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Managing chronic pain or overuse injuries is challenging for both patients and physicians. According to the CDC, an estimated 1 out of 5 patients with non-cancer pain or pain-related diagnoses are prescribed opioids in office-based settings, and it's well-documented that long-term use of opioid pain medications can be associated with abuse and overdoses. CHI Memorial Integrative Medicine Associates offers acupuncture as part of their use of both conventional and alternative methods of facilitating the body's innate healing response.
Acupuncture is an effective, non-invasive medical protocol focused on correcting imbalances of energy in the body. It's used to treat a wide variety of health conditions and helps people get and stay well. An acupuncturist activates the body's Qi to improve the body's function and promote the natural self-healing process by stimulating specific anatomic sites, commonly referred to as acupoints.
"Part of my job is to lessen the pain and discomfort people are experiencing - without the need for medication or in combination with medication to provide relief," says Liza Mercado, board certified acupuncturist with CHI Memorial Integrative Medicine Associates. "For someone with back, knee or shoulder pain who doesn't want to be on medication, trying acupuncture is a great option. It's also proven helpful in my practice for people who are working with their physician to get off or lessen their medication dependence."
What is Qi (Pronounced Chee)?
In Chinese medicine Qi, or vital energy, flows throughout the body and protects it from pain, illness and disease. It circulates through specific pathways called meridians. The quality, quantity and balance of Qi influences a person's health, and it can be affected by physical or emotional trauma, stress, lack of exercise, overexertion, seasonal changes and diet. Acupuncture is recognized as an effective treatment for a range of conditions, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Allergic rhinitis
- Bell's palsy
- Chronic gastritis
- Earache or headache
- Facial pain or spasm
- High blood pressure
- Morning sickness and induction of labor
- Knee or shoulder pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Neck, spine or low back pain
- Plantar fasciitis
- Post-operative pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Smoking cessation
- Sore throat
- Tennis elbow
- TMJ dysfunction
- Ulcerative colitis
What Patients Can Expect
After taking a full health history including symptoms and lifestyle, an acupuncturist completes a physical exam of a person's pulse and tongue. This helps the practitioner create a structured treatment plan and detect any imbalance of Qi that may contribute to health problems.
"Once the imbalances are detected, hair-thin, solid, surgical stainless-steel needles are inserted to unblock the obstruction and balance Qi. The insertion creates micro tears in the tissue, sending signals to the body to send elastin and collagen to that specific location to aid in healing. Patients may experience a heaviness, tingling or dull ache where the needle is inserted. This is known as the 'Qi sensation' and is a completely normal sign that the treatment is working," says Mercado. "With Qi freely circulating throughout the body, adequate nourishment is reaching the body's cells, organs, glands, tissues and muscles. This can eliminate pain and restore balance and the body's ability to heal itself."Personalized Treatment
The number of treatments and frequency is customized for each person and depends on several factors: constitution, the severity and duration of the person's condition, and the quantity and quality of a person's Qi. Some people experience immediate relief, while others require a longer treatment plan. A minimum of one month is expected to see significant changes.
"Each person has a different medical history, and that's why it's important to offer a variety of solutions based on that individual's needs," says Mercado. "Wear and tear injuries, degenerative conditions, lifestyle, exercise level and age are all important factors I consider when developing a personalized treatment plan."
Menopause is a natural phase in every woman's life. It is the time when a woman stops having monthly periods, and the ovaries stop releasing eggs and making the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Most women are between the ages of 45 and 55 when menopause occurs. The average age is 51. Some women in their 30s can experience symptoms of early menopause, or perimenopause.
"Most women start to wonder about menopause when their periods start to change," explains Mary McKenzie, D.O. Dr. McKenzie says common signs menopause has started include:
- having periods more or less often than usual (for example, every 5 to 6 weeks instead of every 4)
- bleeding lasts for fewer days than before
- skipping 1 or more periods
- symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes
"If your uterus has been removed, but you still have your ovaries, it might be tough to tell when you are going through menopause. Still, women who do not have a uterus can have menopause symptoms," explains Dr. McKenzie.Those symptoms vary from woman to woman. Dr. McKenzie says most women have one or more of the following symptoms.
- Hot flashes - Hot flashes feel like a wave of heat that starts in your chest and face and then moves through your body. Hot flashes usually start happening before you stop having periods.
- Night sweats - When hot flashes happen during sleep, they are called "night sweats." They can make it hard to get a good night's sleep.
- Sleep problems - During the transition to menopause, some women have trouble falling or staying asleep. This can happen even if night sweats are not a problem.
- Vaginal dryness - Menopause can cause the vagina and tissues near the vagina to become dry and thin. This can be uncomfortable or make sex painful.
- Depression - During the transition to menopause, some women start having symptoms of depression. That's especially true for women who have been depressed before. Depression symptoms include: sadness, losing interest in doing things and sleeping too much or too little.
- Trouble concentrating or remembering things - This might be caused by lack of sleep that often happens at menopause, or by the lack of estrogen. Some experts suspect estrogen is important for good brain function.
You should also see your doctor if you:
- Have your period more often than every 3 weeks
- Have very heavy bleeding during your period
- Have spotting between your periods
- Have been through menopause (have gone 12 months without a period) and start bleeding again, even if it's just a spot of blood
- Menopause symptoms can be treated in a variety of ways. Options include hormone replacement therapy (HRT), antidepressants, and plant-derived estrogens.
Women who have vaginal dryness without other symptoms of menopause can try vaginal estrogen. "This is a form of estrogen that goes directly into the vagina without systemic effects. It comes in creams, tablets, or a flexible ring," says Dr. McKenzie.
Antidepressants can ease hot flashes and depressions. Dr. McKenzie says even women who are not depressed can take them to ease menopause symptoms.
Plant-derived estrogens, or phytoestrogens, have been marketed as a "natural" or "safer" alternative to hormones for women with menopausal symptoms. Phytoestrogens are found in many foods, including soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, flaxseed, grains, fruits, vegetables, and red clover. Isoflavone supplements are phytoestrogens as well. Dr. McKenzie warns phytoestrogens have not been proven to help reduce hot flashes or night sweats. "Most studies have not reported benefit. In addition, some phytoestrogens might act like estrogen in some tissues of the body. Many experts suggest women who have a history of breast cancer should avoid phytoestrogens."
Herbal treatments have also been used to relieve menopause symptoms, but Dr. McKenzie says studies have yet to demonstrate efficacy better than placebo. There are also some safety concerns. "Some herbs, including black cohosh, might stimulate breast tissue, similar to estrogen. Like phytoestrogens, herbal treatments are not recommended for women with high risk for breast cancer," Dr. McKenzie says. It is best to discuss treatments options with your doctor to ensure the safest, most effective therapy.
Osteoporosis is a big concern for women going through menopause. Dr. McKenzie suggests woman take calcium and vitamin D supplements to help strengthen bones. She also advises, "Be active. Exercise helps keep bones strong. And ask your doctor when you should start having bone density tests." Dr. McKenzie says your doctor can prescribe medicines to help keep your bones strong, if needed.
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