Why Acupuncture Works for Seniors

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

For more than two years I worked at a pain clinic that happened to be attached to a long term care facility inhabited by elderly patients. Many of them were my patients, and although their treatments at the clinic were multidisciplinary (seeing many types of doctors and receiving different types of treatments depending on their issues), I found that acupuncture really worked wonders on the eldery patients from next door.

Older patients present some unique problems. Firstly, many of them are on a myriad of medications for a wide variety of conditions. I found that I really had to sit down with them and take the time in the initial consultation to document what medications they were on and then research and make sure that none of them could be reacting with each other and causing any of the problems they were coming to see me for. I was really amazed at how many medications my elderly patients were taking. Many of them weren't sure what they were for, and others had been on them for so long that they had forgotten why they had been given.

In Chinese medical theory, as a person ages, their vital energy, life force or "Jing" is seen to be in a gradual decline. This is healthy and a natural part of aging. However, we are only born with a finite amount, and the way we live our lives determines how it is used, wheather it is wisely, or not. This is illustrated by a person who has lived hard, done a lot of partying, drinking, drugs... they usually have a worn out appearance and often look older than they actually are. They have been depleting their Jing, and it is aging them prematurely.

The other thing that I noticed about the seniors that I treated, was what a huge difference taking some time to sit and speak with them made. Making a connection and showing that I was really listening to them made a huge difference in their treatment and ultimately, their prognosis. This may seem obvious, that a little kindness goes a long way, but often in the medical profession, and in particular with seniors, doctors don't have (or take) the time to really listen. Of course, they are the experts on disease and illness, but who knows their body better than the patient? Allowing a patient to relay to you their experience of what is happening, what is out of balance or causing them pain is an important aspect of the treatment and subsequent healing process.

Another thing that I noticed is that my senior patients were rarely touched. Touch is such an important part of our lives. Important physiologically for things like the nervous system, and emotionally for a feeling of connectedness, affection and purpose. I found that sometimes they would hold my hand while telling me how they were doing just to feel a connection to another person. So, I always tried to incorporate some massage into the treatment which they always loved. Because stagnation occurs often in the elderly, massage (and acupuncture of course) are very moving and stimulating to the body helping to move stagnation and keep things flowing freely.

Why Acupuncture is So Good for Seniors

Because of all these factors acupuncture works very well for seniors. You don't have to worry about drug interactions (which are especially dangerous in the elderly), and it can be applied in as gentle a fashion as needed depending on the patients requirements.

Because many seniors exhibit long standing deficiencies, they are not as sensitive and by the time a symptom is felt, it is often very serious (children are the opposite), and acupuncture is a powerful tool and able to be used on sensitive or very deficient patients. It's many modalities are also useful like dietary therapy (I found many seniors were not eating a balanced diet), emotional wellness (which I was attending to by speaking with them and allowing them to express what they were feeling), and the importance of exercise. Many did not get out or even do much moving around. As part of their treatment I always advised walking, even if it was around the halls, but going outside and getting some fresh air and being out in nature is always preferable. This is good for moving energy, getting the blood flowing and improving mood.

We had a physiotherapist in the clinic and we set up a program for her to go next door 3 times a week to do an exercise class with the seniors. It was so popular the class was always packed and the staff noticed a marked improvement in the overall health and mood of the residents.

Another common problem is depression. Often senior citizens are living in facilities like this because they are unwell, unable to take care of themselves, and have lost a spouse. These all take a toll on our psyche, so depression is common. Any of these on its own is a huge adjustment, but they often come together so it isn't hard to imagine that many people become depressed when these major life changes occur. Some withdraw and shut down, some become angry and frustrated at their situation, and some become sad and depressed. I found that the more connected to the world and other people, the better they did. If they had visitors, saw their friends and children, or went on outings, they were happier and more balanced and overall, healthier.

Thankfully, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have many ways to deal with depression. Like everything in TCM there are many types of, and reasons for depression to take up residence, but a thorough intake and accurate diagnosis can help the patient on their way to recovery. I saw many patients improve dramatically, and seeing their healing was perhaps the most rewarding of my career. My senior patients were some of the most interesting (the stories! They have seen so much of history!), most kind hearted and appreciative patients I have treated.

We live in a society that does not value its older citizens the way most cultures do. In many cultures around the world the oldest members of the family, village, or town are the most revered as they have something the younger people do not... wisdom. And wisdom is something that can only be gained by living, so the oldest among us are the wise. In our culture in the West we do not have the same reverence for our elderly, and they are often put into homes, abandoned and forgotten when they have so much to offer and to teach us. I learn so much from all my patients, but I think I have learned the most from my senior patients who have lived longer, seen more and experienced life to an extent that I have not, at least not yet... ;)


What is Gua Sha?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Gua Sha is a medical treatment used in Chinese medicine and throughout South East Asia. In Indonesia the technique is called Kerik, in Vietnam: Cao Yio and in Laos: Khoud Lam.

“Gua” means to scrape or rub. “Sha” is the term for the reddish raised skin rash that occurs as a result of the scraping. Sha refers to the blood stagnation in the subcutaneous tissues before and after it is raised as the reddish skin rash (petechiae) or bruising (ecchymosis).

Gua Sha involves lubricating the skin with oil (traditionally a thick oil such as peanut was used) and using a smooth edged instrument, the acupuncturist uses long or short strokes causing redness or bruising. The most common areas for treatment are the yang areas of the body such as the back, neck, shoulders, buttocks, limbs. Occasionally the chest and abdomen are used as well. There are also types of facial Gua Sha that are used in conjunction with cosmetic acupuncture treatments to help increase circulation, elasticity and firmness of the skin.

Gua Sha does however cause temporary ecchymosis (or bruising) which fades in 2-4 days. In TCM theory, the intensity/severity of the bruising is an indication of the severity of the toxicity, stagnation or fever inside the body.

What Does Gua Sha Treat?

Gua Sha is used to treat as well as prevent the common cold, flu, bronchitis, asthma, and pain both acute and chronic. It is also used to detoxify the body, and alleviates fevers as the scraping brings the excess heat and toxins to the surface of the body to be released.

When used for pain there may be an achy feeling, tenderness or knotted feeling in the muscles. It is excellent for treating colds or flus especially if there are respiratory problems or high fever. Any problems of qi or blood stagnation can be successfully treated with Gua Sha.

Gua Sha has a special function to relieve fevers and inflammation of the respiratory system, and performs very well in conjunction with acupuncture and cupping for these conditions.

What Does The “Sha” Tell You?

The colour and intensity of the Sha is both diagnostic and prognostic. If the Sha is very light in colour it indicates a deficiency of blood. If the Sha is a fresh and intense red, it means the condition is acute and has not yet penetrated deep into the body. If the Sha is black or purple in colour it indicates blood stagnation which means the condition has been long standing. If the Sha is brown, there may be dryness in the body and a deficiency of fluids. Dark deep red Sha indicates heat. The Sha is a good reflection of detoxification and fever release.

What Tools Do You Use for Gua Sha?

There are many things that can be used to do Gua Sha. Traditionally, a slice of water buffalo horn, a piece of jade, a Chinese soup spoon, or a coin were used. You can basically use anything with a rounded edge. Now there are many tools of various sizes and shapes that are used for Gua Sha. Below is a photo of some common Gua Sha tools.

It is also important to lubricate the skin before administering the Gus Sha. Various massage oils can be used. You can also use peanut oil, almond oil, coconut oil or vicks vaporub as a lubricant.

How is Gua Sha Applied?

The area of skin to be treated is applied with oil as a lubricating medium. The acupuncturist then takes the Gua Sha tool and strokes the skin in a downward motion until the petechia form. If there is no blood stasis, stagnation or fever, a rash (petechiae) will not form and the skin will only turn pink.

Gua Sha is stimulating to the immune system, detoxifies, increases circulation, regulates organ function, normalizes metabolic processes, removes stagnation and eases pain. After a Gua Sha treatment, a patient usually feels a shift or release especially if there was pain. There is often sweating which is the body’s way of releasing toxins that have been inside the body. Gua Sha revitalizes, rejuvenates, helps diminish stress, fatigue and severe exhaustion. It helps to release emotions, relaxes the body and helps to clear the mind and senses. Gua Sha is a simple treatment, but incredibly effective for many ailments which is why it has been used in China and South East Asia for thousands of years.

 


What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an umbrella term for the many different modalities used in Chinese Medicine. These include Acupuncture (electro, auricular, cosmetic), Tui Na (Chinese medical massage), Herbal Medicine, Gua Sha (scraping), Moxibustion (the burning of the herb mugwort), Cupping, Dietary Therapy and Energy Work (Qi Gong, Tai Chi).

Traditional Chinese Medicine is one of the oldest continuous medical systems on earth, with instances dating back more than 4000 years. The philosophy of TCM is based on the Taoist view that human beings should strive to live in harmony with nature and their natural environment. Eating foods that grow locally and in season, practicing Tai Chi and Qi Gong, expressing our emotions, being self aware and listening to our needs and desires are, in the TCM view, the way to a healthy and balanced life.

The TCM philosophy offers us different approaches to looking at the workings of our bodies, the development of disease and the process of healing. The emotional self, for example, is just as important to the TCM practitioner as the physical body. When a patient arrives with a specific complaint, all physical as well as emotional and psychological aspects are evaluated, as it is the entire person who must be rebalanced, not just one aspect. This holistic approach is the strength of the TCM model, and why it is so effective. Treating the whole is in opposition to the reductionist model in the West which reduces the body into parts, not taking into consideration that they operate synergistically as a whole. This is one of the reasons why TCM is still able to treat a huge variety of ailments in the modern world.

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Illness is described in the way it is seen to exist and develop, in natural terms. Terms like water, fire, wind and earth are used to describe a person and aspects of their health, personality and disease. Illness develops when something is out of balance, is deficient, in excess or stuck. The energy of the body, or Qi, must then be rebalanced, topped up, sedated, and moved depending on the presenting condition. Qi moves along specific pathways in the body called meridians. The acupuncture points are places where the Qi comes to the surface and is able to be manipulated by the acupuncture needles.

Herbs work internally to achieve the same goals. They are powerful tools and can be used alone or in conjunction with acupuncture or any of the other modalities, like Tui Na, Cupping or Gua Sha. All are used to rebalance the body and return it to a state of equilibrium. It is up to the practitioner to decide which ones or combinations are most effective for the patient and the imbalance that has led them to seek treatment.

In conclusion, Chinese medicine holds the body and its capacity for healing in great reverence. It does not see itself as an outside force that is able to heal the body, but as a way to help adjust the body and bring it back into balance so that health is restored. In essence, it is not the practitioner doing the healing, it is the body. Advice on nutrition, living with the seasons and moderation in life empowers the patient and enables him to participate in his own healing. The goal of the TCM practitioner is to use these concepts to guide the patient on how to live a healthy, happy and balanced life.