Tag Archive for: arthritis

I LOVE that feeling of learning something that fundamentally changes my perception. I got a mega-dose of it at an advanced workshop on the treatment of lower body conditions with electro-acupuncture and motor points.

I’ve been treating knee pain and hip pain with great success for almost 20 years.

While I do some postural assessment, I’ll admit I never looked too hard at feet.

The first few hours of the workshop, we watched people stand and walk. We looked at the alignment of the ankles, because how we impact the ground as we move through gravity determines where the knees and hips will absorb stress. I learned how to see ankles differently, brushed up on my neuroanatomy, and absorbed a few new treatment protocols.

On my first day back with patients, I applied what I learned about feet and ankles to three different people who were in for knee, hip, and back issues.

The next day, one of them called me, ecstatic to share that it was the first day in literally years she didn’t have any pain in her knee or lower leg! It totally made spending my weekend on airplanes and in a conference room worth it.

Electroacupuncture (think TENS unit but with alligator clips attached to acupuncture needles instead of onto pads stuck to the skin) reduces inflammation, restores strength to muscles that aren’t doing their jobs, and stimulates the release of our bodies’ natural opioids to reduce pain.

It’s even been shown to stimulate the production or chondrocytes (the cells that make cartilage) — making it especially useful for things like osteoarthritis, knee pain, and spinal stenosis, in addition to muscle/ tendon/ fascia/ nerve pain.

Speaking of osteoarthritis and knees, the results of 10, count ’em TEN randomized, double-blind studies show that acupuncture can help with the pain and joint dysfunction caused by osteoarthritis. This is great news when you consider a recent 10-year observational study showing that NSAIDs, anti-inflammatory drugs, may make arthritis worse. Same with cortisone shots. Unfortunately, the news that acupuncture is a great alternative doesn’t get the same headlines.

If you’ve limited what you think your body is capable of because of what your X-ray or your MRI has shown, I encourage you to rethink that.

Don’t assume that because you’ve been given the label of “arthritis” or “degenerative disc disease” that there’s nothing to be done.

These things don’t have to hurt. Sure, some conditions require surgery. But if you haven’t done a series of acupuncture (two treatments a week for three weeks for pain issues), you may be missing out. Recent studies suggest that taking anti-inflammatory drugs or getting cortisone shots make arthritis inflammation worse and even hasten joint deterioration.

To schedule a series, visit the Clinic tab of the website or call our office.

May you learn something revelatory today!


X-rays, MRIs, and other diagnostic imaging can be essential tools in understanding what’s going on in your body and deciding what to do about it. But they might also undermine your healing process – not because of any physical risks, but because of how they might limit your thinking.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, an X-ray must be worth at least a million, in that it shapes the story we tell ourselves. If your X-ray shows you bone-on-bone arthritis, or the narrowing of the spaces in your spine, it’s really easy to jump to the conclusion that your pain is permanent: something you’ll just have to live with and that will inevitably worsen over time, unless you do something radical like have surgery.

But there are flaws in this logic. Spinal discs lose a bit of their cushiness in nearly everyone over 40, but only a fraction of the population will experience chronic back pain. Plenty of people walk around with bulging discs and are blissfully unaware of it, while others suffer intensely. So pictures can be misleading: they show correlation, but not necessarily causation. They are also snapshots of our bodies at a single moment in time. It’s easy to forget that change is possible, even at the level of bones and joints.

Take “James” (not his real name), an 86-year-old man who came to see me for acupuncture after suffering for decades with chronic lower back pain, knee pain, and numbness in his legs and feet. He walked stiffly and unsteadily with a cane, usually not much further than the mailbox at the end of his driveway, due to pain and fear of falling.

His doctor had diagnosed him with “lumbar spinal stenosis,” a narrowing of the spaces in the spine, causing compression of the nerve roots that travel to the lower body. This condition is usually considered a disease of aging: like the upholstery on an antique chair, the cushiness of the discs between the vertebrae wears out over time. He also had osteoarthritis in his back, hip, and knees, and he had all the X-rays to prove it.

At 86, he wasn’t a great candidate for back surgery, so acupuncture was his last resort. After a handful of treatments, he noticed he wasn’t reaching for his pain pills as often. This was enough evidence to keep him coming in. After a couple of months of regular acupuncture, he regained feeling in his feet to the point where he felt comfortable giving up his cane. The pain in his knees and back dropped from debilitating to next-to-nothing, allowing him to resume his old pastime of walking a few miles a day by the river instead of just to and from the mailbox. His old friends were pleasantly surprised to see him back at social events he’d been avoiding when standing had been unbearable.

About a year and half later, James went back to his doctor and had another image taken of his spine. The new X-ray showed that the spinal stenosis itself had diminished remarkably, prompting the doctor to conclude: “We must have given you the wrong X-rays. The stenosis must never have been there in the first place.” His healing was so far outside the realm of what was possible for this doctor that he flat-out refused to believe it was the same patient, despite the dramatic improvements in James’s quality of life.

It’s understandable how an acupuncture-naïve physician (or patient) could draw such a conclusion: doctors are taught to think about drugs and surgery as the two main treatment options. Many simply don’t know how powerful acupuncture can be in catalyzing the body’s own healing process, with negligible (and often positive) side effects and zero recovery time.

So before you go for that knee replacement or back surgery, or resign yourself to a life of popping pain pills (which we’re realizing are far riskier than previously believed), remember that while your X-ray may be informative, it may not tell the whole tale. Something that looks “abnormal” may or may not have anything to do with what’s causing your pain. It’s equally important to remember that the image is a snapshot capturing just one moment in time. Your body is constantly undergoing a process of rebuilding itself, and if you change the inputs to that system (supplying it with new nutrients, movements, or interventions like acupuncture) it’s reasonable to expect a different outcome. Even if you’re 86!

Certainly there are circumstances where surgery makes the most sense. But if you’re among the millions of people suffering from osteoarthritis, tendonitis, lower back pain, neck pain, disc degeneration, sciatica, muscle stiffness, or fibromyalgia — to name just a handful of ailments — acupuncture could be an excellent first choice to reduce pain and regain mobility.

For best results with pain conditions, I recommend two acupuncture treatments a week for three weeks, and then re-evaluating progress. Depending on how long a condition has been around, it may need to be extended. To schedule your series, give us  a call or book here.

Photo © Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0]