Category Archives: Acupuncture

Posts related to acupuncture, it’s uses or current research

Acupuncture for more than just pain relief

Like many people, Louise originally came to acupuncture seeking pain relief.  Also like many people, she ended up using Chinese Medicine for much more than she expected.

Louise originally presented with pain that sometimes affected her shoulders, sometimes her back, and often her legs . Due to the pain, she was having difficulty sleeping more than a few hours each night. Based on the severity of the problem as well as other factors in her history, I told Louise that I thought Chinese Medicine could help her, but warned her to be patient. I suspected that it may take 3-6 months to see the kind of improvement she was looking for.

As it turns out, the majority of her pain went away after one treatment!  However, I don’t take much credit for that because I think there was actually another reason. Louise was in the habit of consuming several diet soft drinks each day. At our first session, I asked her to consider eliminating all artificial sweeteners for two weeks.  She agreed and within days her pain was significantly reduced. Of course the acupuncture and herbs may have helped her body recover quickly, but I believe that it was actually the diet drinks that were exacerbating the pain.

On Louise’s second visit, she was fighting a sinus infection. She stated that she typically gets one at least once a year and usually ends up taking antibiotics. I used acupuncture and prescribed an herbal formula.  By the next week, the symptoms had cleared and she had successfully avoided that infection.

At the third and fourth visits, we treated shoulder pain from an acute injury, but something interesting happened before the fifth visit. Louise had been in for her yearly physical and had received the usual bloodwork. To her surprise, her Hemoglobin A1C–a test that measures how well a person’s blood sugar is controlled over time–had dropped from 13 to 9 in the past three months (the desired measurement in a diabetic would be around 6). As a result, she asked if we could focus our efforts toward regulating her blood sugar, and that is where we are now.

It is frequently the case that patients seek acupuncture for one problem, only to discover the many other medical issues that seem to benefit from treatment with Chinese Medicine. People often call to ask, “Can acupuncture treat _____” and inevitably the answer is that acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can treat you as an individual. Some symptoms may respond better than others, but as a modality that assists the body in re-establishing an environment of homeostasis, trying it for any medical issue certainly doesn’t hurt. You might be surprised by the results!

Acupuncture can prevent medical labor induction

Not only can acupuncture be useful to help women achieve and maintain pregnancy, but it can also help women proceed naturally into labor when the time is right. Ultimately, babies know when they are ready to emerge from the safety of the womb. Medical science has not yet unraveled the complex array of hormones and other chemicals that signal the body to initiate birth. Unless there are specific medical reasons a woman should give birth early, we recommend simple patience during those last few weeks of pregnancy. For our pregnant patients, monthly acupuncture during pregnancy and weekly acupuncture after 36 weeks often results in a relatively smooth initiation of labor without a lot of medical intervention.

However, there are times when a woman’s doctor considers it important that she give birth by a certain date. We occasionally get calls from new patients who may be close to term and have a scheduled induction date in the near future. These women are often anxious to begin labor naturally in order to avoid the well-documented cascade of interventions that can follow medical induction. The way we approach these cases is actually the same way we approach everything else in Chinese Medicine–we assess how the body is out of balance and try to move it gently toward homeostasis.

In the most general sense, there are two basic reasons labor may be delayed. The most common diagnosis we see in women at term is qi stagnation caused by stress and tension. When a woman is still working full time at 40 weeks, when she is nervous about the birth itself or the mystery of motherhood, she tends to hold her body very tightly. Her muscles are tense, her mind is racing, she is often overwhelmed by the physical and emotional toll pregnancy takes. In this case, our role is to calm her sympathetic “fight or flight” system. When your body is receiving the message that you are running for your life, it wisely decides that stopping to have a baby should be postponed. The problem with this is that our culture values this fast-paced, over anxious, do-it-or-die mentality in most arenas. We don’t learn how or when to slow down. Stopping long enough to breathe and relax is a foreign concept for many of us.

Babies need to know that you will make room for them–that you are willing to put other things aside to care for them. “The exact mechanism, which triggers the onset of labour is not fully understood, however, research involving animal models and humans has shown that it is the fetus which initiates a train of physiological interactions which initiate labour” (J. Harrison, Bristish Journal of Midwifery, May 2000).  High cortisol levels (which indicate that your body is under stress) may interfere with the process that initiates labor, and have been shown to inhibit lactation once the baby’s born. If you are planning to breastfeed, being able to relax becomes absolutely crucial.

As your due date approaches, it can only be helpful to slow down and welcome this new person into your life. Acupuncture can help teach the body how to slow down and relax. It can relax muscles, it can stimulate endorphin release, it can facilitate release of hormones. Stress and tension in the neck and shoulders is just a symptom of tension in the whole body…including the cervix and pelvic floor muscles. To give birth you have to be able to let go and let down your defenses.  Untreated, these women may have very strong contractions but without much dilation of the cervix.  Often, when a woman presents with this diagnosis, one or two acupuncture treatments is usually enough to relax the body enough and labor often begins within 24 hours.

The second general reason labor may be delayed is caused by what we call a deficient condition. In other words, she may be too physically tired to be able to mount the kind of energy needed in order to give birth. Often, this woman already has one or more children at home and is sleep deprived.  Her resources have been stretched to the limit and she simply doesn’t have the available qi and blood to begin contractions. Further, when she does have contractions, they may be weak and non-productive making her labor prolonged. In this case, we use acupuncture and moxibustion (a point-warming technique) to try to re-vitalize her system and support her innate energy.  Sometimes, these treatments may take a little longer. She may come in daily for a week, or we may teach her and her partner acupressure and moxibustion to do at home.  But with this support, labor can become more productive and mom will have a better postpartum experience as well.

Tips for a better labor experience:

If you can work it out, plan to stop working before your due date. Give yourself some time to wind down and relax before you begin the intense work of parenthood. You are about to have a life-changing experience…take just a little while to slow down and appreciate it.

Do yoga. We advise prenatal yoga throughout pregnancy, but even if you haven’t been doing that, it’s never too late to start. Yoga will help you relax into parasympathetic mode. It will stretch and strengthen the muscles you’ll be using to labor and will help you recover faster after birth. It will help keep the baby in an optimal position for birth.

Practice some form of silence / meditation / prayer every day. Settle into yourself and become quiet. Listen to what your body wants. Listen to your innate wisdom. Set your intentions:  what do you want from your birth and postpartum experience. Envision your ideal scenario. What qualities do you want to bring to the experience, no matter what happens?

Eat well, sleep a lot, and have fun- you need to be well-nourished to have the energy to give birth, you need to be well-rested, and you need to be relaxed. Throughout your pregnancy, you should  become over-protective of your sleep. If you are still working, take 20 minute naps at your desk or in your car at least once a day. You are creating a human being from scratch and that is hard work.  Don’t let well-meaning others keep you out too late or ask you to engage in activities you aren’t absolutely invested in. Watch lots of funny movies or talk on the phone with the friend who makes you laugh the most. It is almost impossible to be tense and tight while laughing.

Decide who you want to attend the birth (and who you don’t want to attend!).  This is perhaps one of the most memorable moments of your life. Don’t let the desires of others override yours. Some women don’t mind having an extended family party while giving birth, but if you want it to be an experience shared with only a small few, don’t be afraid to say so. Having people in the room you don’t feel 100% comfortable with can actually cause your body to tighten up and slow labor.

Hire a doula.  A good doula can be invaluable during your labor experience. Not only can she help your medical providers understand your wants and needs, but she plays a central role for you and your birth partner as well. She has attended many births and she will stay by your side throughout your entire birthing experience.  She can be a source of guidance and reassurance. When the new mom is in the “zone” of giving birth, the husband or partner can feel a bit lost. It becomes difficult for both of you to know the difference between what is normal and what isn’t. A doula can be the person responsible for sounding any alarms if needed. She can help you make decisions about interventions and she can provide that much needed reassurance that you are doing everything just right. This frees the partner up to simply be there and be supportive.  For a list of doulas in this area, check out


Some research:

In parts of Asia, acupuncture has been used for centuries to jump-start labor. Researchers at the University of North Carolina completed a small study to test whether this method has real benefits. The study involved 56 women who were 39 ½ to 41 weeks pregnant. (Forty weeks is full term.) Half of the women received three acupuncture sessions, while the other half did not.

Among those who received acupuncture, 70% went into labor without medical intervention. This compares to 50% of those who received standard care. The women who got acupuncture were also less likely to deliver by cesarean section– 17% compared to 39% of the women who did not receive acupuncture.

“We had almost a 50% reduction in the C-section rate,” researcher Terry Harper, MD, tells WebMD. Harper, who now practices maternal fetal medicine in Albuquerque, says the small size of her study means additional research is needed. She hopes acupuncture might one day help more women give birth vaginally.

The study appeared in the August 2006 issue of /The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine/. A larger study is currently underway, also at the University of North Carolina.


The following came from a meta-analysis of several different studies:
“Our search identified a Cochrane systematic review that included 3 trials with 212 women that focused on acupuncture for induction of labour [41 <#B41>]. Compared with standard care (oxytocin, prostaglandins, or “routine care”), more women undergoing acupuncture did not require the use of other induction methods (2 trials, 147 women, 49/73 versus 34/74; RR 1.45, 95% CI 1.08 to1.95; NNT = 5). No differences were found in time to delivery, rates of caesarean delivery, instrumental vaginal delivery, or epidural anesthesia. Fetal or neonatal outcomes were not estimable [41 <#B41>].”

The Treatment of Infertility with Chinese Medicine

The inability to conceive can be one of the most distressing times in a woman’s life. The longer she tries, the more disheartened she becomes. The stress of undergoing various diagnostic procedures and treatments can itself inhibit her ability to become pregnant and/or carry to term. For this reason, Chinese Medicine offers a wonderful alternative or complement to standard medical treatments. Chinese Medicine approaches infertility the way it approaches all medical complaints, which is through the lens of a person’s overall health.

According to the principles of Chinese Medicine, the reproductive system (or bao gong) requires three things to function smoothly:

1) There must be sufficient substance available to create an embryo. Substance here refers to the Kidney yin and blood. Think of a potter. In order to create a bowl, she first needs enough clay with which to form the bowl and the water she uses to keep the clay moist. Symptoms of deficient yin and blood are symptoms of not enough substance, not enough moisture: dry skin and hair, tight muscles, anxiety, restlessness, heart palpitations, insomnia, dizziness, visual disturbances, vaginal dryness, low back pain, night sweats and thirst. Often women with this pattern will have scanty periods or anovulatory disorders. Men with yin deficiency may have decreased sperm production. Stress can deplete the Kidney yin, and this is why often the first goal of treatments is to alleviate stress and provide relaxation.

2) There must be enough activating force to transform the yin substance into life. This activating force can be called Kidney yang and qi. For our potter, this is the movement of her hands as she shapes the clay and the motion created by the spinning wheel. Symptoms of yang deficiency are symptoms of low function or decreased metabolism and may include: fatigue, coldness, depression, inability to lose weight, loose stools, listlessness, low back pain, frequent urination, weakness of the limbs and poor appetite. Women with this pattern may have prolonged periods and they may have a low basal body temperature. They may ovulate but may not be able to create the heat (think progesterone) to be able to support fertilization and implantation. Men with yang deficiency may have poor sperm motility or even impotence. In this case, the first goal of treatment is to warm the Kidney in order to activate the function of reproduction, which is similar to stimulating hormonal response.

3) There must be open channels. In Chinese Medicine, qi, blood, yin and yang all flow through pathways (think rivers and streams) in the body. In order for the reproductive system to function well, these pathways must be open and free from obstruction. The potter’s wheel must turn smoothly and consistently. If the wheel becomes unbalanced, the bowl will become too misshapen and eventually collapse. Usually, the first pathological change that can lead to blockage in the channels is the stagnation of qi. Qi is the life-force that circulates through the channels and allows our body to function. It’s circulation can become impeded by emotional trauma or prolonged frustration, lack of exercise, or physical trauma. When the qi is stagnant, we may see functional obstructions like irregular periods, breast distention and pelvic pain. At this stage Western medical tests typically show no cause for infertility. However, because smooth qi circulation is needed for proper blood circulation, long-term stagnation of qi can lead to stagnation of blood. Once this happens, physical changes can be seen, ranging from blood clots in the menstrual flow to closed fallopian tubes and uterine fibroids. Men with these conditions may be more prone to headaches, digestive problems and may show abnormal sperm morphology (or shape). Acupuncture and herbal medicine combined can often help to facilitate the return of smooth circulation to the qi and blood.

Most women and men who come for treatment of infertility have a combination of the above patterns, making treatment quite complex. However, using these basic principles to treat infertility with acupuncture and herbs has been shown to be very effective, both with and without the kinds of powerful drug protocols required by more standard approaches. Of course, every person will respond in her own way, depending on their constitution, age, health status and willingness to follow the prescribed course of treatment. The length of treatment will vary depending on the diagnosis, but your practitioner should be able to tell you what to expect at the outset. For some people, radical lifestyle changes are required. Chinese medicine may not be able to overcome the effects of competing in marathons, or working 80 hours per week. These activities simply expend too much qi and yin to create the quiet and nourishing atmosphere a healthy embryo requires.
While no method of treatment is suitable for everyone, Chinese medicine offers most patients a logical place to begin the treatment of infertility. It is relatively noninvasive, often effective and very safe. In contrast to patients who use standard care alone and are often left feeling frazzled and exhausted, those using Chinese Medicine report a sense of improved overall well-being and improvement in physical symptoms whether or not they eventually conceive.

Encouraging Creativity with Acupuncture

Each of us is creative. Each of us has something of beauty to share with the world. That something may or may not be  traditionally artistic–we may paint or sing, or we may instead bring a new dimension to mothering or cooking or project management. Each of us longs to contribute something inspirational to others. So what stops us? Fear, self-doubt, lack of recognition of our talents, or maybe we’re just too busy. We’re so caught up in the petty details of what needs to be done next, that we become oblivious to the calls of the external world, asking for our greatness.

How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all of its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light against its being,
otherwise we all remain too frightened.
–Hafiz (14th century poet)

This  “encouragement of light” is the connection we feel when we are quiet. A connection with God, with source, with each other, with the universe. It’s the reminder that we are at once a tiny speck amongst millions of others and a powerful force capable of changing the world. It’s this sense of connection that allows us to give up egotistical concerns about the perfection of our petals or the depth of our color and simply open our hearts.

As an acupuncturist, I feel that one of my most important tasks is to try to provide the space in which people can quiet their minds enough to feel their own essential wholeness. People often say,  “I’m not reacting to little things the way I used to,” or “I just feel at peace after I leave here.”  From such peace, whole worlds can be created. From such peace, the obstacles to self-expression can be lifted.

In Chinese Medicine, we speak about restoring the natural “flow of qi.” When “qi” or energy becomes blocked, things hurt, we get frustrated and we often can’t see past the physical or emotional place we are in now. Getting the qi moving allows us to glimpse into that other world in which anything is possible. The realization that just a few stainless steel needles can provide some relief from suffering illustrates the miraculous capability we have to heal ourselves in an instant.

It’s not that acupuncture, per se, helps you lose the weight, become pregnant or paint a more satisfying picture. But receiving acupuncture can be one way to find that still point from which the solution can emerge. The more you can experience that profound peace, that sense that all is right with the world (or even better, that all is right with you), the less tolerant you become of the things in your life that leave you feeling not right. Whether it’s an unhealthy relationship, an addiction or job stress, the more you connect with the healthy part of yourself, the less willing you are to put up with these drains on your energy. As people progress with acupuncture treatment, they find themselves making small changes (or sometimes big ones) in their lifestyle that allow them to pursue interests they forgotten about. They begin to imagine themselves in situations they had always considered out of reach. They begin to blossom.