As of 2021, breast cancer became the most common cancer globally, according to the World Health Organization, accounting for 12% of all new annual cancer cases worldwide. Further, an estimated 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in U.S. women in 2022, along with 51,400 cases of non-invasive breast cancer, according to breastcancer.org.
The good news?
Thanks to early detection programs, combined with different modes of treatment for eradicating invasive disease, breast cancer survival rates have been improving since the 1980s. And while some of the biggest hurdles women face, both during and post-treatment, are the side effects, ongoing research continues to reveal just how effective acupuncture is for mitigating certain symptoms, like hot flashes, fatigue, xerostomia (dry mouth), joint pain and more.
Acupuncture for Joint Pain May Support Chemotherapy Continuation
Aromatase inhibitors are hormone therapy drugs used to treat hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, with one of the most common side effects being joint and muscle pain. One oncologist and researcher out of Columbia University, noticing the rate of therapy discontinuation in her patients due to these side effects, was prompted to produce a study revealing the effects of acupuncture in reducing aromatase inhibitor-related joint pain in women with early-stage breast cancer. Published in JAMA in 2018, the study concluded that true acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture or with waitlist control resulted in a statistically significant reduction in joint pain at 6 weeks.
Our Houston acupuncture clinic specializes in holistic pain management, and musculoskeletal symptoms, such as joint pain, are common issues that we treat using acupuncture and other Traditional Chinese medicine modalities.
Promising Research for Hot Flashes
Because the aromatase inhibitors block estrogen synthesis, hot flashes — like those experienced during menopause — are another common, uncomfortable side effect experienced during treatment.
A study out of South Korea concluded that acupuncture administered three times a week for four consecutive weeks decreased the severity of hot flashes by 70-95% in all patients, with results lasting for at least a month after the termination of treatment.
Another study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology assessed the immediate and long-term effects of true acupuncture versus sham acupuncture on hot flashes in women with breast cancer. It found that true acupuncture was associated with .8 fewer hot flashes per day than sham acupuncture at six weeks, with a further reduction in the frequency of hot flashes in the sham group, once switched over to true acupuncture.
Hope for Radiation Fibrosis Syndrome
Radiation fibrosis syndome (RFS) is a late complication of radiation therapy that can often show up 3-6 months (or sometimes even years) after treatment. It occurs as both cancer cells and healthy cells in the body are obliterated by the radiation treatment, resulting in damage to blood vessels in the area. As a result, blood flow is restricted, tissues fail to receive adequate nourishment, and an excessive formation of fibrous connective tissue consequently forms, creating structural and functional changes. Many doctors call the result “scar tissue” and often deem RFS life-long and progressive.
Treatments for RFS are typically aimed at preventing progression and maintaining function, and doctors usually provide options like medications, creams, Botox or trigger-point injections, as well as physical therapy or deep friction massage.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners would consider radiation fibrosis a severe case of qi and blood deficiency. While East Asian alternative treatments have yet to be adequately studied for this condition, hope is on the horizon for patients suffering with it, as many licensed acupuncturists have seen positive results (like pain relief and increased range of motion) in clinic when treating RFS with a combination of acupuncture and cupping (myofascial decompression) therapy.
It’s important to find a licensed acupuncturist with formal traditional Chinese medicine training when seeking treatment, as a holistic approach — where the practitioner provides full body support, in addition to treating the symptom itself — typically yields best results. Many non-acupuncturists who practice dry needling or cupping and are trained from a Western approach, often only treat the presenting symptoms, without addressing the constitution as a whole. Read more about the difference between acupuncture and dry needling here.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine Lens
Traditional Chinese medicine is an ancient system of medicine dating back several centuries, and was slowly developed over time using nature as its guide. It’s a much different approach from how we view the body and disease from a Western biomedical viewpoint.
Rather than viewing the body as a machine made of up separate parts that require "repair" once they malfunction, Eastern medicine views the body more like a garden that one must continually tend to, ensuring the "environment" that is the body stays balanced. Much like how compost provides nutrients, and water and the sun give life to plants within a garden, our bodies require regular replenishment and adjustments to maintain optimal health.
The Eastern system understands that disease or sickness occurs in the body as symptoms that arise due to an underlying imbalance. By identifying specific patterns of imbalance, which are diagnosed based on presenting symptoms, tongue and pulse analysis, and through physical features observed in the patient by the practitioner, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and other modalities are then used to “balance out" these patterns, returning the body to homeostasis. One such pattern — and what practitioners often see in patients who have undergone chemotherapy — is called yin deficiency.
Yin and yang are two foundational concepts in traditional Chinese medicine that help to explain the balance of all things in life. Many Westerners recognize the yin-yang symbol, but often don’t realize its deeper significance.
Yin and Yang are two complementary, yet opposing forces that make up the whole of every organism, and all aspects of life. Yin encompasses "feminine" qualities like rest, nourishment, stillness, receptivity, coolness, etc., as opposed to the more warm and action-oriented, "masculine" nature of yang. Yin cannot exist without yang and vice versa; everything contains both halves, and "the work," is finding balance between the two, in all areas of life.
Within the body, “yin” functions would include those which help to regulate fluid balance, as well as our thermoregulatory mechanisms that help to cool the body (and yes, the kidneys are largely involved when we’re working with yin and yang).
When one side of the yin-yang balance is greater than the other, this naturally minimizes and decreases the other side. Similarly, when one side becomes smaller, this naturally enhances and strengthens the other side.
Aggressive treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation (which are very yang in nature) are exhaustive to the body’s yin, creating a pattern of imbalance called “yin deficiency.”
Because the body is lacking in cooling and hydrating mechanisms when there’s a yin deficiency, the body experiences the opposite: warm and dry (yang) symptoms such dry mouth, dry throat, hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, and dry skin, hair and nails.
Treatments for yin deficiency include customized acupuncture protocols to stimulate the body’s yin functions, diet modifications, and certain Chinese herbal formulas to help cool and lubricate the body from the inside out.
If you’re a breast cancer survivor looking for relief from side effects, like hot flashes, joint pain, or radiation fibrosis, we encourage you to give acupuncture a try! It’s important to seek out a licensed and experienced acupuncturist. Feel free to give our Houston acupuncture clinic a call for more information or book an appointment here.
If you suffer from peripheral neuropathy, you likely know the horrors of walking barefoot on a cold, hard surface, like a tile floor. The resulting pain or numbness can feel almost unbearable.
Peripheral neuropathy is a common concern that we see here in our Houston acupuncture clinic, and it occurs when damaged nerves in the peripheral nervous system cause burning, tingling, or even a lack of sensation - usually in the hands and feet. Both Western and Eastern medicine offer solutions for peripheral neuropathy, and it’s important for people to be aware of their varying options.
What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy & How is it Most Commonly Treated?
Peripheral neuropathy is most frequently caused by diabetes, however, this common neurological condition can also result from thyroid disorders, certain autoimmune diseases, vitamin B12 deficiencies, infections, traumatic injuries, or exposure to toxins, heavy metals or certain kinds of drugs, like those used in chemotherapy.
The most common solutions offered by Western clinicians are anticonvulsants or mood-enchanting pharmaceutical drugs, like gabapentin, pregabalin, amitriptyline or duloxetine, which have been shown to be effective in reducing neuropathic pain. Steroids, aimed at reducing inflammation, or immunosuppressants, which reduce the activity of the nervous system, may also be offered. Some doctors even prescribe powerful painkillers, like Tramadol, which has been shown to significantly reduce pain, but, like all opiods, carries the risk of being highly addictive. These drugs, which are aimed at symptomatic management, can provide more immediate relief, but do come with a caveat: the potential for some not-so-fun side effects, including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, swelling, weight gain and more.
Many more physicians are beginning to understand the power of nutrition, and may be able to recommend diet modifications and supplementation to reduce inflammation and support nerve health, or refer you to a nutritionist who can help with this.
The majority of research conducted today is centered around Western medicine solutions for neuropathy rather than Eastern approaches, like acupuncture, which can lead many to feeling skeptical about alternative solutions. And while more acupuncture studies are becoming available today, it’s important to understand that acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine can sometimes be difficult to measure by Western medicine “standards,” as the core of Eastern medicine’s therapeutic effectiveness comes from the principle that every person, with their very unique constitutional make-up and environmental circumstances, has a unique set of symptoms which require a customized treatment best suited to them. The success of Eastern medicine, and the very reason for its centuries-long continuity is that doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all or “standardized” approach.
For example, if one patient is experiencing burning neuropathic pain accompanied by other symptoms, like dryness or feeling easily overheated, while another suffers from numbness, as well as extreme fatigue and swelling, a Western physician may prescribe the same medication for both, but an Eastern medicine practitioner would likely take two different approaches to treat each patient individually, as their underlying constitutional patterns are very different.
The Eastern Approach for Treating Peripheral Neuropathy
According to traditional Chinese medicine, peripheral neuropathy occurs when there's a blockage of “qi” (energy) and blood in the body. Our qi helps to circulate blood, and blood carries oxygen and nutrients to our bodies’ tissues. If the qi and blood cannot circulate freely throughout the entire body, certain peripheral cells and tissues won’t receive the nourishment they require. In the case of peripheral neuropathy, acupuncture helps to stimulate the body’s nerve pathways, which can mitigate pain and aid nerve regeneration, thus increasing sensation in cases of numbness. But also, by improving blood flow throughout the entire body, nerve tissues in the extremities are also more adequately nourished, which can ultimately serve to repair nerve function over time.
And Chinese medicine not only aims to treat a person’s presenting symptoms, but also their body’s underlying physiological imbalances which led to the symptoms — AKA, the “root cause.” As a holistic system of medicine - meaning, practitioners take into account all of the systems within the body, rather than breaking it down to treat individual parts - many patients experience better health overall, when seeking alternative treatment for their peripheral neuropathy. Therefore, the Eastern approach may also be helpful in mitigating issues including:
numbness or paresthesia in the limbs
muscle cramps or twitching
changes in blood pressure
Acupuncture may produce mild side effects, which include bruising, soreness or slight bleeding at the needle site. You can read more about side effects in our FAQs here. And while side effects are generally much less extreme in Eastern medicine, the biggest downside for many is that acupuncture doesn’t always produce instantaneous results, as many in the West are accustomed to. This is because true healing takes time. A course of weekly or bi-weekly treatments for ten or more sessions is often advised, with periodic maintenance treatments recommended thereafter, however, every patient’s treatment plan will be slightly different, depending on the severity and length of their neuropathy.
Traditional Eastern medicine systems are actually the original functional medicine models, and therefore, acupuncturists are equipped to not only treat an issue and its root cause, but also offer customized diet, supplementation and lifestyle modifications, which can help to both correct and prevent issues. We at Nguyen Wellness + Recovery believe awareness and education are our greatest tools for prevention, and we take a teamwork approach here in our Houston acupuncture clinic, because, while we are here to help you and guide you, you are ultimately the one in charge of your health.
If you’d like to try acupuncture for your peripheral neuropathy, contact our Houston clinic or book online!
You’re resting on the massage table. Your acupuncturist has about half of your needles inserted. Then bam! – out of nowhere, a sense of calm suddenly comes over you. Your eyelids grow heavy, followed by a general sense of relaxation filling your entire body as you slowly begin to doze off.
Many of our patients are surprised when they have this experience during their first acupuncture treatment. But rest assured, it’s a normal - and really awesome - thing that happens during many acupuncture sessions. Besides a deep sense of calm, there are a number of other weird (but cool!) experiences you may have from acupuncture.
1. Feeling “acu-buzzed”
Let’s chat more about the experience above, because this is, by far, our patients’ favorite “side effect” of acupuncture. It’s very common to begin to feel heavy and sleepy during your acupuncture session. The fuzzy-headedness and sense of calm is often a welcome relief for people who lead busy, stressful lives, and don’t often get to slow down. Many of our patients actually fall asleep, or drift in and out of sleep (what we like to call an “acu-nap”), wavering between sleep & relaxation and a greater sense of clarity. This is because, by needling certain areas, we are helping to induce a parasympathetic response within your nervous system (the “rest & digest” state), which allows the body to reach deeper levels of healing within. While it’s common to awaken from your treatment feeling totally rejuvenated and energized, some people feel extremely tired. So let’s talk about that next…
2. Extreme fatigue after acupuncture
Some people feel just-plain-wiped-out after acupuncture, and it’s usually the people who have been burning the candle at both ends. Don’t worry – this doesn’t happen every time. It’s usually more common right at the beginning, when you first begin to get acupuncture. Sometimes we are powering ourselves with pure adrenaline and stress hormones, and once we take a moment to finally stop, the depth of our exhaustion is finally revealed to us. Because acupuncture lowers our stress hormones, we begin to feel our true energy levels during or after acupuncture. Instead of feeling agitated by the need to rest after acupuncture, try and welcome the much-needed break (plan accordingly & try not to over-schedule yourself around your first treatment). You’ll feel like yourself again within the next day or so. And keep in mind that acupuncture and herbal medicine can help you to re-build your system and your energy levels over time, as well as help you to manage stress. We can also discuss with you other self-care options, to help you to stay more balanced in your day-to-day life.
3. Strange tingles or feeling “phantom needles”
This is a reaction that always amazes acupuncture patients. After we've inserted the needles, you may feel slight tingles in certain areas of your body. And sometimes, certain parts of the body light up with sensation, even if they’re not being worked on directly. This is due to the connections between the different meridians in Chinese medicine (which, arguably, follow the pathways of various nerves and fascia in the body) . For example, I was once needling an inflammation-reducing point in a patient’s foot when she suddenly felt a tingle in her elbow – the site of another common "heat-clearing" point. The association between the two meridians allowed for the noticeable movement of energy.
Other times - usually after the needles have been sitting for a little while - some patients mention that they feel a needle in an area where there isn’t actually a needle. I like to call these “phantom needles,” but really, they’re just areas along the meridians where energy is moving through blocks of stagnation, to free up the flow of qi (and, basically, increase circulation).
4. Twitching muscles
This might just be our patients’ least favorite sensation during acupuncture, but it still has its benefits. There are certain trigger points in the body that elicit an involuntary twitch of your muscles when stimulated. It can feel a little funny, and even slightly uncomfortable for a moment, but the stimulation and subsequent contractions help to release muscle tension and also increase circulation, welcoming fresh blood flow into particular areas, which helps to speed up recovery time and ease pain.
Many chiropractors and physical therapists use this technique and call it “dry needling.” It’s important that you find a licensed acupuncturist trained to use acupuncture needles, as aggressive needling or improper technique can lead to injury, or simply fail to be as effective. Acupuncturists will generally use a lighter touch and accompany any trigger points with complementary points, to increase their effectiveness. Read more about acupuncture vs. dry needing in our FAQs here.
5. Feeling emotional during or after acupuncture
We welcome all the tears in our Houston acupuncture practice, because we know just how therapeutic and detoxifying crying can be! And sometimes – you just can’t help it. Emotions are energy, and when we haven’t properly processed or released certain emotions, they can become stuck in our bodies. It’s common to ignore or distract ourselves from feeling what’s inside, however, energy work, like acupuncture or reiki, have a way of bringing things to the surface for healing. During acupuncture, as your muscles begin to relax and release, and energy begins to move and stir things up inside of you, some feel the need to spontaneously laugh...or cry. Others will begin to spill about the things that are making them angry or bitter. You should never feel embarrassed or shy about any of these responses. We welcome them (and trust us, it happens a lot!).
Some people feel okay during their sessions, but will begin to feel more sensitive or teary-eyes in the days following their session. We encourage you to offer yourself the gift of rest, stillness and alone time, to adequately process these feelings. As your emotional load becomes lighter, so often physical symptoms will also begin to improve.
6. Urgent restroom runs after treatment
Some patients find that they have to rush to the restroom after their session, because – as we said above – things gets stirred up during acupuncture! Others notice an increase in urination or bowel movements in the days following as the body works to detoxify itself. These are positive signs; just be sure to keep drinking plenty of water to support the cleansing process.
7. Increased bodily awareness & heightened sensitivity
Acupuncture can help you to become more mindful of your body. As we acupuncturists ask you detailed questions about what’s going on inside of you, or as we talk our way through the sensations you feel within your body during your session, your awareness begins to flow inward. Many of us stay so busy and distracted by our lives that we essentially cut ourselves off from what we’re feeling – this is the disconnection between the mind and body that is all-too-common in today’s culture. We're so in our own heads that we lose connection with what we're feeling in our bodies...until symptoms become so extreme that they are essentially screaming at us! Through acupuncture, you can begin to mend this disconnection. As you start to notice what’s happening inside your body more, and begin to make connections between external stimuli and your internal responses, you may find your sensitivities enhanced. You may find yourself overwhelmed by environments you once sought out, or you may not be able to eat the same high-processed foods you could once devour without fail.
While this can be alarming at first, know that this is a completely normal human experience – to feel. And as we begin to welcome and even cultivate this experience within ourselves, we ultimately become better at noticing and correcting imbalances in our bodies as they come up. Symptoms arise in our bodies as gentle nudges telling us something is wrong & needs to be addressed. When we learn to notice and then balance or treat our own symptoms, we are empowered, and we not only experience greater day-t0-day health and vitality, but we can avoid much more serious disease down the line.
Have you ever had these experiences during an acupuncture treatment? Feel free to share - we'd love to hear from you! If you've never tried acupuncture and are eager to see what all the buzz is all about, contact our Houston clinic or book online!