Acupuncture, the Spine and Nerves

Disc Herniation, Spinal Stenosis, Spondylosis and Acupuncture

Disc herniation occurs when the spine compresses a disc, squeezing it into a space already occupied by a nerve. This can result in tingling or achiness in the leg, feet, arm, and/or hand. More severe herniation causes muscles to atrophy, meaning they get weak and flaccid.

Spinal stenosis is a degenerative disease that is an aggravation of the usual disc herniations and degeneration that we see in that bone spurs have grown into spaces occupied by nerves.

Spondylosis is degeneration. Over time, our vertebrae lose their luster. Joints between the vertebrae, termed facet joints, become arthritic. The quality of the bone changes. Vertebrae get bumpy, instead of remaining smooth. This can aggravate the nerves and cause nerve pain and tight backs in later years.

Why does our spine cause us so many problems?

  1. Muscle imbalance
  2. Hyper-reactive nerves
  3. Space occupying lesions

With all of these pathologies, it is oversimplification to claim that invasion of bone or disc into the nerve’s space is CAUSING the pain. Every day, patients walk into the clinic with an x-ray and that is exactly what they say. But there are many people out there with similar x-rays for all of these pathologies that are pain free, or their pain is much reduced, so there must be more to the equation.

The flexibility of the nervous system- its ability to allow structure to invade its space without over-reacting is multifaceted. It relies on the whole system. The brain, coordinating input from the entire peripheral nervous system, must be relaxed and open to divergence from the ideal.

Think of the nerves as a highway system governed by city planning. If planning is poor, multiple bottle-necking occurs, obstructing traffic, even on days clear of accidents.  In Chinese Medicine, planning is ruled by the Liver, which is said to govern “smooth flow”. If planning is too rigid and short sighted, resulting in constraint and obstacles too big to traverse, the nerves reflect that inflexibility, and will overreact to smaller obstructions in their paths. Acupuncture quickens the flow, relaxes the Liver, and benefits flexibility of the nervous system.

In the same analogy, cars are like information that must get from the brain to the nerves and back to coordinate movement and let us know when there is an emergency. Of course, a huge accident will block up traffic for miles. The same is true of gross trauma in the spine from a fall or high impact collision. What is less clear to people is that multiple breaking over the course of a single road can also back up traffic. This is a “perfect storm” scenario where multiple small obstructions have an aggregate effect, such as distracted drivers, debris on the road and/or inclement weather.  Such is the case when a single nerve is aggravated in a number of different areas of its pathway by smaller obstructions. This highlights the holism of Chinese Medicine. Because we look at the body analogously, from a “big picture” point of view, we take into account multiple factors that can build into neuropathy. Instead of indicating solely the largest obstruction and directing all efforts, however invasive, to its remedy, acupuncture focuses globally so that we can shift the entire pathway.

This is why the concept of the channels system was developed and cherished over the centuries. The channels are the roads. They form a connection between the hands and the neck, the feet and the low back, the internal organs, the 5 senses, the 6 emotions and the 5 spirits. Layers upon layers of connections are present between all aspects of the body. When you feel numbness, tingling and pain, often times it is due to an aggregate of multiple small imbalances that accumulate to form this particular warning sign the body is giving you. This may be why surgeries do not always fix the problem, even when the most obvious obstruction is cleared. Acupuncture can turn a two-lane road into a six-lane superhighway.  As we continually create obstruction to nervous system communication through overuse, lack of rest, and stress, adaptability is survival. Utilizing the body as a whole, expert acupuncturists potentiate the capacity of the body to regulate and balance itself in various regions, at various layers simultaneously.  We treat multi-faceted disease with a multi-faceted approach, individualized to account for the particular condition of the person, not just the disease, in front of us.