Monday, July 2, 2012

NYC Chinatown

Before I get back to the details of the herb symposium, I feel I must share an interesting vacation from the acupuncture business and the joy of treating patients.   My daughter Vivi turned 7 last week, and as this child is completely obsessed with all things Chinese, I took her to Chinatown in New York City to celebrate the big day.  This is something she has been talking about since I first told her stories about an area in a big city that is "just like China."  

I have taken to calling Vivi the mascot for Lutea Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine, but she insists that she is going to be an acupuncturist when she grows up, so that role is likely to expire soon.

I combined pleasure with business as I dropped into a few traditional herb shops searching for some Chinese herbs that have become difficult to find down in North Carolina.  And success!  We loaded up on additional ingredients for some new Lutea tinctures.

At a park in Chinatown we stopped to watch a group practicing a set of sword-form tai chi in perfect synchronicity.  We were spellbound.  Vivi has seen me teach qi gong in the park and she knew immediately what she was watching.

Viv's favorite, and mine too, I think, was our visit to the Buddhist temple on the edge of Chinatown.  Vivi and I sat in silent meditation for much longer than I would expect any seven-year-old to do.   She especially liked lighting the incense and saying a prayer to the giant buddha "the size of our living room." 

For her birthday dinner we went uptown to SushiYou and had a fabulous meal.  Her favorite?  Eel avocado roll with salmon roe.  Do I have an awesome kid or what?  The coolest thing about midtown Manhattan is the abundance of luscious cupcake shops which was led us to a perfect way to accompany the Happy Birthday song.  And hooray for gluten-free cupcakes!  Delicious!  The following morning we were up at dawn to take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and then up to Central Park to take a Chinese-inspired rickshaw ride to the Carousel.  The rest of the trip deviated from our China theme, but suffice it to say, we got a taste of China to prepare us for a trip to the real thing as soon as it is in the stars for us.  Happy Birthday, my sweet girl!

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Amazing Day with Herbalist David Winston

The Medicines of the Earth Conference 2012 begins tomorrow in Black Mountain. But a lucky small group of us, a combination of clinicians, herbalists, and curious plant-lovers, convened on the wild and beautiful grounds of the Black Mountain Assembly and listened to the ethnobotanical lectures and plant descriptions by David Winston, herbalist extraordinaire and founder of Herbalists & Alchemists. 

He began the morning with his traditional Cherokee singing, prayers, and a beautiful ceremonial walk into the stream before more stories of healing, plant identification, and discussion. 

Pictured left, David is discussing Wild Yam, (Dioscorea).  In Chinese Medicine it is called Shan Yao and acts as a qi tonic.  But in Western and Cherokee herbalism it is used more often as a gastrointestinal antispasmotic (think irritable bowel) or for gallbladder spasms.  It can be helpful to move liver qi and when menstrual cramps accompanied by nausea. 

Below is pictured Spikenard, an aromatic adaptogen whose root is very helpful for a dry cough, arthritis made worse by cold, and traditioinally used in combination with cottonwood bark and black cohosh can stimulate stalled labor in pregnant women.

Left, David shows us a blooming Black Cohosh, pollinated by flies because (if you haven't had the pleasure) the smell resembles that of rotting meat.   Though widely believed to be the herb of choice for menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, that is not really this plants strong suit.  Chastetree berry is much more effective for those complaints.  Though Black Cohosh can be excellent for menopausal depression, fibromyalgia, and uterine and testicular pain, among other uses.

As David points out, however, and as any good herbalist knows, herbs are complex and have personalities.  An elegant combination of herbs works best, based on each patient's individual needs.  The source of an illness in one person is different than the source of the same illness in another.  Same disease, different treatment.

It was inspiring to spend the day with a master who so loves his work, his culture, and the plants themselves that I came away with a renewed passion for my herbal work and with new knowledge and ideas for helping my patients and spreading the word about the power of herbal medicine.  Thank you, David!   Stay tuned, there is more to come as Saturday through Monday the conference will continue. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cupping for Everyone


No, this isn't rare torture, it feels fantastic, a sort of a suction massage with excellent therapeutic benefits. Cupping is an ancient medical art under the rubric of Chinese Medicine. Cupping has been documented in China as early as 1000 B.C. but has been used for centuries in many different cultures. There is reason to believe the practice dates from as early as 3000 B.C.; the earliest record of cupping is in the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world. It describes the process in which in 1,550 B.C. Egyptians used cupping. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates used cupping for internal disease and structural problems. This method in multiple forms spread into medicine throughout Asian and European civilizations.

Today there are cups of many differnt materials. Bamboo, earthenware, copper, iron, glass, plastic, silicone seal, there are many options. In my practice I get the best results with glass cups seen above. There are different sizes for different parts of the body. Cupping is great for the back, the IT band, there are even tiny cups for the hands to help relieve arthritis pain. Today fire cupping is the most common form of this art. In this process, suction is created with a flame then quickly applied to the skin. For my pediatric patients I use plastic cups with a quick-release hand pump.

Why cup? In Chinese medicine, the main function of cupping is to move blood and lymph fluids, thereby reducing stagnation and pain. It is excellent for treating the early and later stages of upper respiratory infections, it is indespensible in treatment of neck and shoulder constriction and pain, IT band tightness and pain, as well as deep pain in the low back and sacrum. A deeply relaxing practice, it can ease anxiety and insomnia quickly and easily. Cupping can arrest an asthma attack in moments in small children, and can reduce systemic blood stagnation.

Moving cups, or a process where a cup is applied to oiled skin and moved carefully over a distance, usually the back, is effective in treating many disharmonies including emotional stagnation including frustration, insomnia, anxiety and depression. In my practice I almost always use cupping in conjunction with a regular needling treatment, either before or following a treatment. However, it can be effective treatment for those with a fear of needles, or as a follow up to a Tui Na, or Chinese acupressure massage treatment.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sports Injuries Article for Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine

Healing Sports Injuries with Chinese Medicine
By Lara Ferguson Diaz, L.Ac., Dipl.O.M.

A sports injury can ruin your day on the trail in a split second and sideline you for weeks.  But before you wrap on a bandage and try to run through the pain, consider acupuncture.  Acupuncture is a tool of Chinese Medicine by which tiny, solid filament needles are inserted into the skin at strategic points to help the body heal naturally without drugs, surgery, or side effects.  Chinese medicine is a system of internal medicine treating everything from headaches to fibromyalgia to diabetes.  A branch of this, Die Da or “hit-fall” medicine, originated in Ancient China to treat injuries sustained from martial arts.  It quickly and effectively addresses trauma to any part of the body. 

Chinese medicine is based on the concept that “Qi” or vital energy flows through our bodies along with our blood.  Trauma can obstruct the flow of qi and blood, and if left untreated, or improperly treated, injury can become chronic, recurrent, or even debilitating.  Acupuncture is recognized by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as a safe and effective medical therapy.  Acupuncture, combined with Tui na, a kind of massage, Chinese herbal medicine, Qi Gong or Tai Chi, and dietary therapy, are the major components of Chinese medicine and have been practiced for over 5000 years.

The approach to treating sports injuries with Chinese Medicine differs from that of Western medicine in a few ways.  You have probably heard of the acronym R.I.C.E. from your doctor: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.  Rest is obvious, and taking time to heal is essential.  Elevation is helpful as well.  Chinese medicine takes a different perspective on the ice and compression elements of this old adage, however.  Ice is rarely used in Chinese medicine.  The aphorism “Ice is for dead people,” explains the Chinese perspective.  In Chinese Medicine it is rarely used after the first 24 hours of an acute injury as it contracts blood vessels, stagnates and congeals blood and fluids which, in turn, slows healing and can lead to long term residual pain and eventually arthritis in the affected area.  It constricts the flow of blood and “qi” or vital energy in the area of the injury, further damaging the tissues.  Liniment or “herbal ice” is often used instead.
Compression usually in the form of an elastic bandage wrapped snugly around an acute injury also stagnates blood and fluids, usually pushing them out to the outside edges of the bandage.  Here again, promoting the flow of blood and fluids by avoiding compression, helps the body heal faster. 

In more severe injuries, an x-ray or MRI is the best course to rule out fractures, ligament or tendon rupture.  In these cases Western diagnosis and treatment are important.  Acupuncture can be effective in speeding healing in these scenarios as well and in many cases can prevent the need for surgery.  When surgery is required, acupuncture is helpful in speeding recovery.  There are also topical and internal herbal remedies to stop bleeding immediately, ease pain and even knit broken bones.

The most common sports injuries tend to be sprains.  This is especially common for trail runners.  Acupuncture can reduce pain and swelling in an acute sprain in a matter of minutes, reducing healing time dramatically.  Even for grade 2 and 3 sprains, where there is real ligament damage acupuncture is quite effective.  With sprains the earlier the treatment, the better.  Remember to only use ice for 10 minutes at a time for the first 24 hours.  See a practitioner of Chinese medicine as soon as possible.  Again, if severe, see your doctor to rule out tendon rupture or fracture.

Tendonitis is also a very common sports injury caused by repetitive movement, and because it can rarely be traced back to an original injury, it is usually a late stage chronic pain by the time help is sought.  Tendonitis usually manifests in the rotator cuff, the Achilles tendon, wrist or even elbow.   A combination of acupuncture, massage, and liniment can make the biggest difference for this injury.  Carefully examining the movement that is causing this and retraining with amended position is essential. 

The type of pain, the aggravating factors, and the location are more important in diagnosing sports injuries than the severity of pain in Chinese medicine.  There are many types of pain indicating many types of injuries.  Pain that is shooting or refers down an extremity usually indicates nerve involvement.  Stabbing pain that gets better with exercise or dull pain that gets worse as the day goes on corresponds with different injuries. All can be treated equally well with Chinese Medicine.

Whatever the injury, heal safely without drugs and reduce the need for surgery with Chinese Medicine, an inexpensive, holistic, benign therapy that works well independently or in conjunction with Western medicine.  Be sure to find a practitioner that is a licensed acupuncturist or diplomate of Oriental medicine with a four year degree.

Lara Ferguson Diaz, L.Ac., Dipl.O.M. (NCCAOM) is owner of Lutea Acupuncture & Herbs and practices at Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville.  She is happy to answer any questions at 828-582-5403

Acupuncture for Sports Injuries

Dos and Don’ts:

The sooner the better.
The sooner the injury can be treated, the better the outcome.  Acupuncture frees the joint, the flow of blood and qi, vital energy, and facilitates healing.  However, if not treated, acute injuries can become chronic injuries.  Chronic injuries respond to acupuncture as well, though it may take longer to reach complete healing.

How Long?
Acute injury, depending on severity can be addressed in fewer treatments spaced closely together over a couple of weeks.  A more chronic injury tends to respond better to a weekly treatment over a longer period, depending on a variety of factors including severity, time of onset, and patient compliance. 

Ice is for dead people
Remember to only use ice for 10 minutes at a time for the first 24 hours as it contracts blood vessels, stagnates and congeals blood and fluids which, in turn, slows healing and can lead to long term residual pain and eventually arthritis in the affected area. 

Seeking a Western diagnosis is important.  Seeking acupuncture soon after can help prevent the need for surgery by removing obstacles to healing.  When surgery is necessary, Chinese Medicine is indispensable to pre-op preparation and speeding recovery time.

A Knowledgeable Liason
A good acupuncturist will recommend an x-ray or MRI for a more serious injury to rule out rupture of tendon or bone fracture.  They will also advise when and what sort of movement is helpful, and when to rest.  Remember only to see a licensed acupuncturist with a four-year degree in Chinese Medicine.

Be open to herbs
Your acupuncturist can prescribe a topical liniment made from Chinese herbs to help penetrate the joint or muscle, stop pain, reduce swelling and inflammation, and disperse stagnant qi and blood.  Some topicals can stop bleeding, mend tendons, and even knit bone.

Listen to your body
Chinese medicine is based on common sense.  Running or cycling through the pain may seem like a good idea, and sometimes, after the bulk of the healing has taken place, it is. Sometimes it truly slows healing.  Ask your acupuncturist.  She can also prescribe strengthening exercises and movements.