By Andrea Rivera
Patients often have extra curiosity or surprise when I insert needles into their ears. “Why do you put needles in the ear?” For practitioners, it’s just another area of the body to utilize in treating our patients, the same as needling one’s leg, arm, face, or scalp. However, like scalp acupuncture, auricular acupuncture has its own unique theoretical basis as well as different developments and research compared to traditional body acupuncture. Both had their historical origins in ancient China. Technically, auricular acupuncture can be used alone to treat various conditions of the body.
Body acupuncture is based upon a system of 12 meridians which run throughout the surface of the body as lines of energy force. The ear is a self-contained microsystem that affects the whole body. When we treat the ear, we locate points on it based on an anatomical arrangement of the body onto the ear with the brain and upper portion of the head being on the lobe and the rest of the body following in order to the top of the ear. The body is imaged onto the ear in the fetal position, this makes the spine lie along the raised ledge of the ear, that ledge is called the antihelix.
This mapping of the body onto the ear was put into place by the pioneering work of Dr. Paul Nogier in France. I like the story so I’ll share what I’ve read. In 1950, Nogier was “intrigued by a strange scar which patients had in the external ear.” He found that the scar was due to a treatment for sciatica involving cauterization of the antihelix by a lay practitioner, Mrs. Barrin. The patients were unanimous in stating that they had been successfully relieved of sciatica pain within hours, even minutes, of this ear cauterization. Barrin had learned of this auricular procedure from her father, who had learned it from a Chinese mandarin. Nogier later stated “I then proceeded to carry out some cauterizations myself, which proved effective, then tried some other, less barbarous processes.” A simple dry jab with a needle “also led to the relief of sciatica if given to the same antihelix area, an area of the ear which was painful to pressure.” He had already studied the works of a French acupuncturist and was open to the use of acupuncture needles. From the low back area on the antihelix and further experimentation, the rest of the body was mapped onto the ear.
The theories of what is happening during auriculotherapy are many. I tend to favor the endorphin (endorphins are natural pain relieving biochemicals, ear and body acupuncture have been found to raise blood serum and cerebrospinal fluid levels of endorphins) and neurophysiological theories. We can also look at innervation of the ear and see that branches of the trigeminal, auricular, occipital, and vagus nerve** run through the ear and by needling over (not into, let it be known we’re never needling into nerves, anywhere) the free nerve endings create communication with those nerves and what they control.
How do we decide where to place the needles? We look for localized skin surface changes such as discolored areas, flaky skin, tenderness, or lowered skin resistance (electrodermal activity of the area is high) and this presents to the practitioner as a “soggy” area when pressed. These are the effects of micro-vasoconstriction. Heightened activity in specific sympathetic nerves leads to the regional reduction of blood circulation, which then leads to cellular damage in small areas of the skin that overlie the ear. A needle in these areas should then improve blood flow and balance that heightened activity.
Although the ears can be just as sensitive as areas on the body to needling, most people report less nervousness and discomfort with ear acupuncture! I also find that once I get the ear needles in, the deep relaxing effects of the treatment really kick in.
Thanks for reading!
**The vagus nerve is considered “the mind-body connector” and gives us that “gut feeling”. It influences eye contact, human emotion, and detects the unexpressed nuances of communication. It begins in the brain, traverses the head, down the spine, into ears, lungs, heart, liver, spleen, gallbladder, kidney, pancreas, intestines, reproductive organs, and the ureter. To affect the vagus nerve alone is a great reason to needle the ears!
Oleson T. Auriculotherapy Manual: Chinese and Western Systems of Ear Acupuncture. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Health Care Alternatives; 1998, p.1-25
The color of the marks left after cupping may give your acupuncturist information on your underlying health. Dark purple marks indicate a lot of blood stagnation in the tissues. When blood sits in the muscles without adequate movement, it becomes deoxygenated. This deoxygenated blood has a darker color than freshly oxygenated blood, which will appear brighter red in color. For this reason, your acupuncturist can assess improvement in your overall condition based on the lightening of your cupping marks over multiple sessions. This can also help hone your provider in to the area that needs the most therapeutic attention.
While it is most common to use cupping for muscle pain, that’s not all it’s good for. The next time you come down with a cold or cough - call us up. Cupping has been shown to help with respiratory conditions and boosting the immune system. Some even find it can reduce their seasonal allergies. The cups can be left in one place for a few minutes, or you may feel your acupuncturist sliding the cups along your tissues to break up fascia and improve the movement of qi along a channel. Your acupuncturist may also use cupping to help with your overall pattern differentiation. Important acupuncture points lie on either side of the spine all along the back. These specific points relate to channels throughout the body which, when out of balance, can result in a set of predictable symptoms. By observing the cupping marks left after a 10-15 minute session, your acupuncturist can be better informed about your entire body’s constitution and state of balance.
By Andrea Rivera
We have a TDP lamp, and we love it!
The TDP (short for the Chinese word Te-Ding Dian-ci-bo Pu, Special Electromagnetic Spectrum) is the gangly looking contraption hanging out in our treatment rooms. It has also been referred to as a Far Infrared Mineral Lamp. As practitioners, we like to use the lamp over the areas of complaint or areas we think could benefit the most while acupuncture needles are in place. We like to think that the electromagnetic waves (the good kind) and heat it emits increases the efficacy of the needles as well. We may also use it before we massage trouble areas as a way to “pre-heat” the musculature. We are able to feel a softness in the tissues after they’ve been exposed to the lamp. The tissue becomes warm pliable putty in our hands. We generally keep it in one area for 15-25 minutes.
In our practice we apply our lamp most commonly to provide temporary relief of minor muscle and joint pain or stiffness. The TDP lamp is also able to reduce joint pain associated with arthritis, to induce an increase in local circulation where applied, and to relax muscles. It can also reduce muscle spasms, and aid in the healing of minor sprains and strains. This is the cut and dry of it. Where it came from and how it works is quite neat and a little complex, if you’re curious, read on.
The story goes that early in 1970's, an odd and interesting phenomenon was noted at a century-old ceramic factory in a rural area in China. This factory had extremely poor working conditions. The workers there stood in mud for much of the work day and the new production manager recognized these abject working conditions, becoming concerned that the workers would be troubled with arthritis and other related ailments due to these conditions. After some investigation, it was found that the side effects of standing in the mud were the opposite of the original concerns. They found that there was not a single case of arthritis among the workers. After interviewing elderly factory employees, the same findings were indicated: no residual effects of any kind were found among the people who had been employed at the factory. Upon a full-scale scientific investigation, scientists discovered a single anomaly: an electromagnetic reading in the far-infrared spectrum emanating from the kiln used to fire the ceramics. Analysis of a metallic slag in the kiln, accumulated over years of buildup, showed it was made up of 33 minerals. These minerals happen to correspond with 33 essential minerals in the human body, and when heated sufficiently, radiate far infrared energy exactly like the human body. Scientists worked feverishly to reproduce the effect in a portable device, resulting in the TDP lamp.
The key part of this lamp is its heat-treated black clay, which contains 33 different essential mineral elements for the human body. Most heat lamps use a common infrared bulb. When activated by a built-in electric heating element, the ceramic plate emits a unique spectrum of electromagnetic waves in the infrared range of 2 to 25 microns which is compatible with the bio-spectrum waves released by the human body. This allows for maximum absorption. The absorbed energy promotes microcirculation, metabolism, and strengthens the immune system as well as tranquilizes pain in the body. In China, the TDP Lamp is called a 'Miracle Lamp' because it does not give off any visible light and it has been widely used to treat over 100 chronic conditions.
According to Alternative Medicine Magazine, “Although the wave lengths of far infrared radiation (FIR) are too long for the eyes to perceive, we can experience its energy as gentle, radiant heat, which can penetrate up to 3.5 inches beneath the skin. Among FIR's healing benefits are its ability to stimulate inflammation, which is necessary for a period of time in order to heal injuries such as a pulled muscle. FIR also appears capable of enhancing white blood cell function, thereby increasing immune response and the elimination of foreign pathogens and cellular waste products. Additional benefits include the ability to stimulate areas of the brain which control the production of neurotransmitters involved in biological processes as sleep, mood, pain sensations, and blood pressure thus enhancing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the body's soft tissue and the removal of accumulated toxins by improving lymph circulation."
Many of our patients especially enjoy the lamp in the winter months, due to it’s deeply warming effect. We’ve even had a patient buy a lamp of her own after she found it to be incredibly effective in comforting her raynauds symptoms and surrounding muscle and joint pain. She found the TDP lamp to give her relief while a far infrared bulb was quite irritating and resulted in unwanted inflammation. It’s hard to say why she found that one is better than the other, perhaps the clay plate’s spectrum was easier for her to absorb. At any rate, we’re enjoying having one more effective tool in our toolbox and hearing the positive feedback from our patients.
Cheers to good old fashioned heat, electromagnetic waves, far infrared radiation, and mineral rich clay!
As many of you reading this know, I have been away on maternity leave for the past month. In honor of my return to the office, I am taking a moment to share a bit of my story. Of course I could write for days about Parker, my now one month old baby boy, but I will refrain from doing too much of that and focus on the bit that relates to Acupressure. But first, I will shamelessly share a photo... or perhaps two.
And with those out of the way, I can continue!
I went into labor hoping to avoid as much medical intervention as possible. Being an acupuncturist, it’s no surprise that I believe in the power of the body’s innate ability to heal and care for itself. This being said, I chose to deliver at a hospital where I could have access to any help that became potentially necessary. I have no regrets for this choice, and am beyond grateful for the nursing staff that helped me through the birthing process. But this post is about the incredible influence acupressure had on my experience. Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but instead of using needles to access points on the body, firm pressure is applied.
The star of this story is LI4. Many of you know this point. If you’ve been to acupuncture it may have been used for pain or “stagnation” somewhere in your body. If you have headaches or menstrual pain there is a very good chance your practitioner included this point in your treatment plan. It stands for Large Intestine 4 and is located in the soft tissue between your thumb and pointer finger. Go ahead, pinch around in that area. Tender? It usually is.
Going into labor, I admit that I didn’t have much of a structured plan for how I would get through whatever mystery was lying ahead (this was my first pregnancy). I did however have a handful of acupuncture points for pain relief that I wanted my husband to know about. Being a good sport, he packed away my 20 page print out on “Natural pain relief techniques for childbirth using Acupressure” by Debra Betts and promised to read through it when we got to the hospital. As all procrastinators can relate to, the print out remained nicely folded in his hospital go-bag without ever making an appearance. But it didn’t matter - there was really only one point that seemed to be necessary in the heat of the moment.
I had a relatively short active labor, but had it not been for my husband pinching this point with all his might, I’m not sure I would have made it through without begging for an epidural. You see, I was part of the mere 10% or so of people who choose not to have an epidural in the hospital setting. Because of this point, I was able to achieve my goal. Nurses told me later that the epidural anesthesiologist rolled her eyes when she heard I was a first time mom hoping not to use pain medication. She said she’d give me about an hour before I was changing my mind. Again, if not for LI 4, she would have been right!
A skeptic would argue that pinching anywhere on the body could take the mind away from the pain of the contraction and therefore be helpful. Maybe... but after my experience I’d beg to differ. And for any of you that have experienced childbirth, it’s incredibly hard to imagine that a simple “pinch” could reduce the pain of pushing an 8 lb human through the birth canal. But alas, I’m here to tell you that it did. The few contractions I had to endure without a pincher grasp on LI 4, were a near 50% more intense than the ones where my husband was obediently gripping the point like his life depended on it. Research presented by Michael Corradino, a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine as well as the founder of Neuropuncture LLC, suggests that this point reduces pain by stimulating the hypothalamus to release beta endorphins (poly-opioid peptides that regulate the perception of pain) to block pain signals.
According to the nursing staff, loosely 80-90% of hospital deliveries in Missoula are done with an epidural. I wonder how that percentage would change with the regular use of LI 4. Granted, I respect that many women don’t have the same arguably insane drive to forgo pain medication... but there are certainly a handful that arrive at the hospital with the hope of experiencing childbirth sans pain medication and end up electing to have the epidural.
If you fall into the small percentage that want to utilize every resource before opting for the epidural, don’t overlook the usefulness of acupressure. And perhaps, have your partner become familiar with the points (there are more than just LI 4) before you are huffing and puffing through contractions! And lastly, I will leave you with the reminder that no matter how your labor and deliver goes there is no right or wrong way to bring a baby into the world. Once they’re in you arms, the rest is history.
By Andrea Rivera
I'm going to talk about sleep and insomnia from the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view. I’m using what I’ve learned from a very successful sleep specialist, Damiana Corca, and the leader of sleep studies in TCM, Hamid Montakab.
It wasn’t until I started talking regularly about people’s sleep patterns (via asking detailed health history information before acupuncture sessions and herbal consults), that I realized just how many people don’t experience healthy sleep, or don’t realize that their sleep patterns are troubled and a larger problem than they think. Did you know that insomnia is considered CHRONIC when a person suffers from some type of insomnia for at least three nights a week for over a month? That’s not a very long time. I think that many people continue on with disturbed sleep this often for months, even years, without addressing it.
So what is healthy sleep? These are a few of the basics on what TCM considers healthy sleep:
To contrast, any kind of insomnia may present like this:
From this we gather that healthy sleep is achieved by reaching the proper depth and length of sleep.
In TCM, insomnia is a symptom, not a disease. Certain patterns of disharmony will result in disturbed sleep. Chinese medicine diagnoses the underlying patterns causing insomnia. When sleep issues are present without any obvious environmental cause, TCM can target the body’s imbalances to harmonize energies and create the internal environment necessary to achieve healthy sleep.
The standard approach to treating insomnia is with medications. Unfortunately, drug therapies present troubling side-effects like dependency. According to Montakab, sleep that is induced by hypnotics is not physiologically normal:
Your practitioner can also provide council on achieving proper sleep hygiene and making lifestyle changes geared toward better sleep. I’ve started treating sleep with almost every patient I see, no matter what their chief complaint is, and have seen it improve other areas of their health simultaneously. Healthy sleep is the cornerstone of healing.
Are you a woman who has struggled with acne, irregular menstrual cycles, PMS symptoms, or a general lack of vitality? If so, this following protocol is for you. Seed cycling is a safe and effective way to help your body balance hormones so as to even out the extreme ups and extreme downs that many of us deal with on a monthly basis. Estrogen and Progesterone are the primary hormones that dance in balance throughout the 28 days of your cycle and it is normal that you will feel subtle differences when the hormones spike and drop. However, it is all too common for these hormones to be in either excess or deficiency, which leads to symptoms that have caused women to dread one week out of every month. Rather than dread the one week a month (or for some, even more) seed cycling will help support your body in it's normal processes so that you can honor and respect what your gorgeous, feminine body is capable of.
Seed cycling was shared with me by a naturopathic doctor and has since been a core part of regulating my cycles and preventing cystic acne breakouts. I have seen it help countless women and I always come back to it when I find my hormones have "lost their way". As with any condition, we always recommend talking with your primary care physician about your symptoms and all the modalities you are using, or wish to use to help your body thrive.
What is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is a daily practice of eating specific seeds to help balance hormones and reduce symptoms commonly associated with PMS. It is recommended by natural and complementary practitioners whom view food as medicine. The goal with seed cycling is to support the natural balance of the hormones that govern menstruation. Estrogen naturally rises during the first half (14 or so days) of a woman’s cycle and slowly falls during the second half. Progesterone is released after ovulation and is maintained by the follicle left behind so as to support a potential pregnancy. If too low or too high, either of these hormones can cause the undesirable PMS symptoms that many women are familiar with. Eating the appropriate seeds on a daily basis can support your body to balance estrogen and progesterone so that symptoms such as acne, bloating, irritability, gnawing hunger, low libido, tender breasts and water retention don’t occur.
What seeds are used and why?
Flax - high in lignans which block excess estrogens and promote healthy cell membranes
Pumpkin - high in zinc. Zinc supports progesterone release
Sunflower - high in selenium, a mineral that is essentail for liver detoxification
Sesame - contains lignans (not quite as potent at flax seeds) to help block excess estrogen
All seeds should be freshly ground and stored in the refrigerator. Store for no longer than 5 days to avoid rancidity.
How-To Seed Cycle:
Use the chart below to match the seeds you consume with the day of your menstrual cycle. Remember, day 1 of your menstrual cycle is the first day of bleeding and day 14 is typically ovulation. However, if you have cycles that are shorter or longer than 28 days, match the seeds you consume to the follicular phase. Incorporating seed cycling into your routine will allow you to begin to pay attention to your bodies natural rhythms. If you are currently not menstruating, begin the seeds for the follicular phase on the next full moon and switch to the luteal phase seeds after 14 days. Continue this pattern for atleast 3 months to notice the changes that may occur. Note that oil is also part of the protocol. Adding in Fish and Evening primrose oil provides your body with the necessary fats to make sex hormones.
Follicular Phase - Day 1-14 (first day of bleeding until ovulation)
1T Flax seed
1T Pumpkin seed
1500-2000 mg Fish oil
Luteal Phase - Day 15-28 (post-ovulation through pre-menstruation)
1T Sunflower seed
1T sesamee seed
1500-2000mg Evening primrose oil
We recommend that you track your symptoms along with your Basal Body Temperature so that you can tune into the progress you are making and the subtle changes that accompany seed cycling. Sharing this information with your acupuncturist will allow them to have greater insight into the balance of your bodies yin (estrogen) and yang (progesterone) which will enable them to provide the best possible treatment to help your hormones find their optimal balance.
My acupuncturist wants to use Electroacupuncture, What is it and how will it help?
E-Stim stands for Electrical Stimulation a technique that is also known as electroacupuncture. It sounds scary and archaic, but in fact, it is a modern form of healing used by practitioners of many different professions. Perhaps you may be familiar with a TENS unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), a machine used by many chiropractors and physical therapists. Electrical stimulation works in a similar way as a TENS Unit to stimulate the nerves and adjust the messages of pain that are being sent to the brain. However, because the electrodes are attached to needles which are inserted subcutaneously, electrical current is able to travel through the tissues without incountering resistance from the skin.
Electrical stimulation has been used as far back as 2750 BCE, where archeologists have found stone carvings showing electric fish being used for pain. In 1757, Ben Franklin used an electrical device to treat frozen shoulder and post stroke paralysis. In the 1800's, a man by the name of Carlo Matteucci discovered that injured tissue generates an electrical current. However, it was not until the 1930's that there was published information on electroacupuncture in China.
Today, acupuncturists use electrical stimulation to treat a variety of symptoms. Most commonly it is used to treat pain or muscle spasms, muscle atrophy, impaired joint or muscle function, poor circulation, inflammation or paralysis.
While the description of connecting electrodes to needles which are inserted into the body conjures up images similar to that of a torture technique, rest assured; electroacupuncture creates a slight tingling or buzzing sensation in the local area. Practitioners are trained to properly adminster the therapy so that pain does not accompany the treatment. Depending on the placement of the needles and the desireable outcomes of treatment, painless muscle twitching may occur with the electrical impulse. Frequently, an improvement of muscle strength can be noted directly after a few minutes of electrical stimulation.
Click on the following conditions to see research pertaining to electroacupuncture and it's effects:
Depression and Anxiety
Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome
Allison lives and practices in the beautiful city of Missoula Montana. She is a licensed Acupuncturist, Massage Therapist and Chinese Herbalist.