In a clinical environment Men and Back Pain go together hand in hand. In Ireland the younger generations of men are starting to take care of their bodies, both physically and emotionally. Many are turning to fitness as a healthy realise of energy. Finally it is not seen as unusual that a man would want to take care of himself, and his body.
But I have noticed that there appears to be a particular age group of men in their mid-50’s to late 60’s that struggle with the self-care concept. Clinically speaking by the time they come into see me their back issue is pretty serious.
Back pain is the most popular reason men receive Acupuncture in Ireland. In the UK in 2016 the NHS removed its recommendation for Acupuncture as a treatment for back pain, due to not enough evidence to prove its worth. Since then in the US The Journal of Pain researchers with the Acupuncture trialists’ collaboration concluded that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain, that the effects of acupuncture persist over time, and that the benefits of acupuncture cannot be explained away solely by placebo effect.
Office workers, and men that drive a lot for their work often experience muscular tension in the neck, shoulder and mid thoracic area of their backs. Poor posture, stress and poor diet can massively impact on this area of the back.
We must look at lifestyle changes as well as treatment in order to create a long lasting treatment result. I believe my high success rates when treating all back pain, be it sciatica, prolapsed lumbar disc, muscular ligamentous lumbar strain, and osteoarthritis is my holistic approach to treating the back as well as the body.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine the lower back is governed by the kidney channel. This means that it is vital to maintain a healthy, free flow of kidney qi. When our bodies are put through emotional trauma, excessive fear, anxiety, depression, these can all deplete Kidney Qi. Over time this weakens the lower back and allows it to become more susceptible to injury.
For men as they get older Kidney Qi begins to naturally deplete. This is part of the aging process. The gentle decrease of kidney qi has few symptoms unless the individual has had any of the following; what we would classify as a stressful existence, a job that requires a lot of emotional as well as physical effort over a long period of time, a diet that is lacking in nutrient value, lack of water and perhaps a hereditary back condition or chronic illness. All these often mean a male will develop either Kidney Yin Deficiency symptoms; these include nocturnal emissions, soreness and weakness in the lower back, dry mouth and throat, hearing problems, knee pain, ringing in the ears and spontaneous sweating.
Or Kidney Yang Deficiency symptoms such as cold limbs, aversion to cold, weak lower back.
Our job as an acupuncturist is to diagnose whether a back pain is caused by Kidney Qi /Essence deficiency, Kidney Yin or Yang, or none of the above. It’s a fascinating medical system where diagnosis is key to the correct treatment programme.
I was very lucky that my post graduate training in Shanghai just so happened to be in a herniated lumbar disc ward in No 6 Peoples' Hospital in Shanghai, China. Having fractured my own spine in 2003 I had developed a real passion for the relief of back pain. Anyone having suffered from any form of back trauma will understand just how debilitating a bad back can be.
In China I was amazed at their approach to treating backs. An MRI was carried out after a brief consultation; the results were brought up to Professor Wu (within minutes) and read by him, or a member of his team. Then 80% of the patients were given a treatment of Electro Acupuncture, Chinese Cupping, Moxibustion, Herbal Baths, Traction, and Tuina. People travelled from far and wide and stayed for up to two weeks to receive daily treatments. There were two pharmacies at the entrance of the hospital, one dispensing Traditional Chinese Herbs, all wrapped beautifully in paper, the other a Western Pharmacy, administering western anti-inflammatories.
What I learnt in a relatively short space of time changed my life as a therapist forever. The results we got in the hospital were amazing. My confidence as a newly qualified Acupuncturist was on a high. My passion for treating back pain has never left me from that time, 16 years ago. Professor Wu only ever operated on a very low percentage of his patients presenting with Lumbar Spine Trauma. He always tried a combination of Eastern and Western medicine; his results made him a very popular man.
Research has shown acupuncture to cause the release of neurochemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and corticosteroids, all of which contribute to the reduction of pain and inflammation. Interestingly men coming into the Clinic in agony often fall into a deeply relaxing state, once the needles have been inserted. This is perhaps due to the endorphin release that happens during an acupuncture treatment. I use Infrared Therapeutic lamps which also aid relaxation of the body.
To get to the root of an individual’s back, neck or shoulder pain points are often inserted into meridians flowing through the legs, ankles and hands. Dry needling may offer temporary relief from pain, but strengthening the energetic pathways that promote strength in the back, such as the Bladder and Kidney channel, offer a more long term solution.
A man with huge emotional stress, suffering with severe neck, and shoulder pain, will generally benefit from acupuncture points inserted into his heart, small intestine and liver channels. This may sound bizarre, but we must get to the root cause to offer lasting effect. Many men I meet hold huge amounts of frustration in their bodies, this often presents physically in tight tendons especially in the mid thoracic area of the back travelling up to the neck and shoulders. In TCM the emotions of frustration and anger and cleared through the Liver and Gallbladder channels.
I always look at pain as a big red flag. My work is helping a body maintain balance, a free flow of Qi (energy/Life force), and blood through all the channels in the body. If there is a free flow, there is no pain. If there is no free flow, there is pain.
Each spine is unique, each muscle is formed from that individuals own movement. To get the best treatment I believe we must treat each person as exactly that, unique and individual. Having fractured my own spine I was incredibly cautious for any therapy on my spine. I understand men often feel very vulnerable when in pain, especially the neck and back area. Creating a relaxing environment whilst being treated helps the healing happen at a faster rate.
A treatment usually requires local points where the pain is present, then the magic distal points are put in. This is where Acupuncture really stands out from dry needling. I am a big fan of applying an electric current through the locally placed needles (using a tens machine) This was taught to me by one of the best, and for good reason, it works! Chinese Cupping is often used after needling. Chinese Cupping received huge coverage during the last Olympics. Michael Phelps the US multi gold medal winning swimmer was a huge advocate of cupping therapy. Many athletes use acupuncture and cupping to bring fresh blood and qi to the injured area, which can speed up the healing process.
I have found that lifestyle changes, reducing sugar and refined wheat intake, or better still totally eliminating them, can really improve muscle health, especially in the back.
After a treatment it is vital that the patient keeps fully hydrated and allows the spine to rest and heal. I have found 72 hours is the time it takes for patient to really start to feel the difference. After a course of acupuncture they should feel:
Think of your body as an engine, like an engine your body is only as good as the fuel you feed it. (Poor quality fuel over a long period of time means a poor running engine, where parts start to break down). Your body will only perform if allowed the appropriate rest time. As you would maintain your engine, this must also apply to your body.
When men honour their bodies with the right nourishment both emotionally and physically they generally find their bodies, including their backs, begin to become pain free.
Katie Murphy Lic Ac MTCMCI
The Divine Feminine Inside the Menopause - How To Heal Your Way Through it with 3 Elements of Health
Here in the western world the minute we hear the word Menopause many of us younger women panic at the thoughts of hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and weight gain. Yet in the eastern world menopause is seen as a transition from mother to becoming an enlightened and wise-being.
What exactly is the Menopause? It's a time when a woman stops ovulation, therefore is no longer able to conceive a child. This can last a few months or several years. A woman is born with a set number of eggs (approximately 2 million), once these have been used up menopause has begun.
The 3 distinct phases of the menopause;
Menopause is not an illness. Women in many cultures do not experience the menopause as a crisis demanding medical intervention. Here in the West we tend to see the menopause as a time of loss, with the inability to no longer create life. Yet in 3 Elements of Healing I like to help women recognise the positive changes that occur and work with those to create a life of balance and wellness.
In Chinese medicine menopause occurs when the woman's body begins to preserve blood & energy to sustain her vitality, and allows for maximum nourishment of her body, especially her kidneys. In Chinese Medicine the Kidneys are the root of Life and longevity. Interestingly once the ovaries reduce their production of oestrogen, mother nature produces a form of oestrogen (Oestrone) from our adrenal glands. This is why in 3 Elements of Healing Kidney energy is worked with on each individual woman going through her very own, unique menopause journey.
How can 3 Elements of Healing help?
Let's look at the first Element - ACUPRESSURE.
Evidence suggests that Acupuncture has been used to help women's health as early as 3AD.
Now studies including this one published in the British Medical Journal Open (see below) look at the benefits of acupuncture and the menopause. This Danish study found after 5 weeks of acupuncture 80 % of the women with menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances and emotional problems, reported that the acupuncture helped relieve their symptoms.
In 3 elements of Healing we use acupressure instead of acupuncture. The difference being pressure is applied to the chosen acu-point instead of a needle inserted. A crystal Acu-Wand is used to apply the pressure to each point.
In this chinese aspect of the therapy I see illness arise when the flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced/blocked. Acupressure stimulates specific acu-points located near to or on the skin surface which has the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to help relieve the symptoms of the menopause.
Remember no two menopausal journeys are the same, therefore no two acupressure treatments are. As I explained earlier many points on the Kidney Channel really do help relieve symptoms. For example Kid 3 and Kid 7 both located near and on the inner respect of the ankle help reduce hot flushes and night sweats, and also help with vaginal dryness and loss of libido.
Emotional balancing points along the heart and pericardium channel such as heart 6 and pericardium 7 are hugely supportive and help bring sleep back into balance, calm the mind as well as helping relieve night sweats.
With our initial One 2 One Zoom chat I take a live consultation and set about a suitable acupressure course tailor made to the individual and her symptoms.
The 2nd Element of Healing - Aromatherapy. Oh how I love this incredible support mother nature created for women travelling through the menopause!
As every woman's experience is different so are the essential oils I decide to blend. Depending on where we are in her journey and what symptoms she may be facing. Many of the essential oils that help with irregular menstruation earlier in life help with menopausal symptoms. In particular Geranium which is a hormonal balancer and Rose, which tones and cleanses the uterus. Chamomile is another useful oil as it helps to calm, sooth and has antidepressant qualities. All the antidepressant oils such as Bergamot, Clary Sage, Jasmine, Lavender, Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang can be helpful.
Cypress oil can be helpful in the early pre-menopausal time where many women find they may have heavy bleeding or irregular cycles.
Oestrogenic oils, such as Clary Sage, Fennel, Star Anise, are important oils as they may help maintain hormone levels in the body.
Many menopausal and post-menopausal women feel that their femininity is fading, and Rose again can help them to feel feminine, nurtured and desirable. Rose oil genuinely can help many menopausal problems, as well as being a natural antidepressant, aphrodisiac, helping women to see their divine femininity.
Here I combine a blend of essential oils into a handy roll on bottle, adding Crystals to enhance the energetic vibration of the oils and helping to increase their potency.
This leads us to the 3rd Element of Healing - Crystals.
There are so many crystals that help with the emotional roller coaster of the menopause. I love Moonstone, Lepidolite, Carnelian, Rose Quartz, Smoky Quartz, Garnet, and perhaps Unakite are my personal favourites.
Carnelian for example is said to be both energising and helps to give relief from depression. Carnelian helps to balance the Sacral chakra, cleanse, clear and emit healing energy to the reproductive system as it goes through this transition.
Smoky Quartz helps ground with Earth energies and the Root Chakra. Use Smoky Quartz to absorb and transmute the hot flush energy, which will help to cool the body and calm the mind.
One of my new favourite Crystal Acu-wands to use during menopause is Que Sera - this crystal helps to release stress and clears and stimulates all chakras. Gets the energy flowing bringing balance and an enhancement of your energy. This crystal connects you to an endless supply of power. Helps you to be more conscious, enhances your gifts and maintains a connection to your soul. This is a time in your life when reconnection to “self” is key to happiness. Connecting to crystals and in particular by using a Crystal Acu-wand with the use of breath work and positive affirmations, incredible healing can happen.
Lifestyle and Nutrition
It is absolutely vital that this is a time of nourishment and not punishment of the body. For many women they have spent many of their younger years giving energetically and physically to their loved ones. This is a wonderful time to discover what your body needs as a form of nourishment and nutrition. I have found that women coming into me at the Clinic who have high sugar and caffeine diets tend to have much more severe menopause symptoms compared to those that eat a balanced diet.
A few important, gentle reminders…
Eat a rainbow of colours. This means including plenty of plant fibre in your diet. Lots of calcium and magnesium rich foods, these include Green leafy vegetables, avocado, broccoli, magnesium rich nuts and seeds. Soya beans, kiwis, pineapples, bananas. Fish such as salmon and sardines.
Stabilise Sugar levels by reducing the amount of sugar and refined foods you eat. Remember we spoke about adrenal health. This is where it is vital to make sure you do not overload them. Think little and often. If you crave sugar try to limit your treats to dark chocolate or foods with naturally occurring sugars rather than refined white sugar.
Avoid Diet Drinks - Diet Coke for example not only contains caffeine but its sweetener aspartame can cause your body to crave more sugar. Water is so much better for your system, plus vital to keep hydrated at this time.
Make sure your diet contains plenty of essential fatty acids such as oily fish, nuts and seeds ie Linseed (flax seed). Add these to your daily diet. They help to lubricate the joints, skin and vagina, as well as keeping cholesterol in check and maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Reduce caffeine consumption. In Traditional Chinese Medicine caffeine increases the Yang in the body, imagine for a moment a surge of heat. Each caffeinated drink increases Yang which in turn creates more heat = Hot flush!
Alcohol does the same thing and many studies link alcohol consumption to disrupted sleep. Seeing as sleep is vital, it's so important to try to reduce your alcohol intake as much as possible.
Fibre from good sources such as brown rice, wholemeal bread, brown pasta, and oats. Fibre binds oestrogen so that it is excreted more efficiently plus keeps your blood sugar more stable.
Vitamin D (sunshine vitamin), Vit C, B6, B12 and Vitamin E are all important.
Herbs such as Agnus Castus, Sage, Black Cohosh, Dong Quai and milk thistle can all be incredibly supportive however you must consult your GP if you are already taking HRT. 3 Elements supply a variety of top quality herbs for our patients. Your local Health Food shop will be able to guide you to the correct herbs and supplements.
For more information about how 3 Elements of Healing can help you make this time in your life one of a revival of energy and an opportunity for personal growth contact Katie or check out I choose to Heal Package on our Shop Page
Katie Murphy Lic Ac MTCMCI