theory

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.

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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

What Autumn Holds for You

Seasonal change isn’t instant. Especially here in the Bay Area, it’s gradual. 1 step forward, 2 steps back, until it isn’t. It takes a special focus to notice it as it shifts. We may yet get our warm Late Summer days that often show up in late September/ October, but Autumn has already been happening. There’s that chill in the air. A certain crispness. A lot of complaints of dry throats.

My favorite tree on the Vassar Farm (Oct 2003)

My favorite tree on the Vassar Farm (Oct 2003)

Eastern Medicine takes its cues from the natural world. As it is in nature, so is it in our bodies and emotional landscapes. Spring and Summer both have an energy of new growth and expansion. There’s a fullness and flourishing. In Autumn, we start to draw back into the interior.

There are five elements (sometimes also called Five Phases) in Eastern Medicine: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. The Five Elements have corresponding seasons, tastes, channels, energies, diseases, and so much more that there is an entire school of thought in Chinese Medicine defined by this focus.

Autumn is the Metal season. Metal cuts like a knife and holds like a copper cup, dividing and separating, creating boundaries. This season we ask, What do you need that you should keep hold of? What is not yours that you can release?

Classically in cultures around the world this is the season for harvesting. It’s a time to take stock of and appreciate the bounty the year has brought you. What have you accomplished? Be grateful and take pride.



The Metal meridians: Lung and Large Intestine

The emotion of the Lungs is Grief.
As we take stock in this season of our year and our lives, certain goals and accomplishments we may have set no longer serve us. They may be inaccessible or simply no longer appropriate. It’s ok to grieve that loss or change before moving forward. Once you’ve allowed yourself space to grieve, you can become clear and focused, paring back to the essentials to figure out what the new or important goals are and get them done. You can do it! There’s still time!

If you have lost someone or something this year or in this season, you may find that the grief feels larger or has resurfaced. That’s natural, but it doesn’t mean you have to feel it alone or that there isn’t a supportive therapy you can reach to, from speaking that grief with friends and family, to working with a trusted therapist, to seeking acupuncture to balance the emotions and meridians. Grief is a natural emotion, but it also shouldn’t be overwhelming forever. If it’s feeling unmanageable, please ask for help.

The corresponding emotion of the Large Intestine is Letting Go.
Don’t keep it in. Let that sh*t go!

Autumn’s climate is Dryness, which injures the Lungs.
There’s a danger of holding too much in, in that it can dry out and get stuck (sometimes literally, as constipation or dry phlegm). It’s important to keep your Lungs hydrated and strong as they govern your immune system. Lily bulb and pears are wonderful supporters of the Lungs.


My Fall recommendations:

  • Make sure your favorite sweater is within reach and put the kettle on

  • Always carry a scarf (aka make sure your neck is covered)

  • Stock up on pears (amazing just as they are or steamed, baked, or poached with ginger and honey)

  • Come in for acupuncture to address your emotional health and strengthen your immune system before you feel yourself coming down with a cold!


FOUND THIS INTERESTING? RELATED POSTS ON A CUPPA QI:

Treating Stress, Anxiety, and Depression with Acupuncture

Why is Chicken Soup Good for a Cold?

Stress Relief and the Pantone Color of the Year


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 and Pear Images: Unsplash

Japanese Meridian Therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Classical and Clinical Comparison

Japanese Meridian Therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Classical and Clinical Comparison

A Note From Shawna

This paper was originally titled, "Classic Texts: The Foundation of Japanese Meridian Therapy Assessed Clinically in Comparison to Traditional Chinese Medicine." I wrote it during the final years of my masters program in acupuncture at AIMC Berkeley for a course on classical texts.

This paper presumes knowledge of the medicine so is most appropriate for other practitioners, but as patients often ask about Japanese vs Chinese medicine, a general audience might find it interesting to skim. I'm happy to discuss any questions you may have after reading.

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How can Japanese Meridian Therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine have come from the same classic texts and yet come to such different conclusions for diagnosis and treatment? This is the question I chose to consider by delving into Chapters Sixty-Nine and Seventy-Five of the Nan Jing, considered the foundation of Japanese Meridian Therapy.

Meridian Therapy was founded in the 1930s out of a desire to “reexamine the classics and to clinically test the knowledge gained therein in order to extract the truth” (Kuwahara, xvii). The principle methods of Japanese Meridian Therapy (JMT or MT) are to palpate and assess the meridians, using the pulse for both diagnosis and continual assessment of the progress of treatment, and to use the meridians in this way to understand the balance of deficiency and excess caused by pathogens, the seven emotions, and the fundamental interaction of the meridians and organs to themselves and each other (the Five Phases). This is fairly different from Eight Principle and Zang Fu Diagnosis as interpreted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In the TCM approach, we utilize the four diagnostic methods (asking, looking, listening, and palpating), base our diagnosis on the collection of symptoms and signs based on the chief complaint, and identify a specific pattern based on the organs, yin/yang, and body elements (like blood, body fluids, and qi) in disharmony, all of which determines the course of treatment. Depending on the TCM practitioner, palpation may be used to refine the choice of points (this is common at least in the case of choosing local ashi points) or at the extreme they may only use the trusted points in texts from Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion (CAM). I admit this is a gross simplification of the vast differences within the practices of TCM and JMT respectively, but seeing from the extremes can help to highlight the differences between the disciplines.

Treating Jetlag: Modern Acupuncture

To understand acupuncture as a developing form of medicine, let's examine how we handle a fundamentally modern ailment: jetlag. There is no ancient equivalent for having traveled so far so fast as to feel out of time. Yet jetlag responds well to acupuncture treatment. How?

We find success in treatment when our understanding of theory and diagnosis is strong. Thus, a good practitioner does not rely on specific protocols, but on our grasp of medical theory and diagnostic principles to create the best treatment for an individual patient, no matter the ailment(s).

Photo credit:    Unsplash

Photo credit: Unsplash

Common jetlag symptoms include insomnia, irritability, inability to focus, and disorientation. Therefore it makes the most sense to assess and balance the channels that pertain to the body's internal and external sense of itself (yin wei and yang wei) and bring the mind and body back to a grounded present by choosing a point along the center line (preferably one that calms shen, the concept of mind or spirit). Sometimes additional grounding by using the points of the yin qiao and yang qiao channels is also helpful. These channels control gait and balance for the inner and outer aspects of the legs (in addition to a myriad of other symptoms and functions).

This is an elegant approach and one that suits most patients. However, there is always room for adaptation and individualization. Perhaps the patient also needs immune support or pain management after their travels. Adding points or using different channels will still work if the practitioner is paying clear attention to the patient's presentation and needs.

In addition to treating jetlag for patients after travel, I have successfully used this method on myself to prevent jetlag by applying vaccaria seeds (wang bu liu xing) to acupuncture points before boarding and continuing to wear them through air travel. I found this worked better than only using an ear acupuncture protocol (including ear shenmen, point zero, insomnia points, and the pineal and endocrine gland points), but I have not yet tried to combine them.

Vaccaria seeds are herbal medicine applied to acupuncture points to gently stimulate the point and extend treatment over a few hours to days. Magnets or other metals are sometimes used instead of the seed, but the key is gentle pressure on the acupoint. Your practitioner will show you how to gently press the seed to stimulate the point intentionally and direct you how often intentional pressure is advised. Seeds may fall off on their own or need to be removed after 3-5 days depending on advice from your practitioner. Side effects are rare, but if the point itches or feels too sensitive with the seed on, simply remove the seed and contact your acupuncturist.

As you can see, it's just a seed on sticky tape like a small bandaid.

As you can see, it's just a seed on sticky tape like a small bandaid.

Vaccaria seeds can be applied to any point on the body, but because they are commonly applied to one of the hundreds of points on the ear, they are often referred to as earseeds.

Vaccaria seeds can be applied to any point on the body, but because they are commonly applied to one of the hundreds of points on the ear, they are often referred to as earseeds.

Consider acupuncture to decrease or prevent jetlag either before you depart or upon your return. Happy travels!

Many thanks to my teacher Mike Morgan for shaping my initial thoughts on treating jetlag.

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.

Photo credit: UnsplashUnsplash, earseed photos by Shawna