Nerve Pain

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22 05, 2012


Approximately ten years ago I became a patient of the Okanagan Acupuncture Centre. I have Muscular Dystrophy, and along with that I developed a neuropathy in my lower limbs which causes severe pain. Within a matter of five treatments I was pain free.

Every two to three years I go back when the pain starts again. I highly recommend when anyone is having difficulty with the health to try acupuncture. What have you to lose but the pain!                -Diane, Kelowna BC

6 03, 2012

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome occurs when the blood vessels or nerves in the thoracic outlet (the space just under the collarbone) become compressed. This can cause pain in the shoulders and neck and numbness in the fingers. The symptoms vary depending on whether it is the nerves or the blood vessels that are affected. When the nerves are compressed, symptoms usually include numbness or tingling in the fingers, pain in the shoulder and neck, ache in the arm or hand, and weakened grip. When a vein or artery is compressed, symptoms can include bluish discoloration or lack of colour in the hand, a blood clot under the collarbone, arm pain and swelling (possibly due to blood clots), a throbbing lump near the collarbone, weak or no pulse in the affected arm, and tiny, black spots (infarcts) on the fingers.

Thoracic outlet syndrome may develop from a variety of causes. Physical trauma from a motor vehicle accident, repetitive stress injury from work or sports, anatomical defects such as having an extra rib, poor posture, and pressure on the joints due to body weight or because of carrying an oversized backpack or purse can all lead to thoracic outlet syndrome. Even a long-ago injury can lead to thoracic outlet syndrome in the present, as can pregnancy, because of the joints loosening. In some cases, the cause of thoracic outlet syndrome cannot be determined.

Treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome usually involves a combination of exercises, relaxation, and medications. Physiotherapy is used to open the thoracic outlet, improve range of motion and posture, and strengthen the shoulder muscles. Relaxation techniques may help to reduce tension in the shoulders and maintain posture. Medications such as muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, and pain medications may be prescribed for pain relief. In severe cases where the syndrome does not improve, surgery may be recommended.

Acupuncture is also an option worth considering for thoracic outlet syndrome. Acupuncture is a well-known therapy for pain relief and for musculo-skeletal conditions. Chinese medicine (TCM) does not use the term “thoracic outlet syndrome”, diagnosis instead depends on the specific symptoms that an individual is presenting. Typically thoracic outlet syndrome will be categorised as an injury to the tendon, a bi-syndrome (pain caused by a blockage in one of the body’s meridians and a lack of circulation of qi-energy and blood to the area), or a wei-syndrome (weakening and evening atrophying of a muscle due to a lack of proper nutrients or blood and qi-energy circulation). Depending on the type, the specific symptoms will vary but may include pain, numbness and heaviness of the muscles, tendons or joints, tendon or joint swelling, limitation of movement, and weakness in the limbs.

Acupuncture can help with thoracic outlet syndrome in a number of ways. Acupuncture of course offers very effective pain relief, and it can also reduce inflammation and relax tight muscles or tendons to relieve pressure to the nerve or tendon. Treatment also helps to remove blockages and increase blood circulation and energy, so that the area can receive adequate nourishment to function properly and to heal. Acupuncture can also resolve any imbalances in the meridians that may be causing a weakness in the body, leaving an area prone to injury or strain, as is often the case when a condition develops.

In my practice, I have seen thoracic outlet syndrome respond very positively to acupuncture. A series of treatments can offer relief of symptoms and can help to resolve the condition, depending on the cause. Stretching and postural exercises are also important and can help support recovery from this syndrome.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna. He can be reached at

3 01, 2011

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a disorder that affects the trigeminal nerve, which runs from the jaw into the face. In trigeminal neuralgia, the nerve function is disrupted. This can cause attacks of mild or intense pain in the cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, lips or even the eye and forehead. The attacks can happen spontaneously or are triggered by mild stimulation to the face such as shaving, smiling, eating, or brushing your teeth. Attacks may initially be occasional twinges of mild pain but as trigeminal neuralgia progresses there may be longer, more frequent bouts of severe, shooting or jabbing pain like an electric shock.  Episodes of frequent attacks can last days, weeks, months or longer, and there can be periods where no pain is experienced.

Trigeminal neuralgia is often a problem of pressure being put on the nerve, usually from an enlarged artery adjacent to the nerve, but in some cases it may be due to a tumor compressing the nerve. In other cases it can be related to multiple sclerosis or a similar disorder that causes damage to certain nerves. In many people who have suffered from shingles, trigeminal neuralgia can be a result of the virus, along with nerve pain in other areas of the body. Trigeminal neuralgia can occur as a result of aging, or in other cases, a cause cannot be found. It occurs in women more often than men, and is more likely to occur in people over the age of 50.

There are a variety of treatments that may be used in Western medicine for trigeminal neuralgia. Medications are usually the first treatment, such as anti-convulsants or muscle relaxing medications. However, over time, some people with the disorder may stop responding to medications or experience unpleasant side effects. In these cases, injections to numb the nerve or surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerve may be considered.

Acupuncture is an option well worth considering for trigeminal neuralgia. Studies in recent years have shown the positive effects of acupuncture for nerve disorders, and the World Health Organization lists acupuncture as a viable treatment for trigeminal neuralgia. From a Chinese medicine perspective, trigeminal neuralgia has two main causes. The first is over-exposure to cold and wind, causing an obstruction of the blood and qi-energy in the meridians of the face, leading to sudden attacks of facial pain and spasms of the facial muscles, symptoms which are aggravated by cold and relieved by heat. The attacks may be accompanied by runny nose and excess salivation. The second cause is due to internal factors, mainly an imbalance of liver and stomach energy, causing sudden attacks of facial pain with more of a burning sensation, accompanied by bloodshot eyes, tearing of the eyes, thirst, and irritability. In this case, the condition may develop as a result of lifestyle and dietary habits which over time may lead to an internal imbalance.

In either case, acupuncture can be remarkably effective in alleviating facial pain without side effects. Treatments help to improve circulation to relieve pain and irritation of the trigeminal nerve. Acupuncture can help to relieve the symptoms during a flare-up and may also promote better functioning of the trigeminal nerve so that flare-ups are less likely to occur or are more mild when they do occur. Indeed, acupuncture is shown to be a great option for trigeminal neuralgia, and can help you regain your lifestyle and live free of pain.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.

16 12, 2010

Bell’s Palsy

Bell's palsy is a condition where the nerve that controls the facial muscles becomes swollen or compressed, causing sudden facial paralysis or weakness on one side of the face and making it difficult to smile or close the eye on the affected side. Symptoms may include facial droop and difficulty with facial expressions, pain behind or in front of the ear on the affected side, sounds that seem louder on the affected side, headaches, loss of taste, and changes in the amount of tears and saliva the body produces.

The nerve that controls the facial muscles passes through a narrow corridor of bone on its way to the face. With Bell’s palsy, this nerve becomes inflamed and swollen, usually from infection with a virus, and gets pinched in this tight corridor. Pressure from the bone can damage the protective covering of the nerve and interfere with communication between the nerve and the facial muscles, resulting in weakness and paralysis. The most common virus that causes Bell’s palsy is herpes simplex, the virus that causes cold sores. Other viruses that are believed to cause Bell’s palsy are the viruses that cause chicken pox, shingles, flu, and mononeucleosis.

Most people with Bell’s palsy recover fully, with symptoms beginning to improve within a few weeks, and complete recovery within three to six months. A small number of people never fully recover and continue to have some symptoms for life. Western medical treatment may include medications such as corticosteroids or antiviral drugs, exercise and massage, and in very rare cases, surgery to relieve the pressure on the facial nerve. It’s also very important to protect the eye on the affected side, using eye drops and eye salves to prevent the eye from drying out and causing permanent damage.

Chinese medicine (TCM) takes a slightly different approach to Bell’s palsy. After all, there are many of us who suffer from these common viruses such as cold sores, flu, chicken pox, and shingles, but only about 1% of people will experience Bell’s palsy. This is where lifestyle and our natural constitution come into play, two factors which Chinese medicine always considers to be very important to any health condition. Typically, Bell’s palsy can arise when the body is left vulnerable because of what we call a qi-energy deficiency. Our qi-energy is what powers all of our body’s normal functions, and a shortage of qi-energy naturally will have an effect on our body’s ability to function at its optimum health. It is then easier for us to be affected by outside influences or injury. A qi-energy vacuity is a pattern that develops slowly over time, and can be caused by lifestyle factors that deplete the body, such as a diet of incorrect foods, overwork, or chronic stress.

Acupuncture can offer Bell’s palsy sufferers a quicker and more complete recovery. Treatment promotes the flow of qi-energy and blood to relieve the rigidity and paralysis of the facial muscles and to supply them with a sufficient flow of energy and blood for healing. Because Bell’s palsy is seen as an external attack on the body (such as with cold or flu, where something “invades” the body), treatment also works to “drive out” the pathogen, as it would with a virus- which is very much in line with Western medicine thinking as to the causes of Bell’s palsy. In this way, acupuncture can help to diminish the symptoms of Bell’s palsy, as well as strengthen the body for a better recovery and reduced likelihood of re-occurrence.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.


2 03, 2009


Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral infection that causes a painful skin rash with fluid-filled blisters. The rash is usually limited to one side of the body, occuring along the spine and running towards the chest and abdomen, but it can also appear on the head or on the arms and legs on one side. Normally the blisters disappear within a couple of days to weeks, but the pain remains. As long as the fluid-filled blisters are there the disease is contagious.

Shingles causes symptoms of pain, burning, numbness,tingling, and itching. It may also be accompanied by fever and chills, general achiness, headaches, and fatigue.  In severe cases, the skin can be so irritated that it makes wearing clothing or even covering it with a bedsheet very painful, thus interfering with sleep and daily activities.

The same virus that causes chickenpox causes shingles. After a case of chickenpox the virus disappears, but remains dormant in the nervous system of the body and can return years later in periods of stress or fatigue (low resistance). Sometimes shingles can cause a painful complication called post-herpatic neuralgia, where the skin remains painful and sensitive to the touch long after the shingles has cleared up- a condition can last a very long time and with no real solution.

In Western Medicine shingles may be treated with painkillers, tranquilizers and steroids. When diagnosed in an early stage antiviral drugs may bring some relief. There are also vaccines which may help to prevent shingles.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shingles are caused by a condition called liver fire and damp-heat. The dampness causes the fluids in the blisters and heat causes the redness, burning and itching of the skin. With this internal environment of heat in the liver and damp heat in the spleen, the virus is able to quickly grow and easily penetrate into the blood and move throughout the body. Commonly if there is more dampness there will be more blistering of fluids and will appearing in the lower parts of the body. If heat is predominant there will less fluids, and the blisters will show more redness and severe pain, and lesions can show on the upper part of the body. 

Acupuncture is a very effective tool in the treatment of shingles. An acupuncturist uses points to remove stagnation, which is commonly the cause of heat building up in the liver. This will help clear the blood and cool the heat. We can also use points to strengthen the energy of the spleen, to help dredge the dampness and heat. Treatments can help to reduce the pain and inflammation of the nerves, boost the immune system, and promote healing and a faster, more complete recovery.

With shingles, it is very important not to delay treatment as early treatment can ease pain, speed healing, and reduce the risk of complications, such as postherpetic neuralgia. The longer the onset of shingles, the more damage the virus can do to the nerve roots and the harder it can be to treat it. A very advanced case of shingles can take many more treatments to resolve, as compared to patients with very early stages of shingles who have seen the problem clear up very quickly with acupuncture.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, at 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna BC.