Can an Acupuncture Affect Your Joints?
Many people are surprised to know how an acupuncturist can help with joint health and alignment. Indeed, acupuncture can help straighten abnormal spinal curvature, realign hips, shoulders, and knees, treat out of place ribs, relax jaws that are too far forward, and treat many other problems related to improper positioning of a joint. At first it may seem confusing as to how a tiny acupuncture needle, so thin it requires eye strain to see, could move a spinal misalignment or malpositioned joint. But it is possible as I will explain using a little bit of modern physiology and mixed with a some Chinese medicine “Five Element Theory” theory.
Let’s get a little technical for just a moment…. A subluxation is medically defined as “a partial abnormal separation of the articular surfaces of a joint.” What this essentially means is the two bones being connected to form the joint are not in their correct place. This leads to uneven contact pressure on the cartilaginous surface of the joint and may lead to increased friction and rubbing and subsequent pain, inflammation, swelling, and dysfunction. It’s obviously important to have proper alignment of your spine and joints, but the question has yet to be answered, “How can an acupuncturist with their hair-thin needles create physical changes in joint position?” Isn’t acupuncture just an endorphin releasing painkiller?
The answer to the question is “yes and no”. There are many types of connective tissue in the body including fascia, tendons, and ligaments, but for our purpose here lets talk about the skeletal muscle. All of your joints are held in position by your skeletal muscles. If a muscle is too tight it may stress and pull on the bone where it attaches so that the joint loses its proper position. In the image below you can see just one layer of muscles that move, stabilize, and align the muscles in your neck. If like me, you spend a lot of time using a computer mouse, the muscles that attach to your vertebrae on your mouse side may become too tight. Besides pain and tension, this can lead to your cervical vertebrae being pulled out of position by the tension.
All that makes sense but “what does the acupuncture needle have to do with it?” you may ask. The answer is refreshing the “action potential”. Your skeletal muscles contract based on electrical impulses generated by your nervous system and travel through your nerves to the muscle. When the signal is incorrect skeletal muscles may be over-contracted (aka tight) or under-contracted (aka weak). The muscle imbalance due to the incorrect impulses through your nervous system lead to subluxations, misalignments, and pain in your joints.
An acupuncturist interacts with your nervous system to change the impulses and action potential to a more balanced state. This effect in essence is one of the main ways acupuncture exerts its effect on the body. When the nerve impulse to the muscles that stabilize and align joints are corrected, the joint naturally realigns, tension melts away, and pain disappears. This is illustrated in ancient Chinese five element theory called the controlling cycle “Earth controls Water”. Each of the five elements has an associated tissue type. The tissue of earth is muscle and the tissue of water is bone. According to five element theory “Earth controls Water” or in other words “Muscle controls Bone”. In the diagram below it is illustrated by the blue arrows in star formation in the centre of the diagram:
The arteries of the body are lined with smooth muscle and can contract or dilate based on nerve impulses as well. In this way your body is able to open blood flow to the area it needs and “squeeze” it out of areas it doesn’t need. When you are doing heavy exercise your circulation will flow into your muscles, heart, and Lungs and leave your digestive system, liver and other organs in an effort to maximize your bodies resources. Conversely, after a large, heavy dinner you may feel tired and lethargic as blood flow is directed out of your lungs, heart, and skeletal muscle and directed to your stomach, intestines, and liver to support digestion. An acupuncturist goal is to direct Qi and blood flow in this way and more importantly direct circualtion to areas of injury or dysfunction. In the five element theory, we use the same relationship "Earth controls Water". In Chinese medicine physiology the Earth element "controls blood" and is key in fluid physiology like river banks controlling the direction and flow of a river.
In conclusion, acupuncture and Chinese medicine are an excellent option for reducing the pain and discomfort from joint misalignments and subluxations.
Are Your Knees Killing You?
Chronic knee pain can come with a wide variety of western diagnoses. Osteoarthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, Baker’s cysts, meniscal tears, and torn ligaments are just a few of the many causes of chronic knee pain. For all of these conditions acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help to ensure healthy mobility throughout our lives so that we can fully enjoy our fabulous Kelowna lifestyle.
Surgeries and knee replacements are becoming more and more common and in many cases provide a good solution to the pain and loss of mobility a bad knee can bring. These interventions provide no guarantee of success however, and we have had many patients at our Kelowna clinic who’ve had knee replacements and had no relief in pain at all. Sometimes the pain has even become worse after the operation. Another negative about knee replacements most people are unaware of is there is about a .25% chance you won’t survive the thirty days following the surgery. Currently the the mortality rate for a total knee replacement is about 1 in 400. Not terrible odds I suppose, however, at the time of writing it's about the same as a middle aged person not surviving the coronavirus. Infections and blood clots are just a few of the possible complications that may arise. Another downfall to think about is that artificial knees are temporary and may need to be replaced every ten to twenty years.
Interestingly, current research has discovered a relationship between knee pain and mortality from every other cause. Those with knee pain had a 15% greater chance of death from all other causes. Shocking studies like these suggest that one of the most important things you can do for longevity is make sure you don’t have knee pain!
I find this study truly fascinating as the acupuncture points we generally use to treat knee pain relate to the lung, heart, and liver. Cardiopulmonary disease gets nearly 30% of us in the end. Cancer, how I view it in Chinese medicine and acupuncture theory, relates greatly to the lungs, gets another 21%. The liver has a whole host of functions including protein metabolism and regulating cholesterol levels. In acupuncture and Chinese medicine theory it maintains the health of tendons and ligaments and regulates circulation to the heart, lungs and entire body. Exactly how and why knee pain relates to mortality isn’t really understood scientifically. My Chinese medicine brain can theorize but, I may save that for another blog. Regardless of mechanism, using this knowledge we can see how important it is to maintain healthy knees not only for our mobility and ability to do the things we love to do in Kelowna, but also to ensure good overall health and a long life.
At Balance Point Acupuncture, chronic knee pain is something we see regularly and in most cases find the results in terms of both pain and function to be very positive. In our experience acupuncture reduces the pain and inflammation rapidly in most cases restoring mobility and joint function.
How does acupuncture work to treat knee pain even when the points used are not located near the knee? In my opinion, the problem is that the knee joint is not straight or aligned properly. A quick google image search for “Knee Osteoarthritis Xray” will show a bunch of pictures of the knees that have shifted or look like they are leaning to one side. When your knee joint isn’t aligned there will be uneven weight distribution and, as a consequence, rubbing of the cartilage in the joint which then leads to inflammation, pain, swelling, bone spurs, and eventually joint damage. You may be told “bone on bone” as the cartilage in your knee becomes worn away.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can greatly reduce the pain, and swelling as well as increase the mobility of sore knees. From our experience acupuncture balances the signals to your nervous system to the muscles and connective tissue that stabilize and realign your knee joint reducing uneven weight distribution and improving joint function. Furthermore, acupuncture can increase circulation and healing to the joint itself. Besides acupuncture, we also like to use a classical Chinese herbal formula called “dang gui nian tong tang” which increases circulation and speeds healing to any joint in the lower body, especially the knees.
Kelowna is such a beautiful place with so many activities to enjoy. It is so important to take care of our bodies, especially our knees, so that we can long enjoy our beautiful Okanagan Valley.
Better Than Blueberries but Punishable by Death!
There’s a hot new superfood receiving a lot of attention long known to the immortality-seeking emperors of ancient China. This superfood is higher in antioxidants than the superstar health food blueberries and so revered by the emperors of ancient China that they kept it solely for themselves. Sneaking even a handful was punishable by death. These days it’s readily available at supermarkets and health stores in Kelowna and more good news, there is no death penalty for eating it. In fact, the opposite may be true as many studies on this superfood are proving it to prevent disease, delay the aging, heal your vision, prevent cancer and even extend life.
If you haven’t guessed the food by now it’s forbidden rice also known as emperor’s rice or black rice due to its dark black colour. In traditional Chinese medicine theory, longevity is determined by the strength and amount of kidney essence with which you are born. Kidney essence from our modern point of view has a lot of similarities to genetics, DNA and even stem cells. Kidney energy is the vitality and ability to resist stress and disease with which you are born. According to traditional Chinese medicine this essence slowly erodes over your life and once it’s exhausted, that’s it! TCM kidneys are the water element in Chinese medicine theory and pertain to the colour black. Generally speaking, naturally black foods are thought to be good for the kidneys and provide anti-aging and life-extending properties. Emperors in ancient China were obsessed with living long lives and even becoming immortal. Royal acupuncturists and herbalists primary jobs in old China were to prevent their emperors from getting sick and help them live well… forever! Forbidden rice was so revered for this purpose that it was strictly forbidden to commoners (hence the name) and reserved only for the Chinese emperors as it strengthened, replenished, and preserved kidney essence.
According to acupuncture theory, black rice regulates appetite, strengthens the kidney and liver, improves vision, nourishes the spleen, and invigorates blood circulation. Black/emperor’s rice also has been shown to strengthen the heart and blood vessels, prevent cancer, and reduce blood pressure. Heart disease, stroke, and cancer are currently the top three causes of death in the west. Forbidden rice helps with them all. Maybe the ancient acupuncturists were on to something?
In the lab black rice has shown to possess more antioxidants than blueberries. One of the antioxidants, anthocyanin, imparts its black colour to the grain. This is a well researched antioxidant shown to have a myriad of health benefits. In fact, the bran of black rice is the most concentrated source of anthocyanin of any known food.
Forbidden rice is great for your eyes!. Black rice has also been shown to benefit vision including age related visual decline such as macular degeneration. Forbidden rice contains high amounts of vitamin E, aforementioned anthocyanin and other carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin have been show to protect the retina by filtering out harmful blue light. Other research has show lutein and zeaxanthin to be the most effective phytochemicals in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration which is the leading cause of age-related blindness. Another study demonstrated anthocyanin prevented retinal damage from fluorescent lighting. As I use Microacupuncture for treating eye conditions such as ARMD in our Kelowna clinic, I am always on the lookout for new foods that can help improve and protect the vision of our patients.
Black rice is also good for sexual and reproductive health. It’s considered a mild aphrodisiac and has long been considered a fertility food. We treat a lot of fertility patients with acupuncture and herbal medicine in our Kelowna clinic and forbidden rice is a delicious way to promote fertility for both men and women through strengthening the TCM Kidneys.
Some other purported benefits of forbidden rice are: it supports liver detoxification, prevents diabetes, treats asthma, improves digestion (naturally gluten free) and aids in healthy brain function. The acupuncture and herbal doctors of ancient China really did seem to know what they were doing!
When buying Forbidden rice try to buy the blackest version you can find. Some varieties I’ve seen aren’t as dark and look more purply, especially after cooking. Included below is a recipe I make at home for snacks and breakfast for my kids. They love it!
This recipe takes just a minute or two to prepare and lasts in the fridge for a few days. My family enjoys it hot during Kelowna winters and cold during Kelowna summers.
Forbidden Rice Pudding Recipe
1 cup of Forbidden rice. (rinsed)
1.5 cups of water
1 can of coconut milk
Instant Pot - cook on high pressure for 22 minutes. (this is how I do it)
Rice cooker - cook like regular rice.
Stovetop - Bring water and coconut milk to a boil, add rinsed rice and other ingredients. Cook covered on low heat for 18 minutes or until the rice is tender. Turn off the heat and let sit covered for five minutes.
Optional black foods that could be added before or after cooking depends how you like it.
1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses.
1 tablespoon of Black Sesames
1 tablespoon of poppyseeds
1 cup of frozen blueberries, wild blueberries, black cherries.
A tablespoon or two of dried black currents, or dried prunes.
Top with fresh fruit, coconut flakes or walnuts (also a kidney tonic in TCM and acupuncture theory) and your favourite non-dairy milk. Make it taste good!
By Travis McIndoe