a local area problem, functional problem or a complicated problem involving multiple meridians in multiple areas of the body.
I generally DO NOT needle the area with the problem, because that can just make the area mad and I find it is more effective to treat a problem from a different limb of the body any way. With each visit I would evaluate progress and determine a course of action.
In general when just starting treatment a minimum of 1 treatment a week is effective, though if the patient can come 2 or more times a week, it will reduce how long it takes to get better.
A good rule of thumb for how many treatments you will need is 1 month of weekly treatments for every year you have had a problem. Usually it takes less time, but can also take longer. When it’s less than a year or 6 months, it can go pretty quick. The shorter amount of time you have the problem, the sooner it takes to work. Again, this is different for everyone.
SA: After leaving your office what is recommended to get the most out of the acupuncture treatment and is there any regimen for the patient to follow?
SD: In general acupuncture doesn't have to include lifestyle changes, but I frequently recommend stretching, dietary and supplement changes that can help with overall health and speed healing.
If an injury is due to a particular activity I usually ask that the patient try to avoid that activity until they are better, but I realize that life doesn't always cooperate. When they do get back to health I provide some ideas on how to stay that way and recommend that patients come back as soon as possible if symptoms come up again.
This greatly reduces the length of treatment needed, and I find that the spacing between "flare-ups" gets further and further apart. The best course is for the patient and I to figure out a good time frame and set up regular appointments for "tune-ups".
SA: What are some self-care recommendations that you would suggest?
SD: One of the biggest things I recommend for people is yoga. To age gracefully we need to maintain our balance, strength and flexibility. Yoga helps with all these.
Thanks to a brilliant nutritionist I know, :::blushing::: I recommend vitamin D, sometimes magnesium and ALWAYS a good probiotic. The research out there on the importance of a healthy microbiome for all manner of health problems from digestion, to mood, to immunity and pain just gets more and more compelling. If appropriate I will prescribe an herbal formula or recommend individual herbs such asginger or turmeric.
SA: Pain is multifaceted. What other health care approaches would you recommend in addition to acupuncture?
SD: As I mentioned before, I like to recommend yoga. I also believe strongly in the importance of regular message and on occasion I will also recommend chiropractic care.
I also like patients to be working with a primary care physician if appropriate, though they usually are and have usually tried many other things before getting to me. I'm often a last resort.
Good reasons to try acupuncture first: the less time you have had a problem, in general, the quicker you get better. I also recommend acupuncture before surgery. If the acupuncture doesn't get you better, at least it won't make it worse. Plus after surgery you have scar tissue I have to try to work around and that may add to pain and or limited range of motion.
Folks that have a generally good diet tend to move through acupuncture treatment more quickly. In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) the thought is that you should start with least invasive and work up from there. Nutrition, acupuncture, herbs, western medicine then surgery. We seem to almost go at it backwards in the US.
SA: Would you recommend doing other treatments such as physical therapy and/or chiropractic care on the same days as acupuncture or spread them out?
SD: While it doesn't hurt the treatment, I would rather other therapies be used on different days. I don't like giving the body too many different messages. Though acupuncture can be good before, during and after physical therapy.
SA: Do you see any difference in patient outcome based on their nutritional status?
SD: In general, the healthier the patient the more quickly he get results. So, yes nutrition is important.
SA: Can you explain some of the points you would work on and what they do from an Eastern medicine stand point to those who know nothing of acupuncture?
SD: Boy, that is a big question! In acupuncture two people can come in for say wrist pain and receive completely different treatments, depending on where EXACTLY the pain is, how long they have had it, if there was an injury or if there is a specific time that it hurts, among other defining characteristics. Points are chosen based on anatomical similarity (ex.wrist/ankle), with the goal to balance a whole meridian, or to balance the whole body.
SA: Would you recommend herbs in this case?
SD: In general I don't recommend herbs for pain, unless it is long term, then I will look at adding herbs that are anti-inflammatory in nature, such as ginger or turmeric.
The most common way I use herbs is in Chinese Patent formulas - with a few single herbs being the exception, and the best way to incorporate those is in food. Ginger goes well in soups, stir fry and sauces. I don't really know how to cook with turmeric, so I have a bottle of tincture that I drop under my tongue.
SA: What else would you like to add?
SD: Chinese medicine is a different way of looking at the body then what people a usually used to. We (Eastern medicine practitioners) take the body as a whole. It is also about balance.
From the Eastern medicine viewpoint, any time there is something wrong in your body it is because something is out of balance. Whether it is out of balance hormones causing cycle problems or hot flashes, or a muscular weakness/tightness causing pain, something is out of balance. My job is to bring the body back to balance.
One of the biggest things we need to do is learn to pay attention to the clues our bodies give us, not ignore them until they become a bigger problem.
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