Do you struggle with symptoms related to anxiety and stress? I've got some ways to help with that!
I could tell you all about how it's super common, and link to all the statistics and sites that say it's becoming an epidemic of the modern age. But you already know this, so I'm not gonna waste your time or mine. Instead I'm just gonna get straight to the point - what can you do help reduce your own stress and anxiety?
Common Misconceptions can delay or prevent treatment of the problem
Almost everyday someone asks me if acupuncture can help their sciatica because they haven't been able to find anything that works. And the answer is of course it can help. Here is a great meta analysis for you science geeks. TLDR? Don't worry I got you:
Okay now that we know acupuncture can help sciatica, let's get to the key part of this post - the basic misunderstanding of sciatica:
Okay, but what's that mean? A diagnosis is the reason a thing is happening, and a syndrome is just a description of the pain. E.g. Kidney stones are the diagnosis behind urinary pain. This may just seem like semantics but it's important that you know the mechanism causing your pain or you might not be getting the appropriate treatment.
Sciatic pain can be caused by a number of things, but is most often caused by a disc issue in the low back - which could be caused by a degenerative problem, a herniation, pregnancy, and even spondylolisthesis. Imaging such as x-rays and MRIs can help us learn if there really is a disc issue. But honestly lost of people have disc problems who never even have any symptoms. So even when people have sciatic pain are diagnosed with a disc issue, that might not still be the root cause. Often times sciatic pain is caused by something caused Piriformis Syndrome and has nothing to do with the low back. Here, take a look at the sciatic nerve:
As you can see it travels all the way down the back of the leg after it comes out from the lumbar spine, and goes right underneath the piriformis muscle. So when the muscle is very tight it can also compress the sciatic nerve, causing the exact same symptoms as lumbar based sciatic pain. If you have a piriformis problem but no one ever treats it, then you're not going to get lasting results. Of course some distal treatments on the channel can relieve some pain, but that tight piriformis is still there and it's going to start impinging on the sciatic nerve again. Thus, proper diagnosis is very important for effective treatment.
Luckily there are a number of physical assessments that a provider can do to determine if the issue is back related, piriformis related, or in some cases even both. So here's the rub, you're going to have to advocate for yourself. If your provider hears your symptoms and diagnoses you with "sciatica" but never does any physical assessment (or even simple palpation), then you may need to go see someone else who has a better understanding of the complexities involved with sciatic pain.
Finally, when you and your provider figure out what is causing the sciatic, then the treatment approach can be determined and your protocol can start. With low back and spinal/disc related sciatic pain, working on the low back with acupuncture needles can decrease pain by stimulating blood flow and relaxing the muscles which puts less strain on the spine and discs. Acupuncturists also use a variety of distal techniques meaning they can treat the pain in the channel from different areas of the body, so don't be surprised if they put needles all over the body. For piriformis related sciatic pain, the focus will of course be on the piriformis and releasing this muscle's tightness to let up the pressure from its exerting on the sciatic nerve. One easy way to get yourself feeling better is to use a foam roller to go across the piriformis and glutes.
If you're struggling with sciatic pain, contact Red Raven Acupuncture and come in for an assessment and see if you would be a good candidate for this approach.
Stay healthy, friends!
~The Red Raven
I wanted to talk about a nice trend I've started to see in patients this year, and it has to do with the transition from sick care to self care. Now what exactly do I mean by that? For an brief introduction, read my post on When To Try Acupuncture. But for now let's start with some definitions to help clear things up -
Sick Care: Seeking treatment or changing lifestyle to treat symptoms to find relief and stop the disease process.
Self Care: Seeking treatment or changing lifestyle before symptoms occur, making sure the body never starts the disease process.
This year I have seen a huge shift in patients coming in earlier and more regularly for treatments, and it's been tremendously helpful for their long term health. Instead of waiting for that little bit of neck tension to become a full blown headache or muscle spasm, people have been coming in to get it knocked out right away. Or when they start to feel a little run down or stressed out they come in for a treatment to boost their energy or chill them out. Why is this important? Because the longer you've been dealing with something, the longer it takes to get it taken care of. Think about how quickly you can lose muscle strength when you stop going to gym regularly, or how quickly your stamina goes down when you stop going for long walks or runs. You have to build up over time, and the same is true for your overall health.
Make this change for yourself comes down to one key thing: understanding when your body is starting to tell you it's getting run down. The top three signs that I see in patients coming in that let you body is starting to get out of balance are:
Recognizing these early warning signs it what will help you turn sick care into self care. Figuring out what self care is best for you is the next step. Of course I'm partial to acupuncture, as are most of my patients, but that is by no means the only form of self care. Massages are great for it, and if you can convince your family or friends to do it, some nice massages at home can be a game changer! Taking time to talk a nice long walk in nature can relieve a huge amount of stress and give your body a basic reset that it needs. Your know what your body loves and what makes it feel good, just try to listen more if you aren't sure.
Stay healthy, friends!
~The Red Raven
The secret is...
Make it FUN!
I know, too simple right? Nope. It really is that simple. Studies show that if you don't enjoy it then you will grow to despise it and quit. Plus the stress hormones released from the act of forcing yourself to go can lead to weight gain. Forcing yourself to go to the gym if you don't enjoy can literally have the opposite effect.
So what do we do to make it fun? After years of trying to figure it out I've come up with a few tips:
Stay healthy, friends!
~The Red Raven
Can Acupuncture and chinese herbs help with diabetes? The short answer is YES!
Diabetes is very common in my clinic and in San Antonio. We lead the national average by more than 4% and by 65, 1 in 3 San Antonians will have diabetes. But there's a lot that Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can do to curb that number, help with symptoms, and even balance hormones and blood sugars. It provides another great way to manage diabetes in addition to medication, and lifestyle and nutritional changes.
As we consume food, the body breaks it down into glucose (sugar) and is passed into the bloodstream. Then the body uses insulin to transport the glucose in to muscles, fat and liver cells. In diabetes though, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to transport the insulin and leaves the sugar in the bloodstream. This elevates sugar levels and leads to serious issues that if left untreated can cause blindness, heart attack, or kidney failure to name a few.
How Acupuncture Can Help
Acupuncture is a holistic approach to healthcare that nurtures the body by inserting very fine sterile needles into specific places in the body to promote healing. To learn more about the basics of acupuncture puncture check out this blog post. Ultimately acupuncture works on the regulatory systems in the body to help balance hormones and make insulin work more effectively. Combined with herbs patients often see marked differences in their symptoms and well-being. Of course, one should always work with their doctor and follow their instructions for using insulin. But pairing acupuncture and chinese herbs with dietary changes and lifestyle changes like exercise, patients can learn to manage their diabetes easier and live a fuller life.
People ask all the time, what exactly is acupuncture and how does it work? This is not a simple question to answer, but in this post I will attempt to provide an easy to understand explanation for the basic mechanisms and principles behind acupuncture.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of medical treatment that has had millenia to evolve into a complete holistic health care system. Licensed Providers use acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a treatment method helping millions or people become well and stay that way. Its non-invasive approach is not only almost completely painless, but has relatively few risks and side effects when compared to traditional Western medical interventions like pharmaceuticals and surgery.
Acupuncture encourages the body to heal itself naturally by enhancing immunity and the inherent recuperative powers we have. Through natural approaches, it improves overall function and well-being. One if those approaches is through the process of balancing 'Qi'.
Qi (or Chee) is an innate property of the body that flows through pathways which are called meridians in TCM. This substance provides nourishment to organs and cells in the body through the use of specific points activated by tiny needles. When this system gets blocked there is an imbalance which causes illness and symptoms to appear.
The Movement of Qi
Most imbalances are easily fixed by the body's inherent ability to heal. The body wants to be in balance and can usually find a way to get back to it. However, if the disruption is extreme or chronic, or the your body is already compromised and weakened, then disease, pain, and illnesses can take root.There are 15 main meridians in the body that Qi flows through in a day. Each one is connected to a specific organ system or gland. Think of the system as like a flowing river, where the river flows, life blossoms. Where Qi flows, the tissues of the body blossom - and healing occurs.
When the river stagnates, the flow is stopped and qi cannot get where it needs to and illness/pain occurs. This can happen through traumas - physical and emotional - stress, working too much, not working out enough, poor eating habits, or a number of other things the influence the abundance of Qi in the body.
More and more evidence is coming out showing that stimulation of acupuncture points causes the release and regulation of neurochemicals and hormones, helping restore the body's natural healing abilities and return it to a state of balance. Whether it's influencing the nervous system to relax in patients dealing with PTSD, helping break the cycle in patients suffering from chronic pain, or helping increase energy for patients suffering from Depression - the regenerative powers of TCM and Acupuncture are astounding.
During an initial treatment, a full health history is recorded and questions are about lifestyle and current symptoms. A physical examination is conducted including taking traditional pulse and tongue evaluations. This allows the practitioner to find Qi imbalances causing the symptoms and root cause of the illness. They will create a plan and begin inserting tiny, sterile needles in the appropriate acupuncture points. This can unblock the stagnation and rebalance the Qi. Ultimately this can eliminate pain, and return the body's natural ability to heal.
Stay healthy, friends!
The path of qi through the organ systems throughout the day:
Let’s talk about each of the channel systems in order from the #chinesebodyclock Everyday your qi travels through the channel system at specific times correlation to each of the organ systems. During these times there are some things that your body will respond extremely well to and have outlines some of them here so you can get just a little more in touch with your body. There are also things that should be avoided during these times as they can damage the the vital flow of qi and lead to longterm stagnation or disease. Here is a nice list of the first half of that systme.
5-7 AM: Wake up!
The Large Intestine’s time is from 5-7am and this is the best time for you to wake up. Drink a glass of water at room temperature, or even better warm water with lemon, to help facilitate your first “movement” 💩 Moistening the intestines and replenishing your body’s fluids is the perfect way to start your day!
Try not to sleep in as this can damage your qi and make you lethargic for the rest of the day. Even if you're tired, just get up and try to get that qi flowing. This is also not a great time for excessive thinking or mental strain, and it's best to avoid sex this early as it can also leave you drained for the rest of the day.
7-9 AM: The most important meal of the deal! For real though.
The next stop is 7-9am and corresponds to the Stomach. This is the best time to eat breakfast, take a little walk, and start working. Breakfast should be a warm #congee as it helps build the digestive fire 🔥 in the body. Cold cereal will douse the fire and can lead to chronic digestive disorders. An oat or rice based congee with go ji berries and walnuts is one of my personal favorites. 😋 The walnuts are great to support the kidneys and the go ji berries support the qi and the immune system.
Do not skip you breakfast!! I could write volumes on how important breakfast is, so be sure not to skip it. Also, don't rush your breakfast, or eat while scrolling social media and watching the news. Feelings of anxiety stop the digestive function of the body. Eat in a nice calm and quiet environment.
9-11 AM: Get to work!
From 9-11 am the spleen does its thing. It’s important to have eaten before this time because this is when the spleen will start to digest and build your #qi This is the best time to start strenuous activities like working out or working on a complex project for work or school because you have access to that brand new qi from your healthy warm breakfast ☺️😋🙏
Don't let that energy go to waste on social media. this is one of the most productive times a day. Help yourself stay focused and get a lot done by limiting social media. And don't wait to be told what to do, get to work on your projects even if you don't feel motivated to get started. you'll be amazed at how fast you can get into work during the phase of the qi cycle.
11-1 PM: Heart Healthy Lunch ❤️
This is of course the time to have lunch. This is the time of day when our digestive fire is peaking so its great to have all those hard to digest things like meat and raw fruits and vegetables. The emotion associated with the heart is JOY, so this is a great time of day to connect with peoiple who bring you joy. Have lunch with your dear ones and nourish the love in your life. The heart houses the "shen" or "spirit" in Chinese medicine, and the shen will grow strong if nourished in the right ways! It's is also a great time of day to take a short nap to keep your heart strong.
Don't focus on meaningless activities. The Heart is about joy! If you focus on stuff that is trivial, it can lead to feelings of meaningless in life. Make sure that activities done during this cycle are important to you.
1-3 PM: Get organized!
The Small Intestine sorts out “the good from the bad” in our gut. So the time from 1-3 pm is a great time to sort out the good from the bad in your life. Organize your life and get rid of what doesn’t bring you joy haha! If y’all are on Netflix you know what I’m talking about. Check out #mariekondo on her new show #tidyingup and find your #unexpectedjoy .
Now this is not the time to focus on the meaningful work, this is about discernment. Find the bad in your life and clean it out, find the good in your life and clean it up. But don't start new projects and bring fresh ideas in. Focus on the stuff that's already in your life and how it can help you.
Stay healthy, friends!
New Thoughts on Ligament & Tendon Injuries
For decades we’ve been told RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation is one of the basic tenets of sports injuries. But does it really help? In some instances it can be extremely appropriate, unfortunately these are pretty rare and severe situations like bone fractures and severe muscle trauma. The main concern when using RICE is to treat compartment syndrome - a condition where inflammation causes increased pressure in an area that can become quite dangerous. This is a very serious and painful condition which requires immediate medical attention, and in these cases inhibiting inflammation is helpful. But what about for everyday twists, sprains, and injuries involving ligaments and tendons? No, it's actually going to make it more difficult in the long run. Unlike muscles, ligaments and tendons do not have very much blood flow, and blood brings the healing properties to an injured area.
While it's true that icing will help with pain, because it numbs the area, it doesn’t actually help with healing at all. It stops inflammation by stopping blood flow, but like we said, increased blood flow is actually how the body heals. Check out this article if you want a deeper understanding of the inflammation process. When dealing with tendons and ligaments, we already have a limited about of blood, so using RICE will actually prolong recovery time. You can use it immediately after injury to help with the pain, but shortly after (48 hours or so) you’ll want to move to a different strategy that promotes healing rather than inhibits it. So what the hell am I supposed to do, you ask?!
The solution is MEAT: Movement, Exercise, Analgesics, Treatment.
Movement - we want to stimulate blood flow to the area, moving around and stretching up to pain tolerance will increase the flow of blood and fluid to the site of injury facilitating faster healing. Don't just let it sit there, this will lead to stagnation - the root of all illness in traditional Chinese medicine.
Exercise - we’re still stimulating blood and lymph fluids to come to the area with this one. The focus should be on eccentric exercises that load the joint and tendons with a little weight. Muscles turn from red to white (due to decreased vascularization/blood flow) as they turn into tendons and attach to the bone. Eccentric movements are when the muscle/tendon lengthens and strengthen the tendon end of the tissue, whereas concentric movements strengthen the muscle belly. Weight lifters know them negatives and it's basically the opposite of Don’t go for a 5k run, don’t max your deadlifts. Simple, stable and easy exercises are our focus. Here's a few good videos on our patient education page to get you started if you're still confused.
Analgesics - pain management is important, so let’s not throw it out the window. When you’re in pain, your body is stressed and its ability to heal is also inhibited. That being said, avoid NSAIDs, we want to let inflammation do its thing. Acupuncture, herbal medicine, contrast hydrotherapy, rest, these are all viable options. Even small amounts of tylenol are fine if that’s your jam.
Treatment - Here’s where a qualified medical professional will make sure you road to recovery is safe and effective. Whether it's acupuncture, physical therapy, massage, or whatever your favorite treatment is, make an appointment and get in to see your provider. But there are also some at home therapies you can do, especially contrast hydrotherapy. I cannot stress enough how powerful this therapy is for tendons and ligaments. The changing temperatures promote blood flow by expanding and contracting the tissues in the area. It's my go to for chronic ligament and tendon injuries. Do a cold wrap or ice bath for 1 minute for every hot wrap or bath of 3 minutes - generally about 4 times.
TLDR - RICE is good for a small amount of serious cases and for right after injury to reduce pain, but will prolong the healing in ligaments and tendons. MEAT enhances and promotes the bodies natural healing responses and gets you back in action faster.
Stay healthy, friends!
I get a lot people who want to try acupuncture, but keep putting it off and could never figure out why. When they finally come in, they feel so much better and ask themselves "why didn't I do this sooner?"
We have this idea that we need to be already healthy or healing, before we come get a treatment - which is ridiculous. But this is a pervasive thought, not only for patients but for practitioners. We might even be worse about it.
These are all things I've heard, and a few I've even said. When I look at them now, I realize how silly it is to put it off. Acupuncture helps with energy, it helps with sleep, it helps with immunity. Why in the hell am I waiting?!?
One thing I tell people is that if we aren't doing things that we know we should, that we know make us feel better and heal, then that in and of itself is a pathology. That pathology can be treated with acupuncture. It's most likely a qi stagnation or qi deficiency (or both) that's causing the issue. Don't wait for it to get better and you are eating healthier again before seeking treatment. Get acupuncture so it can help you get to that healthy space and continue to move forward!
Stay healthy, friends!
Bret Kyle Rogers, L.Ac.
Texas based acupuncturist, qigong teacher, and herbalist demystifying Chinese medicine. The author frequently links to Amazon.com for specific products. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases and appreciate your business!