pain relief

Can Acupuncture Treat ...?

It's a very common question: "Does acupuncture treat …?" The short answer is YES!, no matter the condition, because acupuncture is a complete medical system.

While it’s tempting to hear that as equivalent to a specific drug being touted as a panacea, it’s really like saying all of medicine can address a wide variety of ailments. We’re much more comfortable with that concept. Western or allopathic medicine can help with lots of things to varying degrees. It’s much the same with acupuncture. That’s one of the reasons it’s more accurately referred to as a complementary medicine, rather than alternative medicine.

Saying acupuncture can treat almost anything is more like saying all of medicine has a lot of answers than that one particular drug is a cure-all.
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Acupuncture and herbal medicine are toolkits based upon a complex theoretical model of the human body as a reflection of the natural world. Primary importance is placed on your symptoms and experience so this is truly a patient-centered approach. For example, it doesn't matter if the thermometer says you don't have a temperature. If you feel too hot, we might call that a fever (and one of a variety of fevers depending on the rest of what’s going on). The practice of this medicine includes asking lots of questions so I can understand as best as possible what's going on for you since I can't feel what you feel for you.

Primary importance is placed on your symptoms and experience so this is truly a patient-centered approach.

I then also "read" your body through palpation (gently touching your body - usually your legs, arms, and abdomen), taking your pulses, looking at your tongue (the only visible muscle in the body), and other diagnostic methods. This helps to clarify the pattern because lots of things can cause cramps, for example, or headaches. What's causing yours?

The goal is to get a complete picture of the pattern at play, as opposed to treating each symptom individually. Something's not in balance, so there are a variety of expressions of that imbalance. Address the issue at the root and multiple signals can fade back or disappear.

When I’m working to combine all your symptoms with your diagnostic readings to form the right acupuncture treatment in an efficient amount of time.

When I’m working to combine all your symptoms with your diagnostic readings to form the right acupuncture treatment in an efficient amount of time.

This is why it sometimes looks like I'm doing mental calculus while I'm working. There’s a lot to think about! This is also why becoming an acupuncturist takes 3.5 years of graduate school (that’s the shortest estimate at full time with no summer breaks), clinical hours (our version of a residency), and rigorous study for a comprehensive licensing exam that includes traditional medicine theory, knowledge of hundreds of acupuncture point locations and functions, medical safety measures along with medical ethics and local laws, plus Western terminology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and standards of care for every major condition from depression to mastitis to stomach cancer, etc. plus mandatory continuing education. I confess I had no idea how qualified my acupuncturist was when I first started as an acupuncture patient!

Lots of things can cause cramps, for example, or headaches. What’s causing yours?

Because everything is placed within a pattern, we can get into all the stuff that you've lived with but never known how to describe or where to go to deal with it. I've heard everything from “I’m phlegmy, but only right after I eat” to "my legs feel like they're going to float away" to "I feel completely exhausted after my period" to "I have this reoccurring dream about a boat on fire and it makes me anxious about getting ready for bed."

This theory helps direct us in our selection of channels and points and methods for stimulating them to change and action, including a variety of ways of needling, some involving insertion. There are also a host of other treatment modalities such as internal herbal medicine, topical herbal medicine, moxibustion, cupping, a variety of forms of massage, and beyond.

Under the umbrellas of women’s health and emotional health, my patients come to me with a wide variety of chief complaints – the big need that brings you in the door. We focus our attention on that main thing, but because acupuncture is a holistic medicine, from there we also keep in mind the whole picture of your health. We discuss how you sleep, your diet and digestion, any aches and pains, etc.

I always smile when I've just seen a patient with anxiety and a fertility patient comes in next and asks hesitantly if I think acupuncture might help for their anxious thoughts. And vice versa! Same thing happens when they mention a family member has shingles (I've seen acupuncture reduce the severity of the immediate flare and any post-herpetic neuralgia). The vast coverage of this medicine is one of the things that allows you to rely on me as a resource as your situation shifts and changes. Because changing is part of life!

So while there are some conditions that we'll definitely want you to either seek Western care for first or create an integrative approach, many health concerns could potentially be handled primarily with acupuncture and/or herbal medicine. Please talk to a licensed acupuncturist like myself to figure out the best way forward for you.

that was Great! What’s Next?

About Shawna

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Header image: Death to the Stock Photo
Icons: 
Freepik and Anatoly from Flaticon

Need a Massage? Introducing Tyler

Update: July 2019 – Note that Tyler is now seeing patients on Tuesdays only in this space.

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I’m pleased to announce that Tyler Chamberlain, Certified Massage Therapist is now sharing our San Francisco clinic space at the Sutter Healing Arts Building. He’s seeing clients on Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays.

Tyler’s style is in harmony with my approach to gentle, personalized treatments. He offers time-based appointments that are then tailored to your needs on a given day using his massage skillsets including Swedish, Deep Tissue, Ortho-bionomy, Energy, and Lymphatic/Detox. Having experienced his work myself, I highly recommend his thoughtful, effective, and deeply relaxing care.

His introduction to you in his own words:

I'm fascinated with us humans.

Tyler Chamberlain, CMT

Tyler Chamberlain, CMT

Our anatomy is physically structured to work as a cohesive, singular being. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments can be identified, felt, and touched. But it's the layers within, the unexpected (and often magical) connections between the obvious and the less understood, that really excite me: how gentle stretching can allow the opposing muscle to relax; how non-invasive Vagus nerve work can almost immediately relax the entire body; how unraveling the fascia (the stuff that holds it all in place, and is usually neglected in massage) is so critical to overall muscle health; how simply receiving touch can invigorate the soul.

I've heard my role as a massage therapist described as that of a chameleon, and that resonates. Occasionally, we need to get deep into the muscles. There may be painful trigger points to be released, or a specific injury requiring attention. Or you may be pregnant, have tech-neck, or may be holding stress in your shoulders or abdomen. You may have pain walking uphill (but not down), chronic headaches, or unidentified pain in your back. You likely have some combination of "all of the things", and my passion is to work together to tailor the bodywork specifically for your needs, on that day. Then, ideally, a plan to address your goals over time.

Perhaps most importantly, I firmly believe in the power of human touch. It's OK to want that, to simply receive pleasure, to have a safe place where you can just feel good. To have an energetically clean and soft space to relax. It's fascinating how often I observe clients who simply want to receive a relaxing, pleasurable massage, and are almost embarrassed to say it, as if it's not a good enough reason. IT IS!

It's surprising to me how many massage therapists don't put any thought into the music. It's such a critical part, since we're really working with all the senses. From chamber music if you want to be soothed, to nature sounds if you want to zone out, to underground techno if you want to be energized, we'll find the right fit. 

I'm so thrilled to be sharing a space with Shawna, with whom I immediately felt an energetic & professional connection - it feels like we share a similar mindset within the space, with similar goals (and very complementary styles). There's really such great energy already in the space, and I hope to share in that energy with all of you.

Booking Details

Book with Tyler online on his website: www.tylerccmt.com

Rates (subject to change):

  • 60 min: $100

  • 90 min: $140

  • 120 min: $170

  • Intro offer: I so strongly believe a 90-minute massage is that much better than a 60, that I'd like to offer your first massage at $100 for 90-minutes.

Availability: Saturday, Sunday, & Tuesday from 10am-10pm

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Joyful Movement

I had to contend with the question of how to get enough exercise only in the last few years (Photo: Stephen Texeira for LINES Dance Center)

For most of my life if you asked me to describe myself some of the first words out of my mouth would be, "I'm a dancer." I danced consistently from age 7 into my 30s, first jazz, then contemporary. As much as possible I arranged my work and graduate school schedules around dance. I joined a local company and performed to a paying audience. Then suddenly I couldn't anymore. Or not the way I had, anyway. Thanks to incorrect repetitive movements and a loss in the genetic lottery now sometimes dancing hurts (honestly, sometimes walking hurts too). And even though I've learned to adapt with better body mechanics and supportive footwear, even though most of the time it doesn't hurt anymore because of those changes (and of course regular acupuncture and moxibustion), I feel as though I'm always having to evaluate how I'm doing. I'm in my head instead of my body, thinking, "Is today an okay day? Should I be doing this step this way?" I can't just let go and move the way I used to.

The point of all of this is to say that I had to contend with the challenge of how to get enough exercise only in the last few years. And after trying a wide variety of activities I finally found my new movement obsession that I can complement with occasional yoga, dance, or weights: choreographed lightsaber combat.

Learning reverse grip combat with Saber Guild (Photo: Bianca Hernandez / KQED)

Yes, for those of you who don't yet know me well, I am a big giant nerd, which serves me well in collecting and reading a ton of relevant medical literature as well as adoring Star Wars maybe more than is healthy sometimes. I have been obsessed with the galaxy far, far away since I was assigned homework by my seventh grade science teacher to watch at least two of the original trilogy (what were then the only) films over the Halloween weekend. All three movies were on repeat on a TV channel all weekend and right away I was hooked. Thus a love affair with Star Wars, but also with astronomy and physics took hold. My awe and excitement in my teacher's follow-up lesson on binary star systems was just the beginning; it was one of the main reasons I took a summer trading off between mission control and space flight simulations at the Advanced Space Academy (the high school version of Space Camp) and why I wanted desperately to be an astronaut. Though that's unlikely now, I still maintain it's possible (NASA, call me. We need to study the beneficial effects of acupuncture in space)!

But back to exercise.

Enter an offhand comment this summer by a friend mentioning that there are Jedi exercise classes in San Francisco and my immediate decision to sign up. I was nervous to join a new community, but found them very welcoming and equally passionate. Finally a new form of choreographed exercise that builds on my love of dance, the acting, costumes, and character work I was missing from my days as a drama kid, exploring martial arts (something I'd always thought I would enjoy but never got around to), and of course getting to play around with a big glowing sword. And all this with that element I'd been missing at the gym and local yoga classes - a community. Having people who will be happy to see me when I arrive (light and fun, friendship) and bug me if I don't show up to practice (accountability) is essential. A major bonus has been getting to perform for audiences again as well! Perhaps you saw me as Finn at the California Academy of Sciences in December. My 2018 goal is to perform as Rey!

So why am I talking about this here? How does this relate to medicine and wellness?

Back in the day I had long hair and danced every chance I got. (photo: Paula Chang)

Our qi is vital energy. When our qi stagnates (gets stuck), that's when we get pain. At first it might be a dull pain and we feel just a bit tight, but eventually it sets in further and that's what we want to prevent with daily movement. Many of my active patients feel terrible when they haven't had their regular level of exercise. That dragging feeling is early stage qi stagnation. To make matters worse, stress also stagnates the qi. So when we're so busy we don't have time to exercise, you're in double trouble. All the more excuse to have a spontaneous dance party at your desk or at least do a few gentle breathing qigong exercises, which I can teach you.

My suggestion is to do something you love that happens to be good for you rather than forcing yourself to do what you think you’re “supposed” to do.

Finding the right form of exercise can be hard. My suggestion is to do something you love that happens to be good for you rather than forcing yourself to do what you think you're "supposed" to do. If you love going to gym and lifting weights because of how it makes you feel and also you get to listen to a pump up the jams mix on your phone go for it! But if you loathe it and can barely get yourself out of bed on gym days, it's time to find something else. Go for a long walk with a friend and use it as catch up time. Bonus if it's in a beautiful green location where the color of spring leaves can help soothe your Liver and promote the free-flow of qi. Walk the long way around your block to drop off a package, giving yourself more time with your favorite podcast. Find a YouTube yoga channel with a personality and pace that suits you. Throw on your favorite song and air guitar and jump around for 2 minutes. Save your knees and punch the air in as many directions as your range of motion allows. Maybe do those arm exercises your trainer gave you years ago, but skip the weights if it's too much (or use cans). My point is simply that you have to figure out what level of activity is sustainable, enjoyable, and effective for meeting the goals you have set for yourself. Think outside the box because exercise can and should be fun.

After you make movement a regular habit, then you'll find you want to slowly increase the difficulty, duration, and intensity. The most important part is doing something active regularly and having it become a seamless part of your lifestyle. So if getting more exercise is on your list of resolutions, think about what brings you joy, breathe, and let it move you. Every step toward better health counts.

Curious about joining a class?

Shawna is featured in a recent KQED news article about lightsaber choreography groups in the Bay Area. From Fitness to Fencing: Fans Learn How to Fight Star Wars Style

Lightsaber photos courtesy of Bianca Hernandez / KQED.

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Contact Needle Treatment for Cancer Pain

The week before Thanksgiving I attended a lecture and demonstration on using contact needles for cancer treatment related pain by Dr. Keiko Ogawa of Kanazawa, Japan. Dr. Ogawa published a study in 2013 on using contact needles to treat chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). I was excited to see research on contact needles available in English and to learn this was the first time she was teaching in the US. There is a wealth of research on contact needle therapy in Japanese, but most of it has not been translated for a Western audience.

My silver contact needle tools (similar in size to golf pencils)

I often use a specialized silver contact needle tool in my treatments. Dr. Ogawa performed her study using disposable silver needles more similar to the stainless steel needles we use for insertion needling. Regardless of the tool, the method is to settle the needle on the relevant acupuncture point rather than inserting the needle into the skin. This is a painless form of treatment that has the added benefit of reducing infection risk, a key feature in treating cancer patients who may have weakened immune systems due to their cancer and/or their Western treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, etc).

From ancient times, it has been said that the larger the needle is and the deeper the needle is inserted, the stronger the stimulation will be. If the stimulation is too strong, the patients’ condition becomes worse, especially when their constitution is weak. CNT is known as a method of weak stimulation. In this aspect, CNT is effective and appropriate for treating cancer patients.
— Efficacy of Contact Needle Therapy for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy, 2013

CIPN often prevents patients from continuing valuable anti-cancer treatment and can make daily activity difficult or impossible. As the hands and feet are often the most affected, this can mean inability or difficulty walking or doing daily self maintenance and household activity, much less working or caring for others.

Dr. Ogawa explained and demonstrated a number of specific techniques for us that subtly address the causes of pain and weakness for a variety of patient types. I can now use these methods in a manner specific to an individual patient. Treatments consist of 15-20 minutes for the front and 15-20 minutes for the back. Based on patient strength, we may either combine front and back treatments or do only one side per week. There is a set of points and treatment methods we'll use in every treatment and another set I'll choose among based on how you are doing during that particular visit.

I love that this approach highlights the key approach of Japanese acupuncture: to do as little to the body as possible to assist it in bringing itself back to balance. Your body is always trying to regulate itself and my methods are meant to help that process, not to do all the work and tire you out or make you reliant on treatment to feel well.

Though this study has a very small number of patients, it has promising results to be explored with a larger sample size, making it a successful pilot study. Both improved movement ability and a decrease in breakthrough pain (in other words the sudden sharp sensation of pain or shock) can improve quality of life to a strong enough degree that contact needle therapy using these methods is something I am happy to offer to my patients.

Read the full study "Efficacy of Contact Needle Therapy for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy" by Keiko Ogawa et al. in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2013, Article ID 928129

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Acupuncture Better Than Morphine for Acute Pain in Recent ER Study

Originally posted as Acupuncture Beats Injected Morphine for Pain: Groundbreaking Study by Sayer Ji

An amazing new study has found that acupuncture, the ancient practice of using needles to stimulate bodily self healing, is more effective than intravenous morphine for pain. 

A truly groundbreaking study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine titled, “Acupuncture vs intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain in the ED,” reveals that acupuncture -- one of the oldest techniques to treat pain -- is more effective, faster in relieving pain, and with less adverse effects, than intravenous morphine.