Many people would be surprised to hear that Chinese herbs can help for herniated disc problems and would expect that acupuncture take precedence as the main treatment.
Ideally, treatment would involve a combination of acupuncture, moxibustion as well as Chinese herbs.
The main symptoms associated with a herniated disc are of course pain and numbness coming about as a result of the disc bulging and squeezing the nerves coming out of the spine.
Over time, in many cases the bulge will rectify itself and there will be a lessening of symptoms as time progresses.
Many people prefer acupuncture to pain killers.
Are the herbs taken internally or externally applied?
In this post we will discuss Chinese herbs to be taken internally but they can also be applied externally as a poultice or wash and this will be discussed in a future blog.
How are the Chinese herbs taken?
When Chinese herbs are prescribed, an individually designed combination formula is put together that could contain up to 20 different herbs. The herbs themselves come from a vast range of plants and the different parts of the plant including the leaves, stems, bark, roots, flowers and sap. Certain minerals are also used such as gypsum and magnetite. Some animal products are also used such as oyster shell. The appropriate mix of medicines is all boiled together with a larger amount of water being slowly reduced to about 1 cup. This is then drunken warm. Modern times has seen that the herbs can be obtained in a highly concentrated freeze dried powder and then 1-3 spoons of the powder may be diluted with water or washed down with water. The Acupuncture clinic uses the Sun-Ten range of Chinese herbs.
What about Chinese herbal pills?
Many companies now manufacture Chinese herbal pills but these formulations are limited in their action and generally prescribed by practitioners who have had minimal or no training in formulating prescription Chinese herbal combinations.
Are the Chinese Herbs used just as natural pain killers?
Traditional Chinese herbal medicine aims to restore harmony and balance and enhance the body’s own recuperation process. There was a reason as to why the disc had a disposition to bulge in the first place and the patient’s constitution and previous health disharmonies are addressed in the herbal combination being prescribed.
What are some causes that may have given rise to a disposition to getting a herniated disc according to traditional Chinese medical theory?
The foremost cause is kidney deficiency. Chinese medicine says that the kidneys control the bones including the spine and they also give strength to the lower back. In addition, as we age, the kidney energy is said to decline and the kidneys are responsible for many age related problems. Most herniated discs occur commonly in the 40-50 age group when are deficiency related symptoms of the kidneys start to occur.
What do the Chinese herbs aim to do?
Some of the herbs have a tonic type quality to enhance kidney function such as gu sui bu and xu duan. Chinese medicine also states that the spleen is responsible for the muscles so a herb such as huang qi may be used to help support the muscles around the spine. In any area of injury, according to Chinese medical theory, blood circulation would become inhibited so herbs such as mo yo and ru xuang could be added to help promote blood circulation. According to the individual needs of the patient and their diagnosed pattern of disharmony, other herbs would be supplemented to address any issues there. The suggested combinations are limitless depending what the patient may have in regards to other organ imbalances.
Is it best to combine acupuncture treatment with Chinese herbal therapy to obtain optimal results?
Mark Crain is an Australian registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Brisbane who sees many patients with herniated disc problems. He says “I use acupuncture and moxibustion to promote circulation and reduce pain as the first foremost treatment. In most cases there is also an underlying kidney deficiency with concurrent inhibited blood circulation and I find Chinese herbs to address these issues most useful“.
In New Zealand, ACC covers acupuncture for the treatment of herniated discs if it has been established that it is as a result of an injury. There are over 600 members of Acupuncture NZ practising throughout New Zealand.