The Chinese Medicine Approach to Common Conditions

Prepare for “rescue drugs”

We will all experience a searing headache at some point in our lives and thankfully most of us can turn to pain relievers. But for some headache sufferers, the pain is so debilitating that it can lead to missed work days and disrupt our daily lives.

Instead of focusing on symptom relief, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and other integrative therapies seek holistic answers that unmask the real reasons why headaches may persist. At the Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU) Bloomington Clinic, practitioners from different disciplines work together to interrupt the damaging behavioral patterns that trigger a patient’s pain. “Chronic headaches can become severe enough that a patient cannot function,” says Sarah Weaver, associate professor at NWHSU. “No one should live like this.”

Whether a patient meets with a naturopath, acupuncturist, or chiropractor, the practitioner will perform a full-body exam, discuss the patient’s lifestyle and diet, and delve into their medical history, such as head and neck trauma. “Our goal is to find the root cause rather than covering it up with rescue medication,” Weaver says.

Integrative care is not an all or nothing proposition; practitioners work with patients taking conventional medications to improve the medications or reduce the amount deemed necessary.

For example, chiropractic treatments can slow the frequency and intensity of headaches, and adjustments to the joints and spine can prevent pain from rebounding once the effects of migraine medication wear off.

Massage therapy is another non-invasive technique that helps reduce pain. “During a session, I ask patients where they feel their headaches — in the head, neck, or shoulders,” says Nancy Erickson, certified massage therapist at NWHSU. “I want to know if the pain is affecting their range of motion and how long the symptoms last.” Whether caused by a car accident or an awkward sleeping position, headaches can stem from a host of musculoskeletal issues. “Massage can relieve headaches by loosening muscles and tightening bands of tissue to increase circulation and blood flow to the area.”

Ear infections don’t have to be part of “normal” childhood

A childhood rite of passage, an ear infection will strike 80% of children when they reach the age of three. These infections often lead to disruptive behaviors, changes in appetite and high fevers. For some children, they come in quick succession and never seem to go away. As a child eventually gets rid of ear problems, stopping it in its tracks is essential. Damage from chronic ear infections can cause hearing and balance problems later in life.

Despite taking antibiotics, it is not uncommon for children to experience consecutive infections.

For parents concerned about overuse of antibiotics or for children who do not benefit from medication, chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture can also help shorten the course of infection and reduce its frequency. Practitioners can modify their treatments for children who are afraid of needles or uncomfortable with adjustments. An acupuncturist may use a tuning fork to stimulate acupuncture points around the neck, ears, and head, while a chiropractor will gently manipulate joints and tissues.

The first line of defense for lower back pain

Low back pain is an important cause of disability. A simple twist or turn, and you’re ready for the countdown. Before heading to the orthopedic surgeon for steroid injections or back surgery, Western medicine providers often suggest taking a more conservative route: chiropractic and acupuncture.

Chiropractic treatments restore movement to joints and the spine, allowing muscles to function better and relieving pressure in the lower back. “Once a patient can move more freely, we can retrain the muscles to function properly and prevent future episodes,” says Michele Vincent, a chiropractor at NWHSU. Chiropractors also treat patients with ultrasound, a highly effective therapy that penetrates areas of acute and chronic pain. “When we reduce inflammation in joints and muscles, we can increase activity levels and decrease pain,” she says.

Acupuncture is another modality that can relieve musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain. Using needles, Tui Na massage or cupping, acupuncturists can draw blood flow to damaged tissues to begin healing them. The process, which also balances the body’s chi, can provide short or long term relief depending on the patient.

Although low back pain can appear at any time in our lives, the presentation changes with age. A treatment for a young person who feels sore or stiff after spending several hours in the garden, for example, will be different from that of an older person who experiences throbbing pain just from standing up.

Because every patient is different, one modality may help more than another. Having access to a multidisciplinary team of practitioners benefits those seeking care in an integrative health clinic.


Located in Bloomington, Northwestern University of Health Sciences is a pioneer in integrative natural health care education, offering degree programs in chiropractic, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, massage therapy, medical assisting, medical laboratory programs, post-baccalaureate/pre-health, radiation therapy and completion BS. His Bloomington Clinic is open to the public and offers chiropractic care, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, massage therapy, naturopathic medicine, nutrition and cupping.


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