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 Motion Sickness with Chinese Medicine

This is something I deal with occasionally, but when it happens, I ruin a whole day. Since Chinese Medicine looks for the source of the problem, I thought it was time to explore this topic. I hope it helps my audience as well.

A definition of motion sickness is nausea caused by motion especially in a vehicle. Many people experience a great deal of symptoms including nausea, this is what I want to address today.

Traditional Chinese Medicine considers motion sickness a pattern of disharmony. In TCM the body is regarded as an integrated whole. A pattern creates disharmony or disruption in the body’s system.

There are 3 patterns which can create motion sickness. The symptoms associated with each pattern can give us clues as to the cause of the disruption.

The patterns are:

  • Phlegm

    symptoms include a feeling of muzziness of the head, dizziness, nausea, feelings of oppression in the chest. Other signs are a wiry pulse and a sticky coating on the tongue.

    The usual cause of phlegm condition is spleen weakness and deficiency. The spleen is responsible for transportation and transformation of body fluids. When the spleen is impaired, the fluids stagnate and become phlegm. The lungs and kidneys may also be involved in treatment since they transport body fluids, but the spleen is the focus when beginning treatment.

  • Spleen Deficiency with Dampness

    Symptoms include edema, diarrhea, urinary problems, sensation of heaviness, insomnia, tiredness. This condition can also create hepatitis, cystitis or vaginal itching, candida infection, vaginal pain, loose stools and vaginal discharge.

  • Phlegm in the lower burner

    Symptoms are vertigo, coughing, shortness of breath, vomiting frothy saliva, and throbbing pulsations just below the belly button. The lower burner is part of the triple burner or triple warmer, the lower third of the torso.

    All these conditions are treated with Chinese herbs. There are so many types of phlegm and different conditions that treatment should be under the care of a licensed acupuncturist. Once the body’s imbalance is addressed, discomfort and suffering can greatly improve.

To prevent motion sickness

  • Take medication 1-2 hours before traveling.
  • Choose the right seat.
  • Don’t read while riding in a car
  • Lie down if feeling sick
  • Get plenty of fresh air
  • Avoid a big meal before traveling.

Treating Depression with Chinese Medicine

Depression is a common mood disorder in the developed countries of the world. The Fall season is an especially prevalent time for mood disorders. The season changes bringing less sunlight and colder, shorter days. The energy in nature begins to recede back into the earth. The leaves change color and fall. People are spending less time socializing outside in nature.

Photo by Annie Nyle on Unsplash

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, fall is the time of the metal element. The energy pathways most active are the lung and large intestine. The emotion associated with the lung meridian is sadness and grief.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling listless, sad or down every day
  • Having low energy
  • Sleeping too much
  • No interest in activities you usually enjoy.
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having thoughts of not wanting to live.
  • Trouble sleeping

Tips to manage depression

  • Depression can improve with regular exercise. Spend time outdoors each day especially in the early morning.
  • Get adequate rest, 7- 8 hours a night if possible. Going to bed at the same time each night helps the body clock to stabilize itself.
  • Set a routine for each day, exercise, read, cook, call a friend.
  • Eat meals at the same time each day.
  • Connect with family and friends.
  • Avoid taking naps. It will be difficult to sleep at night.
  • Avoid bright lights and blue light in the evening

In Traditional Chinese Medicine depression is treated with dietary changes, herbs, acupressure or acupuncture, and exercise, usually Qi Gong or Tai Chi. Since the energy pathways have an emotional association, it is important to keep the energy (chi) flowing. When our energy is stuck, we experience symptoms of dis-ease and depression. When the energy is flowing freely, we have a sense of ease and wellbeing.

There is no cookie cutter approach to depression in Chinese Medicine. Each person is unique and may have different treatments for depression and anxiety based on their constitution and health issues. There are many degrees of depression. People with more severe symptoms should also seek medical professional help.

Treating Gall Stones with Chinese Medicine

A good friend had asked for information on how gallstones might be treated with Chinese Medicine (CM). Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) regards the body as a whole system where everything is interrelated. When a symptom such as gallstones occurs, it is regarded as disharmony or imbalance in the body’s system.

CM attributes the pattern of phlegm in the gallbladder or kidneys as a cause of stones. The symptoms of gallstones and kidney stones are back pain and pain in the epigastric area. These sharp pains can occur after eating greasy, fatty, rich, or spicy foods.

The gallbladder stores and excretes bile, which helps in digestion. In TCM the gallbladder meridian is associated with decision making and everyday stress. It partners with the liver meridian, which is associated with planning, ligaments and tendons, and the emotion of anger.

Gallbladder meridian is also associated with our passion for life, action, and assertiveness. Imbalance in the gallbladder meridian can create difficulty being assertive, making decisions, and following through with projects. When the gallbladder meridian is balanced energy is flowing freely and we are assertive, passionate, and healthy.

Possible causes of Gallbladder Imbalance

  • Stressful events, such as loss of a loved one, trauma, injury, illness, or loss of employment.
  • Consumption of lots of fatty, greasy, rich, or spicy foods. Overtime this will impair gallbladder and liver function and can create angry outbursts, irritability, red face and eyes, ringing in the ears, and migraines. These are symptoms of excess heat in the liver.

To help repair the gallbladder

  • Avoid greasy, fatty, rich, and spicy foods
  • Express emotions freely, not allowing for buildup and overreaction. Depression, which is anger turned inward, can also be a symptom of gallbladder imbalance.
  • Eat foods grown locally and in season.
  • Exercise regularly. The chi needs to move to prevent stagnation, which causes disease.
  • If having gallbladder issues avoid caffeine and alcohol. Drink plenty of water and eat fresh greens.
  • Go to bed before 11:00pm, when gallbladder is most active.

If you suspect, you have gallstones or kidney stones consult a licensed acupuncturist. Many times, insurance will cover the acupuncturist’s fee.

In Western Medicine, the treatment for gallstones is usually surgery. In TCM the organs were never removed. The TCM treatment today is still basically the same. The acupuncturist will recommend dietary changes, herbs, and acupuncture, and most likely detoxification before considering surgery as a last resort.

Bladder, the Longest Meridian in the Body

This time of year is known as the time of the water element. The energy pathways most active are the Bladder and Kidney Meridians. I’ve spoken about the Kidney Meridian and its importance the last few weeks. Today I want to focus on the Bladder Meridian.

The Bladder Meridian is the longest energy pathway in the body. It begins at the inside corner of the eye, goes over the head down the neck, back, the back of the legs, the side of the foot and ends at the small toe. This pathway is on both sides of our body and crosses all the other meridians; in doing so, it has influence on all the other meridians.

The Bladder Meridian partners with the Kidney Meridian, together they control fluid transformation and excretion in the body. The kidney stores our deepest levels of energy, and kidney issues can be treated using bladder acupoints.  Points on the Bladder Meridian are excellent for treating headaches, eye strain, back, knee, and ankle pain, and for promoting a sense of deep relaxation. Imbalance in the bladder energy can create emotions of suspicion, jealousy, and the inability to let go of grudges.

The back responds to stress by becoming tight. “In short back tension is putting your problems behind you. With chronic back pain or tension, whatever the cause, there are likely to be some powerful suppressed feelings. For example, after a back injury, there may be fear or anger about the pain or disability.”

……Iona Teeguarden, The Joy of Feeling

To support the Bladder Meridian, stay hydrated, do stretching exercises and rest. Having your energy balanced by a licensed acupressurist or acupuncturist can help release both chronic and acute tight muscles.

Chinese Medicine and the Winter Season

The winter solstice begins this week, and with it the change in subtle energies from fall to winter is complete. Chinese Medicine, which has evolved over thousands of years, is still used today to effectively treat illness and disease.

A basic premise of Traditional Chinese Medicine is that true health is created when we live in harmony with nature. Living in harmony with the changing seasons (changing our diet and habits to conform to the present season) creates balance between our bodies and our environment. We are ushering in the season of winter and the water element, which is represented by the Kidney and Bladder Meridians, or energy pathways.

Kidney represents the yin (dark, cold, slow, inward) energy and Bladder represents the yang (lighter, hot, quick, expansive) energy. Winter is a good time to strengthen the kidneys. A good way to do this is to get adequate rest and avoid chills. Dressing for the weather is an important aspect of staying healthy.

Other associations of the Kidney Meridian are:

  • It stores our essence
  • Produces marrow and fills the brain
  • Controls the bones
  • Governs the water
  • Associated with the ears and hair
  • Houses the will power
  • Vitality

Foods to support kidney and bladder are bone broths, warm, hearty soups, miso, soy sauce, seaweeds, lettuce, endive, salt, millet, and barley.

The Heart Meridian and Peaceful Sleep

The importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be overstated. In Traditional Chinese Medicine sleep disorders and insomnia are considered to be a blockage or imbalance in the body’s energy. This time of year, the fire element is most active, which is represented by 4 energy pathways or meridians, heart, small intestine, pericardium, and triple warmer.

The heart meridian is associated with peaceful sleep, thoughts, intelligence, emotions, and intimacy. It also oversees blood and circulation, houses the spirit, consciousness, and mental ability. When we are sleep deprived, our ability to reason is impaired and our emotions are frayed.

The Chinese 24-hour Meridian Clock, which I have spoken of many times before, shows the times of day in which each meridian is most active.

The meridians most active during the hours of 11 pm to 7 am are:

  • 11pm-1am- gallbladder
  • 1am- 3am- liver
  • 3am- 5am- lung
  • 5am-7am- large intestine

During the hours of sleep our bodies repair themselves. For instance, the liver detoxifies the blood, and makes proteins for clotting, and bile. If we are awake at this time, energy will be diverted away from the liver and these functions will be interrupted. In TCM the liver is also associated with planning and the emotion of anger or frustration. It then makes sense that if you have not had enough sleep, you will have difficulty concentrating and be short-tempered.

There are many different causes for sleep problems and Chinese Medicine has the tools to help you identify the specific cause for each issue. It is important to address sleep deprivation which left unchecked can create other health issues such as palpitations and digestive disorders. An acupressurist can help balance your energy and improve sleep but for more chronic and severe issues it is best to see an acupuncturist.

Treating Migraines with Chinese Medicine

Photo by Mehrpouya H on Unsplash

There are five main types of headache identified in Western Medicine:
Cluster Headaches  • Tension Headaches  • Sinus Headaches • Rebound Headaches • Migraine Headaches.
Today I want to focus on Migraine Headaches and how they are treated in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

In TCM a headache is considered to have two parts, the root, and the branch. The root is the cause or source of the headache and the branch is the location of the pain. TCM always looks for the root cause of any disease, since treating the source of the problem will have long-lasting results, as opposed to treating only the symptom.

Migraine headaches, a severe type, can cause debilitating pain lasting anywhere from 4 – 72 hours. Pain can be throbbing, one-sided, moderate to severe, accompanied by nausea/ vomiting and/or sound and light sensitivity. This type of headache interrupts daily activity and sends people to their beds.

In TCM the root cause of migraines many times is yin deficiency, blood chi deficiency, or excess heat, but there are other possibilities. The former causes are due to energy imbalance, but poor alignment of the neck vertebrae, tension and stress, and sinus infection can also be possible causes. To be sure, it is best to have your energy assessed by an acupuncturist or acupressurist.

There is an acupressure point that is effective for tension headaches. It can be found on the hand in the space between the thumb and forefinger. Go into the webbing of the hand until your thumb meets the bone. Then press into the sensitive spot on the metacarpal bone (the forefinger side) and take deep breaths. The headache will usually diminish.

Treating Stress with Chinese Medicine

In the past, I’ve spoken about the amount of stress that people are dealing with at this time in our country. Bladder and Kidney Meridians which are associated with the emotion of fear are most active during the winter season.

Another emotion that is a component of stress is worry. Worry is associated with the Spleen and Stomach Meridians and these pathways are most active during late summer, but also at the ending weeks of each season. Many times worry precedes fear.

In Chinese Medicine, spleen energy is responsible for the transformation of the food we eat and transporting the nutrients to the rest of the body, but the spleen and stomach also digest information and stimulus.

All the information that enters the body from our sense organs is processed by the spleen and stomach meridians.

We live in an age where we are bombarded with information 24/7 and multitasking is a normal occurrence. Most people have deficient spleen energy.

Some symptoms of spleen imbalance include:

  • Digestive issues (IBS, acid reflux, pain, cravings, nausea, constipation, diarrhea….)
  • Fatigue and brain fog
  • Abdominal distention especially after eating.
  • Weakness and heaviness in the limbs, edema, and swelling.
  • Worry, overthinking, over mothering- or taking care of others at the expense of your own health.
  • Cravings for sweets, carbohydrates

Tips for Nurturing your spleen energy.

  • Do not work or watch anything stressful while eating.
  • Eat more cooked and warm food.
  • Avoid cold drinks.
  • Foods such as: spelt, oats, carrot, pumpkin, sweet rice, winter squash, yams, sweet potato, black beans, parsnip, turnip, molasses, anchovy, beef, mackerel, date, tuna, chicken, beef liver or kidney strengthen the spleen.
  • Create a pleasant atmosphere around eating. Enjoy meals with friends, enjoy a meal out in nature weather permitting.
  • Have your energy balanced by a licensed Bodywork Therapist or Acupuncturist.

Treating Insomnia and Anxiety with Traditional Chinese Medicine

I have encountered many people lately who are having trouble sleeping. These are stressful times, so insomnia and anxiety are not an unusual occurrence.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, one theory on anxiety is that it is caused by excessive energy (chi) in the head. This overabundance of energy presents as heat. Symptoms of this type of anxiety are racing thoughts, difficulty sleeping, and excessive worry. In contrast, energy blockage or stagnation can result in depression. Symptoms of depression are sadness, inability to focus, anger, and fatigue.

In TCM there are different treatments for anxiety. At the beginning of each session, the practitioner takes the client’s pulses to assess their energy flow. Treatment is always directed toward balancing the individual’s energy, bringing the body back to homeostasis so that it can heal itself.

Some energy pathways that would need balancing when a person is experiencing insomnia are spleen, which is associated with worry, and its partner stomach, which is associated with grounding and balance. I would also look at gallbladder and liver meridians, which are associated with everyday stress and anger/frustration, respectively. The heart meridian would also be important since it is associated with restful sleep.

There is no cookie-cutter treatment since each person is unique with different constitutions, emotions, health history, experiences, and body-mind connection. Treatment is always based on the present moment and balancing the energy flow. When a person’s energy is flowing freely, they are better able to manage their stress and emotions.