Treating Fibromyalgia with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views Fibromyalgia (FMS) as a complex syndrome. It can consist of a combination of several different syndromes depending on the origin and specific symptoms of the person.

FMS is a disease that predominantly targets women aged 20 – 50 and creates a lot of pain and suffering. This chronic condition was often misunderstood by allopathic medicine physicians.

The symptoms of FMS can include generalized body pain, muscle stiffness, and fatigue. Symptoms are usually worse in the morning and after exercise. The pain is described as deep, shooting, throbbing, burning, or stabbing with certain tender spots. FMS is not a progressive or degenerative disease.

People also report chronic fatigue. Symptoms can also include poor sleep, numbness, headaches, tingling, fuzzy thinking, sensitivity to light or noise, and dizziness. Other symptoms can include irritable bowel syndrome, blurred vision, depression, cold extremities, and palpitations to name a few.

Western medicine does not have a lot to offer people who suffer from FMS aside from pain meds (which are not always effective) and sleeping aides. According to TCM disease theory the signs and symptoms of FMS are primarily due to a dysfunction of the liver and spleen.

Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of chi in the body. The liver is also strongly influenced by the emotions of anger, frustration, and resentment, which can block the chi or energy flow. This blockage can overflow into the spleen and impair the spleen’s ability to make blood resulting in a blood deficiency.

The spleen can also be impaired by poor eating habits (eating fried or raw foods, eating on the run, excessive stress, overthinking, and prolonged exposure to dampness. A weak spleen will produce dampness in the body. This condition will negatively affect the body’s ability to digest food and create stagnation.

Treatment of FMS consists of:

  • A bland diet, limiting simple carbs (sweets, fruits and milk products, soft drinks)
  • Acupuncture and acupressure to relieve blockages
  • Herbs and supplements
  • Physical activity, go slowly but have some activity every day.

Since each person is different it is important to be under the care of a licensed acupuncturist.

Treating Carpal Tunnel with Myofascial Release

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a painful condition which is caused by pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway surrounded by bones and ligaments on the palm side of your hand. The symptoms can include tingling, pain, numbness, and weakness in the hand and arm.

The causes of carpal tunnel can be repetitive hand motions, heredity, doing hand and wrist activities that involve extreme flexion or extension for a prolonged period, pregnancy (hormonal changes can cause swelling in this area), and other health conditions such as diabetes, thyroid imbalance, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Myofascial release is very effective in treating carpal syndrome because it loosens restrictions and breaks up adhesions around the flexor tendons.When the restrictions are removed inflammation and swelling are reduced and any fluid build up in the wrist joint can drain. Myofascial release is the preferred treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome because it effectively eliminates the pain, tingling and numbness without surgery.

Treating Whiplash with Myofascial Release

Whiplash is a neck injury created by a rapid back and forth motion of the neck. It is usually caused by a rear-end collision car accident, but can also result from sports accidents, physical abuse, and other traumas such as a fall.

The whiplash injury can be a strain or sprain but can also include other types of neck injury. Most people improve within a few weeks with pain meds and exercise, but others experience chronic pain and other lasting complications.

Some symptoms of whiplash

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Headaches starting at the base of the skull.
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Tenderness or pain in the shoulder

You can also have

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Memory problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Difficulty focusing

You should always be assessed by a doctor to rule out broken bones or other injuries. If you have chronic neck pain and impaired range of motion 4-6 weeks after a whiplash injury, Myofascial Release can help alleviate your symptoms.

With Myofascial Release we assess the client’s posture standing. We are checking shoulders and hips to see if they are level and in the same plane. We are looking for areas of muscle contraction, pulling, and hardness.

Treatment consists of gentle, sustained pressure and stretching to release the muscle contraction and restrictions in the connective tissue. These restrictions can keep the muscle in spasm and exert as much as 2,000 lbs. of pressure per square inch on the vertebrae and nerves. Once restrictions are removed pain subsides and range of motion returns. I know this from my own experience with neck pain. As with any holistic treatment, the longer you have had the issue, the longer it takes to resolve it.

Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome with Myofascial Release

wrist pain, tunnel carpal syndromeCarpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition that creates pain, numbness and tingling in the wrists, arms, and hands. It is created by pressure on the median nerve which passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist to the hand.

The causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) can vary from repetitive overuse of the wrist and hands, the anatomy of the wrist or the presence of underlying health problems such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. CTS usually affects the thumb, forefinger and the middle finger of the hand.

Many times, CTS is a chronic condition that is treated with splints, hot and cold compresses and ultimately surgery. Unfortunately, the results often are not optimal with any of these treatments.

I suffered from CTS approximately 10 years ago. The pain was so bad it would wake me up at night. I went to a neurologist and was diagnosed with CTS. I was told to wear a splint at night. That didn’t help much, but when I had a myofascial release session that week, I got relief.

Myofascial release helps to elongate the muscles and release restrictions in the fascia which are causing nerve impingement. CTS can be created by inflammation or restrictions in the hand, wrist, forearms, elbows or the shoulder. Once these entrapments are released the nerves can glide smoothly again.

My own CTS luckily has not returned.

Treating Piriformis Syndrome with Acupressure and Myofascial Release

glutes piriformis syndrome sciaticaOn my trip to Savannah last week, I had a very nice conversation with the woman sitting next to me. When I told her that I was a bodywork therapist; she asked if I knew of Piriformis Syndrome. Though I knew something about treating it, I was intrigued to do more research.

The piriformis is a flat, band-like muscle deep within the buttocks that runs from the front of the sacrum to the hip joint (head of the femur). It functions to laterally rotate the hip and is a core stabilizing muscle. The piriformis is important because the sciatic nerve runs under it, and in a small percentage of people, the sciatic nerve runs through it. Therefore, injury or inflammation to the piriformis can irritate the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica. When this occurs, it is called piriformis syndrome.

Piriformis syndrome is different from true sciatica which is usually the result of herniated spinal discs, physical trauma, osteoarthritis or years of prolonged sitting and bending. True sciatic pain also takes longer to treat.

The symptoms of piriformis syndrome are pain deep in the buttocks that may radiate down the back or side of the leg through the knee. This pain can present in many ways, sharp or dull and achy, or nagging with numbness and tingling. Symptoms are like true sciatica, but with piriformis syndrome pain usually stops at the knee and there are tender trigger points in the butt. It is best to consult a doctor for a definite diagnosis.

This syndrome is common to runners or people who sit for long periods of time commuting or at their job. My friend on the plane had recently run an extreme marathon. Overuse can create spasm in the piriformis, pinching the sciatic nerve. Piriformis syndrome is more common during the winter when people have been out in the cold. Treatment in Chinese Medicine would include acupuncture, acupressure, heat, bodywork, stretching and at-home care. The home care treatment would be applying heat to the area, applying sustained pressure to the trigger point by sitting on a tennis ball and gentle stretching.

“A simple stretch for the Piriformis muscle: sit in a chair with both feet on the floor. To stretch the right side, place your right ankle across the top of your left knee. Then gently lean forward until you feel the stretch in your butt. Repeat on the other side by reversing the action”.

It may take weeks to achieve pain relief from an acute problem, a chronic problem will take longer, but of course, everyone is different.

Myofascial Release and Chronic Pain

Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Myofascial Release is a hands-on bodywork technique that can help in reducing chronic pain and improve range of motion.  It accomplishes this by utilizing gentle sustained pressure into tight restricted muscles and fascia (connective tissue).

“Tight inflexible fascial restrictions can pull on muscles and other structures with up to 2000 pounds of pressure per square inch, causing pain, tension, and limited mobility.”

John Barnes

Myofascial Release can relieve not only temporary tightness but also long-held tension and chronic pain. I credit Myofascial release with helping me to heal my chronic neck pain.

I suffered from chronic neck pain for more than 10 years; the result of an ice-skating accident that occurred when I was 8 years old. My neck pain and restrictions became a problem more than 30 years after the whiplash accident. I was in constant discomfort or pain with my neck. When I slept with the wrong pillow, I would wake up with migraine headaches that would sometimes last all day.

My neck injury was the inspiration for my change of career. It led me to study Jin Shin Do® acupressure, Craniosacral Therapy and finally Myofascial Release. All these therapies have helped me on my healing journey, but I credit Myofascial Release with helping to heal my chronic neck pain.

I still must have the right orthopedic pillow, but I no longer wake up with migraines if I sleep badly. I would recommend Myofascial Release to anyone who suffers from chronic structural pain. It is amazing how good you can feel in your body at any age.

Chinese Medicine and Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatica is a painful condition which begins in the lower back and radiates down one or both legs sometimes into the feet. It is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve which extends from the lower back down the back of the leg.

Sciatica is usually cited as the result of a structural issue; a herniated or ruptured disc, muscle spasm of the low back or inflammation of the vertebrae or sacroiliac joint.

Traditional Chinese Medicine observes that this condition occurs more frequently during the cold damp weather of fall and winter.  Though structural problems are most often used to explain the pattern of pain, TCM also considers individual imbalances along with the external influences of cold, damp, heat or wind in combination as key in creating many painful conditions.

In TCM, sciatica and low back pain are thought to be the result of cold or damp blocking the body’s circulation, trauma creating energy and blood stagnation or from an underlying condition of deficiency in the body.

Acupressure and acupuncture are very effective in treating sciatica.  They help to identify the cause and contributing factors to the condition.  Muscle groups involved in creating the spasm can be successfully released. When the muscles lengthen they no longer pull on sensitive structures and the pain diminishes.

Though many people may present with sciatica, they may have different contributing factors or causes. Therefore, the treatment will depend on the individual’s specific symptoms.

Chinese Medicine and Sciatic Pain

The sciatic nerve originates from the lower spine and goes down the side of the leg to the foot. When inflamed or compressed it sends intense pain down the buttocks to the back of the leg and foot. It can also cause numbness or tingling and difficulty walking or standing.

Some causes of sciatica, aside from the structural issues of herniated discs, tight muscles or spinal stenosis, could be prolonged sitting on hard surfaces, keeping a wallet in your back pocket, sudden twisting or improper lifting of heavy objects.

Since many of us are traveling this time of year, it’s important not to overstuff suitcases and lift carefully. Acupressure and myofascial release are very effective in treating sciatic pain. They help to balance the energy, release tight muscles and increase circulation to alleviate discomfort.

Myofascial Release

Most of my blogs have been about acupressure and Chinese Medicine which has greatly impacted my life for the better. In the almost 30 years that I have been experiencing it and the 19 years that I have been practicing it, there is always more to learn. It is such a rich study and despite the fact that it was developed over 5 thousand years ago, it still holds validity for us today.

In this blog I want to discuss a large part of my practice, Myofascial Release. I was first introduced to Myofascial release in 2009. A friend of mine had a session and recommended that I try it. In those days I had constant neck pain/ discomfort from an old whiplash injury. The acupressure and other therapies I had tried improved my discomfort but if I slept in an awkward position I’d wake up in pain. After one session I knew that this was something I needed to continue with and to study. I could feel that my neck problems were connected to restrictions in the muscles in my back.

Similar to Chinese Medicine Theory, Myofascial Release as developed by John Barnes, describes the entire body connected by the fascial system (connective tissue) a three dimensional web which along with the muscles supports our body and facilitates movement. When we are injured or overworked our muscles and connective tissue can develop restrictions or blockages that obstruct the flow of energy and create soreness or tightness and decreased mobility. Overtime these restrictions grow similar to a spider web and attach to other structures or bones and can create pain. The restrictions become tighter and can squeeze the vertebrae together to create nerve pain.

Myofascial Release helps reduce the chronic pain and improve mobility by utilizing sustained pressure into the restrictions and releasing them one by one. Overtime you will experience relief from not only temporary tightness but also long held tension. Without the pull of tight fascia muscles can stay lengthened. As a result, people often notice long lasting increased comfort and mobility.

Myofascial Release is especially effective in relieving stiff necks, chronic headaches, plantar fascitis, low back pain and shoulder pain.