Safety of Acupuncture During Pregnancy – Exploration of the “Forbidden Points” (Study)

Acupuncture is often used for a range of issues during pregnancy and birth.  There, of course, is using acupuncture for fertility issues.  While there is growing awareness around the usage of acupuncture for fertility issues, once pregnant, there is less awareness of pregnancy treatment options and of the safety of those options.

During the first trimester most commonly you are treating for morning sickness and in cases for threatened miscarriage (or to aid patients with frequent miscarriage histories).  In the second trimester usually little is needed except possibly to maintain strength/energy levels and possible back pain.  The third trimester you will be seen commonly, and effectively, for breech position, also for more serious back pain, gestational diabetes, edema and other issues.  Then of course the grand finale – labor induction, if necessary.  Then there is follow up care afterwards to avoid issues such as post-partum depression, and to aid with insufficient lactation, if necessary, among other issues.

In this article I wanted to discuss briefly potential contraindications for acupuncture during pregnancy.  Long story short, in the hands of a licensed acupuncturist there is very little to worry about.  While in a linear logic model, if you can aid labor in labor induction treatments, you could potentially create too much movement early on in pregnancy and contribute to a miscarriage.  The problem with this logic is you are giving acupuncture lots of power and removing the common logic of the body.  It is very hard (nearly impossible) to get the body to do something strongly against its nature with acupuncture.  Most point functions are merely recommendations to the body which it can work with or not.  This, for example, is some of the complexity of treating auto-immune conditions – i.e. the body is doing the “right” thing, just too much of it and/or at inappropriate times.  This is also part of the issue where you can see such differences in clinical results between practitioners and why standardized protocols are functionally against the very grain of Chinese Medicine.  Each treatment has to be properly tailored to the individual and if done correctly, it can be very effective – if not, any complications (besides lackluster results) for any condition are quite rare and pregnancy complications would be among these.  This, of course, excludes treatment by non licensed acupuncturists who do not have a firm grasp of the underlying Chinese Medical theories and/or have poor training in needling technique.

A researcher from the UK Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, recently conducted a study looking at the potential implications of using “forbidden points” during pregnancy and potential complications.  As most practitioners already know, the answer, according to this researcher is that “given the numerous evidence-based indications for obstetric acupuncture and lack of evidence of harm, risk:benefit assessments will often fall in favour of treatment.”  While there is never a reason to tempt fate with incorrect acupuncture points choices, there are often times where the “forbidden points” are useful for certain conditions/issues during pregnancy and can be used without issue.

All things considered pregnancy is a very natural state to the body and women have deep mechanisms which help this process to go as smoothly as possible.  These mechanisms are difficult to go against, certainly with modalities like acupuncture that work with the body, not for it (say in the case of many western medications).  There is a significant amount of benefit possible from the integration of acupuncture into overall pregnancy care and a nearly insignificant level of risk.  It is worthy of deeper exploration clinically to find avenues in which western and eastern options can co-exist and/or complement each other in favor of the mother and child.

Acupuncture Treatment Prognosis Guidelines

A common question among patients of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is “How many treatments will I need?”. The answer depends greatly on the condition being treated, the relative skill level of practitioner and the overall health of the patient. In general, a precise prognosis is only possible after a practitioner has seen the patient at least 2-3 times and has followed the response from initial treatments closely. In general, most conditions should respond at least with symptomatic improvement within 3-10 treatments. Listed below are some general guidelines related to forming a prognosis. To discuss any of this information, please utilize our forums.

Organ vs. Meridian Pathology

In general meridian imbalances take less time to treat than deeper organ imbalances.

Interior vs. Exterior Patterns

In general exterior patterns take less time to treat than interior ones. For example, a cough (external wind-cold) takes less time to treat than the heat in the lung variation of sinusitis.

Qi vs. Blood

It is generally easier to build and/or move Qi than it is to build and/or move Blood. For example, Qi Stagnation will resolve faster than Blood Stagnation.

Deficiency vs. Excess

It is generally easier to drain an excess pathology than to build up a deficiency. Additionally, there are variations within these broad categorizations. For example, a Yang Deficiency may take longer to build than Qi Deficiency. On the deficiency side, Yin Deficiency may take longer to build than Blood Deficiency.

Dampness and Phlegm

Dampness is generally considered easier to treat than Phlegm. They are both, however, slow to move and resolve by their nature and will generally complicate other imbalances.

Lifestyle/Psycho-Emotional Factors

Conditions that have fostered certain states of imbalance (living in a damp environment for example), left unresolved will generally hinder the treatments. On a psycho-emotional level, the continued repression, over expression or over experience of certain emotional states will also make imbalances more difficult to resolve.

Factors related to the Four Stages

The prognosis is worsened depending on the stage of disease ranging from the Wei level, to the Qi level, to the Ying, to the Blood.

Factors related to the Six Stages

The prognosis is worsened depending on the stage of disease ranging from Tai Yang, to Yang Ming, to Shao Yang, to Tai Yin, to Shao Yin, to Jue Yin.


Acupuncture Point Treatment Plan – General Point Selection Rules

Within the field of acupuncture there are many styles, or schools of thought, and each of these schools contains within it unique diagnostic tools and theories which lead the practitioner to appropriate acupuncture point selection and treatment methods. This page discusses some of the basic Traditional Chinese Medicine methods for choosing appropriate treatment points.

In general, the selection of treatment points is based on the multiple uses and actions of various points. They can be used locally to treat specific conditions, reduce inflammation in an area, etc. or distally which are often chosen based on broader acupuncture theory and by utilizing the acupuncture point categories.

Discuss any of these methods in our forums.

Acupuncture Point Selection

Before selecting acupuncture points for treatment you should already have established a diagnosis based on Chinese Medicine principles. The diagnosis is drawn from utilizing TCM diagnostic examinations such as the tongue and pulse among others. Some general tcm diagnoses and their meanings are found here or read our more detailed TCM Diagnostic Patterns section. One of the benefits of Chinese Medicine is the inherent flexibility of the system. With this, however, comes the need to reduce many treatment options into the most effective set of points. Many of the point selection guidelines below will overlap when you choose points in an effective manner. In other words, if the condition you are treating can be treated with points where the local and distal points you are using are paired in some way and indicated clinically for the condition you are treating you can treat with a very small number of points.

Local Area Point Selection:

Local area points are generally used to reduce inflammation, ease pain, and to improve the circulation of Qi and Blood in a specific area. For example, in the case of low back pain you may use the huatuo points to treat inflammation and pain near a herniation. One may choose local points by area as described above or by the clinical usage of the point. In the example of low back pain this would include points such as UB 23 which is useful locally and as it is the Back Shu point of the Kidney it is useful for all chronic/acute low back issues. Treatment area point selection may also include the addition of adjacent and/or distal points.

Adjacent Point Selection

Adjacent points are chosen due to their proximity to the area of injury or for the clinical significance. For example, CV 17 for disorders of the breast, lung, or throat areas. Another example would be using TH 5 for issues of the wrist, hand and/or fingers.

Distal Point Selection

Distal points are chosen by either clinical usage, by their relationship to points you are using locally, or in relation to one of many synergistic point groupings such as extraordinary vessel master/couple pairings. For example, in the case of asthma you may use Dingchuan as a local point, and LU 7 and KD 6 which both have valid clinical usages as distal points individually. Additionally, LU 7 and KD 6 are the yin qiao and ren mai extraordinary vessel pair which may further strengthen the clinical effect of using these points.

Acupuncture Point Selection Based on Symptomology

Acupuncture points are often selected simply by their clinical indications. Within this category are the empirical points that are often used within treatments regardless of the system you are using to choose points. Examples are ST 36 for Qi Deficiency, SP 1 for uterine bleeding, or ST 40 for dampness in the body. Additionally, points are used from empirical pairings such as SI 3 and HT 6 for nightsweats.

Acupuncture Point Selection Based on TCM Diagnosis

Within this group you select points based on your tcm diagnosis. For example, someone experiencing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may have a TCM diagnosis of Yang Deficiency with Qi Stagnation. You would then choose points to build the Yang energy of the body (KD 3, KD 7, UB 23) and to resolve Qi stagnation (LI 4 and LV 3 as the “four gates” pairing used empirically to move qi within the body).

Acupuncture Point Selection Based on Meridian/Body Pairings

Within this group you can choose points as Yin/Yang pairs. For example, SP 6 and ST 36 for Blood Deficiency. Each point individually is clinically valid, but they are related as the Stomach Meridian is the yang pair of the Spleen which is yin. You may also choose points based on hand/foot meridian relationships. These pairings such as Tai Yang are illustrated on our meridian chart, found here. An example would be using SI 3 and UB 62 for low back pain. The Small Intestine and Urinary Bladder meridians are the Tai Yang meridian as well as the yang qiao mai and du mai extraordinary vessel pair. Related to the hand/foot meridian relationships is the symmetry or cross-needling method. Here you may choose points on the opposite side of the body such as LI 4 on the (R) side to treat a problem with the (L) index finger. You may also choose points on the opposite part (i.e. top and bottom) of the body in addition to it being on one side or the other. For example, if a trauma is in the area of PC 4 on the (R) side you could needle LV 5 on either the (R) or (L) side of the body depending on the theories you are using. In addition to the basic pairings and point selection guidelines, point choices are often driven by the many point categories which are covered in detail here.

Treating Low Testosterone with Chinese Medicine (Herbal Medicine, Acupuncture and Moxibustion)

Similar to large numbers of people being told they have low vitamin D in recent years, there appears to be a similar increase in men being told that they have low testosterone.  For better or worse many cultures, ours included, often seem more concerned with finding a way to increase testosterone (i.e. aspects of strength and virility) vs. finding and properly dealing with the causes of the losses of testosterone.  Finding the causes of preservation of testosterone and your own strength is far more important from a Chinese Medicine perspective than simply adding to it which can have negative effects.  This article will explore some of these issues and treatment options from a Chinese Medicine perspective.

In my research for this article I was reading a forum article within a weightlifters discussion group where a man was supplementing with Chinese herbs to increase his overall strength and sexual prowness.  Two observations arose in my mind…  My first observation was the perhaps far too obvious question – would his testosterone be low if he didn’t work out as much, relaxed more, and was less concerned with significant amounts of sexual activity?  A general thinking point with these issues is what are you feeding as an individual and what is truly driving these issues.  Exercise is good, a loving relationship with sexual activity can be a boon to both partners health and psychological well being, but there are issues of proper balance to be taken into account with all activities.

My second observation was of a different matter entirely which highlighted a general lack of knowledge of Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) in particular and of the synergistic forces of nature in general.  As the poster wrote about his ‘low T’ formula people starting discussing each ingredient saying you didn’t need that or you needed more of this.  Generally one was needed because it was stronger (i.e. more yang) and not needed because it was weaker (i.e. more yin or harmonizing).  Bodybuilders are a well known group for complex supplementation and are fascinating to observe because of this.  The exact counterpoint to all of this is Buddhist monks who train their minds in meditation by meditating in front of human corpses – a lesson to not be too overly concerned with our perishing physical body and all of its ups and downs.  An aside, but a further point nonetheless…

Now back to my second observation – herbs, foods and our general environment along with our mind, emotions and physical activity levels all have a synergistic effect on our bodies as a system.  In general this means there is no one answer to each individuals issues, but it also means that more is simply not always better.  Within herbal medicine if you are building more yang (warmth, energy, strength), for example, herbal formulas often contain a number of substances to help balance the strength of the herbs to avoid side effects and achieve better results.  In another weightlifters forum discussion one person starting taking some Chinese herbs and broke out with acne all over within a day or two of taking the formula – (i.e. too much heat).  This is an example of herbs not being properly prescribed but also the repercussions of an unbalanced formula overall.

What Is Testosterone and What Does It Do?

Both men and women produce the steroid hormone testosterone (men in the testes and women in the ovaries, with some from the adrenals).  Generally testosterone facilitates muscle development and maintenance of bone (i.e. strength), libido, and fertility (i.e. sperm production).

What Are Symptoms of Low Testosterone (‘Low T’)?

In men low T may lead to low libido, erectile dysfunction, fertility issues, fatigue, hair loss, decreased muscle mass and/or bone density, anxiety, insomnia and other issues.  In women low T may lead to menopausal type symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, osteoporosis, decreased muscle strength, irritability, anxiety and low libido.

What Are The Western/Physical Causes of Low Testosterone?

The causes can vary widely which is why proper diagnosis and treatment is key – perhaps more so from a Chinese Medicine perspective.  But anything which injures the testes or ovaries can cause problems such as trauma, cancer treatments (chemo, radiation), the mumps virus in men, genetic issues and removal of the ovaries in women – among other causes including cancers in certain areas of the brain, obesity, hiv/aids, the use of steriods, etc.

What Are Contributing Lifestyle Factors from a Chinese Medicine Perspective?

This is where the crux of the article begins and we can talk about where all of your testosterone is going instead of focusing on simply adding more in (which may still be important).  Common lifestyle/dietary factors for the development of low testosterone are the following:

  • Stress – particularly chronic long term stress.  Stress can also be a byproduct of sexual issues, fertility problems, fatigue and psychological issues which may arise creating a cycle of contributing factors.
  • Sleep – or lack thereof.  During deep sleep is when functions of restoration happen in the body, when this does not happen our bodies have to work harder to maintain daily functions which will draw from our reserves.
  • Alcohol consumption.  While some is probably not detrimental a regular habit of consumption will decrease levels primarily by converting testosterone to estradiol.
  • Age – not much you can do about this one per se, but amounts will generally decrease by 1% every year after 45 or so.
  • Diabetes (i.e. poor diet and lack of physical movement).
  • Lack of exercise, or excessive exercise – one may leave levels low, one may deplete levels.
  • Lack of sexual activity, or excessive activity – again one may leave levels low and one may deplete levels.
  • Medications such as those for Blood Pressure, SSRI’s for anxiety/depression among others.

What Can Chinese Medicine Offer for Low Testosterone?

The first aspect of treatment is to properly identify the causes as well as possible and determine the Chinese Medicine (CM) diagnostic pattern (see “What Does Acupuncture Treat? for more information).  From that diagnostic pattern proper lifestyle and dietary recommendations can be made to help the internal functions within the body restore and achieve their own balance without excessive direct supplementation which has any number of risks and side effects.

From a CM perspective, the Kidney system is what in charge of the adrenals, sex hormones, vitality, bone development etc. (see “My Kidneys are What?” for a general discussion).  In general this system can either be overstimulated (what we call Kidney Yin deficiency) or truly weak (what we call Kidney Yang deficiency).  As far as low testosterone and other symptoms are concerned they can be the same in both cases but in one it is from the body drawing from its resources too much and from the other it has either already tapped them or there is something more functional happening causing lack of production.

A very general distinction is that with Kidney Yang Deficiency you will have more feelings of cold, stronger signs of true fatigue with a need for more sleep, perhaps a more lowered mood and with Kidney Yin Deficiency you will have more feelings of heat (particularly in the palms and/or feet), fatigue but more in a ‘tired but wired’ way where sleep is still problematic, perhaps with more anxiety or restlessness.

Treatment then will vary depending on the overall diagnosis each person and mixed syndromes are somewhat common requiring consultation with a qualified practitioner.

What Acupressure Points May Be Helpful?

To move on, then, to what you may be able to do for yourself (outside of seeing a practitioner), here are some general points that can be used as self-remedy.

Kidney Yin Deficiency Acupressure PointsKD 6, CV 4, HT 7.

For Kidney Yang Deficiency, Moxibustion can be used on certain points as a home treatment which is more effective than acupressure (See What Is Moxibustion?, for more information).  Points that would be applicable would be – KD 3CV 4, CV 6, ST 36, SP 6.

What Herbal Formulas May Be Helpful?

Chinese Herbal Formulas need to be properly prescribed and used in correct dosages to be effective.  The following formulas, however, are used often when the underlying pattern warrants their use.  A breakdown of each formula along with more clinical information can be found by following each formulas link.

Kidney Yin Deficiency (or mixed – more yin signs) formulas:
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan
Zuo Gui Wan

Kidney Yang Deficiency (or mixed – more yang signs) formulas:
Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan
You Gui Wan

There are of course many more options to aid a person with these issues and each case needs to be evaluated individually.  The take home point from this article, however, is to at least bring awareness to where your energy is going not just how to get more.  Work on some of those issues and then see where your measured levels are but also how you feel overall.  Adding more fuel to the fire will rarely lead to a great outcome in the long run…

(MS Treatment) Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency and the Sky Window Theory in TCM

Here in the United States multiple sclerosis (MS) rates are on the rise, now near 1 in 1000 people. Globally nearly 2.5 million people are effected with MS. Western treatments offer mixed results with regards to symptomatic relief and prevention of further exacerbations. Acupuncture, Chinese medical massage (tuina), and various herbal formulas have been used for years with varying levels of success as well. For better or for worse, MS is a difficult to predict condition where symptoms can wax and wane at will and the range of severity of symptoms is quite broad. Someone may have an initial “attack” of symptoms and then go into a period of remission and never experience symptoms again. Others have a more progressive form of the condition that is relentless and may lead to permanent disability. In this article I am going to discuss relationships between recent MS research involving the circulation in the neck and the Sky Window theory used in Chinese Medicine.

What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?

The symptoms of MS arise when the body begins attacking the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Through a process called demyelination, the myelin sheaths which surround the axons of the nerves are damaged. Once damaged the nerves can no longer carry information correctly which can lead to any number of symptoms. The condition is relatively easy to diagnose once it has progressed as the demyelinated areas will show up as “plaques” on MRI scans of the brain and/or spinal cord. What causes the body to attack itself is not well understood and people may have symptoms in the early stages or in mild cases that cannot be fully confirmed as MS with an MRI.

It is generally agreed that MS is an autoimmune condition, which simply means conditions where the body attacks itself. There are many others including autoimmune hepatitis (where the body attacks the liver), rheumatoid arthritis is generally considered an autoimmune condition, as are Crohns (bowels), Hashimoto’s (thyroid), and psoriasis (skin) among many others. Interestingly autoimmune conditions appear to be on the rise, particularly in developed countries, but the causes are poorly understood. There are surely a range of dietary, environmental, chemical and other influences which keep our immune system in an overactive state.

For MS specifically, research has traditionally focused on environmental and genetic causes. There are some familial tendencies with the condition and a few chromosomal markers that indicate an increased likelihood of someone developing MS, but nothing conclusive. We do know that MS is far more common in people who live further from the equator (i.e. in colder climates). On our continent, Canada has some of the highest rates worldwide. What makes these theories difficult to illustrate conclusively is that people born in Canada, for example, who move to Jamaica when young rarely develop MS. These inconsistences make the genetic, environmental and other causative theories more difficult to prove.

What is Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency (CCVI) and how does it apply to MS?

Brought to the attention of the MS community by Italian researcher Paolo Zamboni in 2008, cerebrospinal venous insufficiency describes a state of poor circulation with the cervical and thoracic veins. This lack of poor circulation can inhibit the bodies ability to function effectively and may lead to inflammation and/or iron deposits in the brain or other areas of the body. In Zamboni’s research all MS patients studied showed signs of venous insufficiency and by using surgery to improve the circulation in these areas there have been cases of recovery from MS.

Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency (CCVI) and the Sky Window Theory in TCM:

In our sub-branch of Chinese Medicine, the Tam Healing System, we heavily use the acupuncture points collectively known as the Window of the Sky points. We use these in many conditions, but primarily those which involve the proper circulation in the brain – MS, parkinson’s, depression, various anxiety disorders, seizure disorders, ADD/ADHD, brain tumors, and others. We have always put a strong emphasis on using tuina, tong ren therapy (a form of medical qi gong), and needling (in certain cases) to open the circulation in this area. We do this primarily to ensure that the brain is properly nourished. The theory of CCVI adds another dimension to our work in this area.

Without the brain being properly nourished and circulating well function will suffer. The other aspect to our system is then to work from the upper cervical area down through the spine to ensure that the message to and from the brain can get to their desired locations. Put simply, our system involves considering the loop of communication and nourishment in the body and brain and fostering that with acupuncture, tuina, and energywork. The Chinese Medicine theory of the Sky Window points is a crucial part of this process.

Critiques of CCVI Theory:

While Professor Zamboni has recorded MS cases that have gone into remission by using surgical intervention to improve the cerebrospinal circulation, there are many critiques of the theory overall. Many of these are far too technical for me to discuss with any kind of accuracy and outside the bounds of my own expertise. A commonsense critique, however, would be two-fold. First, is surgical intervention really required? Why wouldn’t acupuncture, or deep tissue massage work as it appears to within our system? Second, as MS tends to strike within middle age, this theory would be more plausible perhaps in similar conditions that arise later in life (alzheimers as an example). In other words why would the insufficiency cause a problem so early in life if it doesn’t appear to contribute to other related issues later in life.

From our perspective circulation is not the only answer which is why we use tuina, acupuncture, and energywork. The tuina is most important in the Window of the sky areas and the upper cervical region whereas the needling can stimulate brain function and help improve the persons symptoms. Certainly within pure TCM theory there are treatment protocols for MS, many of them are described in our Acupuncture for MS section. These are used both to help symptomatically and in the hope of reducing or eliminating further episodes by treating the root imbalance from a Chinese Medicine perspective.

Tam Healing for Multiple Sclerosis:

As stated earlier we use a combination of acupuncture, tuina and tong ren therapy (a form of medical qigong) to treat MS. A treatment within our clinics, and those of our colleagues, would involve tong ren and tuina initially, then needling based on the following protocol and their overall tcm pattern, and followed with tuina. Tong Ren Therapy can be learned by anyone through either the Tong Ren Therapy: Beyond Acupuncture or the Tom Tam Healing System textbooks. If your practitioner is unfamiliar with Tong Ren treatments, they can be obtained for free by attending any of our tong ren therapy classes around the world, online at tongrenstation or by a variety of conference calls.  Many private practitioners like myself also work with patients both in clinic and at a distance with Tong Ren. Tong Ren can easily be done in conjunction with whatever treatments (eastern or western) that you are currently undergoing.

For a detailed description of the primary treatment points for MS, please see Tam Healing and Tong Ren Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis.

It is our hope that through an awareness of current medical research and by pushing the boundaries of our own medicine that we can mutually benefit patients with chronic conditions. Certainly the theory of CCVI has some strong relationships to the Window of the Sky theory in Chinese Medicine and in our protocols work in the cervical area has led to good response rates in a variety of difficult to treat conditions. We hope our work can lead to more experimentation among our colleagues worldwide and together we can work with western medical advances when appropriate to gain better results for our patients.

To read Professor Zamboni’s research, see Chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency in patients with multiple sclerosis.


Acupuncture Treatment For Parkinson’s Disease with Tuina and Tong Ren Therapy

Worldwide there are an estimated 4 million people living with Parkinson’s disease. Here in the US, approximately 50,000 people are newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year. First described by Dr. James Parkinson in 1817 as the “shaking palsy”, Parkinson’s has likely been around much longer. Syndromes similar to Parkinson’s were described nearly 2500 years ago in foundational Chinese Medicine texts such as the Huangdi Neijing and even further back in Indian/Ayurvedic medical texts.

The disease can affect anyone with rates just slightly higher for men than women and slightly higher in whites than in African Americans or Asians. Parkinson’s can take an unpredictable course with some patients being severely disabled or even deceased within 5 years of diagnosis, and others living their normal lifespan with only minor symptoms.

What Is Parkinsons From A Western Medical Perspective?

From a western medicine perspective, Parkinson’s Disease is one of a group of motor system disorders that are caused by the loss of dopamine producing brain cells. As there is no definitive test for Parkinson’s and there are many conditions with similar symptoms, diagnosis can be difficult particularly in the early stages. The general symptoms are as follows:

Tremor – often beginning in a hand, but does not happen in every case.

Slowed Motion (bradykinesia)
– may worse over time but makes voluntary movements such as walking difficult, in some cases to the point where you cannot move without tremendous effort.

Loss of Automatic Movements
– such as swinging your arms while you walk. Also a characteristic sign of Parkinson’s is a “frozen” facial feature many times with unblinking eyes.

Practitioners may see Parkinson’s with associated conditions such as depression, insomnia, urinary issues, constipation and/or sexual issues.

What Western Treatments Are Available?

parkinsons-disease-brain-areas-300x275Western treatment focuses on medication, surgery, and/or physical therapy. On the medication side Levodopa, a natural substance, is used to boost dopamine levels in the brain. While effective initially, the effects can weaken over time and for some the side effects are too strong to warrant use. Many other medications work either in conjunction with Levodopa or have similar goals of controlling dopamine levels.

Surgical treatment of Parkinson’s involves implanting a pacemaker type device deep into the brain areas that control motor movements. This, however, is usually reserved for advanced cases where medication is not effectively controlling the symptoms.

About Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Research

Acupuncture is used around the world as a complementary treatment for Parkinson’s. Due to the ability of acupuncture to work on a broad range of body systems, it has a valid role in the treatment and maintenance of Parkinson’s. Research has shown that acupuncture provides symptomatic improvement in many cases and some studies have shown that it could be effective in greatly slowing the progression of the disease if treatment is offered early enough in the disease course.

As reported in my June 30 (2009) Research Synopses, acupuncture was found to create significant effects in motor function even when using distal points (points away from the scalp, in this case). This study shows how acupuncture can create and foster deep connections within the body and brain.

A south korean study performed on rats published in the Journal Proteomics (2008 Nov;8(22):4822-32.) found that acupuncture could stave off the decrease in dopamine levels possibly by reducing inflammation systemically. This would be extremely helpful in the early stages of the disease and certainly warrants further research.

Other studies looking at acupuncture have found similar benefits whether in animal or human subjects. The effects continue to be studied by researchers worldwide to better understand all of the mechanisms. Practitioners, myself included, in private clinics around the world have seen positive improvements in those with Parkinson’s and see the value of treatment as early as possible in the disease course.

Tam Healing System for Parkinson’s

The Tam Healing System which involves tuina, acupuncture, and tong ren therapy offers good results with more complicated medical conditions including Parkinson’s. There are many differences between this system and traditional acupuncture primarily in the criteria for point selection and secondarily in the methods of stimulation outside of just using acupuncture needles.

Our protocol for Parkinson’s involves the following:

We generally begin each treatment with Tong Ren at the points listed below, then follow with strong tuina on the upper cervical huatuo areas listed as well as any Window of the Sky points. Afterwards we insert the needles, using the points listed below and others from a pure TCM perspective (for dampness, qi deficiency, etc.) as appropriate. After the needles have been retained for approximately 30 minutes we again do deep tuina work on the neck, spine, and any other problem areas to faciliate circulation.

si_meridian_15-19-150x115Focus Points:
Huatuo of C1 – innervates motor cortex (top of head)
Huatuo of C2 – innervates frontal lobe (forehead area)
Tiandong – a point we developed to facilitate circulation within the vertebral artery (deep tuina here), promotes circulation to the brain
Window of the Sky Points – SI 16 and TH 16 – similar to Tiandong, promotes circulation to the brain
Yiming – Fosters circulation between the brain and the body
LI 4 – particularly if hand tremors are present
GB 19 – effects the visual cortex and also useful for motor control issues
ST 36 – overall qi and blood energy
LV 3 – aid qi circulation and descend energy

Why Would This Work?

As the studies referenced above illustrate, we know that certain acupuncture points will create positive changes in motor function. Additionally we know that acupuncture reduces inflammation systemically and appears to be able to effect dopamine levels directly. This combination of internal functions and removing hindrances of the body to function well will go a long way towards limiting the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Our system is in some ways very simple. We work to facilitate the circulation of blood for healing and proper function of the brain, we remove hindrances of brain function by regulating the energy in certain areas (i.e. motor cortex, etc.), and we remove hindrances in neurological pathways from the brain to the rest of the body (opening of the spine and base of the skull). During this process acupuncture and associated techniques reduce inflammation, promote proper brain function and chemistry levels, and promote range of motion in effecting muscles and joints.

Your Input?

As practitioners, and valued participants in our site, we welcome your input on protocols that have worked well for you, testimonials that give hope to others with Parkinson’s, etc. Please use our forum system to submit your experiences.   We will certainly all benefit from it.