ACUPUNCTURE & SURGERY
Remedy fully supports the use of acupuncture in health and wellness. If you are located in Calgary and are considering acupuncture as treatment, visit Jessica at Evolve Acupuncture (website here). Jessica is a practitioner of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. She is a graduate of Alberta College of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and a member of the Alberta Governing Board of Acupuncturists (CAAA). Jessica is continuously expanding her knowledge and skill base and is now recognized as an Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist (ADS) and an Advanced Cupping Therapist. We’ve asked her to put together some thoughts on pre and post surgery treatments.
WORDS BY JESSICA MCDONALD, R.Ac
Chinese Medicine Care for the Most Optimal Recovery from Surgery
Becoming ill is never what people want or expect, but it happens to all of us - we are easily influenced by what we put in our bodies and our environment. Chinese Medicine is one of the oldest treatment modalities but it is also a lifestyle that promotes healthy habits to prevent illness as well as to aid in an efficient recovery.
Qi – There are many meanings and translations of Qi but in medical terms, we refer to it as the vital activity of bodily functions. The most important idea of Qi is that of free flow which is associated with health, well-being, relaxation, and happiness – where everything is running smoothly and functioning with ease. We must consider the dynamic relationship of Normal Qi and Pathogenic Qi to understand the importance of caring for oneself before and after a surgery, and ultimately to maintain health to prevent illness and injury. Normal Qi refers to healthy energy, our constitution and includes the immune system, but on a much more broad scale. When our Normal Qi is strong, we have a greater resistance to harmful influences, but when it is weak, or Pathogenic, we are more vulnerable and can become ill quicker and for longer periods.
Stress Relief – Stress can negatively affect virtually every body system, contributing to headaches, muscular pain, fatigue, insomnia, and digestive disorders. It makes sense that when going into a situation, like surgery, that is deliberately going to stress the body, we would want to reduce the amount of additional stress that we otherwise, might not treat. Acupuncture is a non-invasive and can be a non-verbal way of relieving stress. This is important to some people who may not feel comfortable talking about their situation or are already seeking counseling and do not need to share the specifics of their stress – it doesn’t matter because acupuncture works regardless! Chronic stress can settle very deeply in the body and may take several treatments to begin to notice a marked improvement – stay with it! Acupuncture accumulates in your system in a slow build type way that is more like building a foundation.
Nourish the Body – It goes without saying that the better shape the body is in before a procedure is done, the easier it will be to recover. The health of your muscles and tissues, especially at the site of incision, will make an enormous difference in the speed and ease of the recovery process. There are many ways to nourish the body but in general it can mean eating well, exercising if possible, drinking plenty of water, taking supplements if recommended, practicing meditation and cultivating mindfulness, and of course getting acupuncture treatments done to increase blood and Qi flow.
Cleanse – During and after surgery we are given a lot of different medications – anesthetic, pain relievers, and antibiotics which are important to make sure that the surgery goes well and we don’t get sick from it but they can leave the body feeling off for weeks after. The digestive system takes a beating – our healthy gut flora is diminished causing nausea, constipation, bloating and more. One focus of acupuncture during this time can be to activate your Liver and boost your liver Qi to be able to cleanse the blood of excess drugs as well and at the same time nourish the digestive system to achieve homeostasis once again.
Stagnation & Flow – The immediate consequence of surgery is the obstruction of the normal flow of Qi and Blood. The healing process requires restoration of flow but often we do not allow ourselves the proper time and care to achieve this and can manifest in two ways. One way is that residual stagnation and accumulation settle at the injury site and can create pain which can become chronic. There is a Chinese medicine saying “Where there is pain there is stagnation, where there is stagnation there is pain.” The second manifestation is that even though the stagnation may eventually be resolved, there is a weakened flow of Qi and Blood at the site of the surgery. There may not be any symptoms that show up for a long time, but with the inevitable lack of Qi and Blood, these ‘thin’ areas start to create problems. A 2011 study reported that over 40 percent of people who suffer from ligament or meniscus tears will eventually develop osteoarthritis in that location, and 12 percent of all patients with lower extremity osteoarthritis have a history of joint injury.
Chinese Medicine Treatment – As soon as possible, treatment is given to restore the flow of Qi and Blood to the area and restore balance within the body. Acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, and gentle massage, perhaps with liniments containing warming and blood-moving herbs, are used around the site of the injury. Gua sha and cupping may be used gently around the area of concern and then over the area once the incision is completely healed. The combination of all of these techniques continue throughout the recuperation period and ideally even after symptoms are resolved.
Movement – When it is safe to do so, exercise to strengthen and improve Qi and Blood flow is recommended – even if it is the gentlest form of mobilisation. Qi Gong, which is a slow and mindfulness based movement exercise, is ideal. As a colleague of mine says “Motion is lotion”.
Scars- With surgery comes scars and there are good scars and bad scars. A good scar should be flat, and soft. There should not be any tightness, ropiness, or lumps. When you touch the scar you should feel the touch in a normal way with no numbness, tingling, pain, or discomfort. The colour may vary, but in general should be close to your natural skin colour, it should not be red or purple. Get to know your scar and don’t be afraid to touch it and take note of how it feels as well as track any changes.
You can treat your own scar at home. Start by assessing your scar and take notes on how it looks and feels - do this before and after each treatment. The easiest way to treat your scar is with self-massage. Find your favorite body oil or coconut oil and slowly rub this on and around the scar. Next, spend a few minutes lightly rubbing along and across the scar. To finish, start from the middle of the scar and massage lightly out to the ends.
In my practice, I treat scars with a combination of acupuncture and cupping and I have seen amazing transformations using both! As with treating other problems with this combination, acupuncture treats underlying issues and supports the system from deep within the body. Cupping starts to transform the scar from the surface with its gentle, yet powerful vacuum action. The result is incredible and is as successful on very old scars as it is on new ones!
After treatment, some scars can become so light and faded that they are barely visible, but they are still there. A scar will always be with us, and so it should be. They can be viewed as markers of significant events in our lives, whether they are good times or hard, they are yours. And no matter what, a scar always signifies healing.