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What is 5 Element Acupuncture?

visualization of the 5 elements
Collage of the four classical elements

Five element theory is one of the major systems of thought within Chinese medicine. From a historical perspective it is an important underpinning of medical theory and serves as one of the major diagnostic and treatment protocols. In modern clinical practice the five element theory is used in varying degrees depending on the practitioner and style of acupuncture that they practice.

For practitioners or Traditional Chinese Medicine, the theory may be used to help form a diagnosis when there is conflicting signs and symptoms. Additionally, elements of the theory are useful for assisting patients with nutritional balancing and/or working through emotional issues. The theory is used extensively by Japanese acupuncturists within the five phase treatment protocols and by Classical five element practitioners, such as those who follow the teachings of the late J.R. Worsley. The information below discusses the Five Element theory and clinical applications in detail. For a more general interest description of five elements theory, you may read “A Discussion of Five Element Theory and Applications to Life.”

To Ice Or Not To Ice

At some point, icing down injuries became conventional wisdom. Not so in Chinese Medicine. A funny expression sums up our perspective–“ice is for dead people.” Ice is rarely used on injuries and is thought to cause chronic problems later on. “But how can that be?”, you ask. “My doctors and everyone else tell me that if something hurts I should put ice on it. Well, what am I supposed to do now?”

Why Ice is Not The Answer

Ice is quite useful for preserving things in a static state but it doesn’t help damaged tissue repair itself. In Chinese medicine, there is a saying: “where there is pain, there is no free flow; where there is free flow, there is no pain.” Ice essentially stops the free flow of essential blood and lymph and it causes the blood vessels and soft tissue to contract. This inhibits the restoration of normal circulation, which is critical for healing! Extensive use of ice is believed to cause weakness and arthritis-like pain later in life.

So Why Does Everyone Use Ice?

Ice is used because it is thought to reduce inflammation, reduce pain, reduce swelling and promote healing. Ice certainly halts the inflammatory process and temporarily reduces pain, but the question is, do we really want to stop this? The stiffening and spasm of soft tissue, often resulting in pain, is the body’s attempt to prevent you from further damaging the already injured tissue. The inflammatory process is how the body heals itself. Your tissue won’t heal without inflammation. Yes, it seems counterintuitive. Stopping the inflammatory process with ice is essentially preventing proper healing.

A natural healthy healing response is one in which inflammation occurs and then is quickly flushed out by the body. Problems occur when this inflammation and swelling ‘get stuck.’ Many people use ice because they think it reduces swelling. Ice does not reduce swelling! The lymphatic system does. So, what does promote lymphatic drainage and reduce swelling? Elevation, compression, massage, and movement (of the muscles) of the affected area do. Essentially, anything that promotes circulation and movement of fluids will help the lymphatic system do its job.

So What Do I Do Instead of Icing?

We don’t want to suppress the inflammatory response, but we do want to flush out that inflammation. We do want to promote circulation and the reuptake of stagnant interstitial fluids (fluids normally inside cells but leak out when the cell walls break after an injury).

The following methods have been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to speed up healing by increasing blood circulation and lymphatic drainage (the lymph system carries away waste and toxins, like trash collectors). But these methods do not suppress the body’s natural inflammatory response:

Acupuncture or acupressure on specific points that stimulate circulation, increase lymphatic drainage and reduce pain at the site of injury.

  • Cupping the local area to draw out and disperse blood and fluid that is blocking normal circulation. This may sound strange but it often reduces pain immediately.
  • Self massage with liniments that promote circulation and increase lymphatic drainage.
  • Herbal poultices or plasters that reduce inflammation but also stimulate circulation and tissue healing. A famous one, available online or from Chinese Medicine doctors, is called San Huang San.
  • Exercises which increase range of motion and strength to restore normal function of the injured area.

So Should I Never Use Ice?

Ice and NSAIDS can be powerful tools to kill pain and reduce inflammation. If your primary goal is to resume intense training or competition immediately then ice will certainly help you do that. If your primary goal is to speed healing, restore full function, and maintain the long-term health of your injured tissue, then just skip the ice.

Over millennia (yes, millennia!) Chinese Medicine has developed liniments (liquid topical remedies) to be used instead of ice. Special herbs help your body reduce inflammation and swelling naturally, along with promote circulation and most importantly reduce pain. The most common and effective is called “Trauma Liniment” and “Three Yellow Powder” (because the primary herbs are yellow in color). These are very inexpensive and readily available at SourcePoint Acupuncture. You will be surprised at how quickly and thoroughly your injuries will heal, along with regular acupuncture treatments, drinking plenty of water, getting enough rest and eating a low-inflammatory diet. It’s how nature intended!’


For Pete’s Sake, How Do I Know What To Eat?!

I have heard this question countless times. With all the information out there on the internet, TV, books, etc. it’s really hard to know where to begin.

So an easy and simple place to start is with eating for your blood type. What’s that, don’t know your blood type? No problem! Amazon has an Eldoncard kit for under $8 and Walmart has ’em for $12.

For basic info see WebMD:

A great book to get is

“Eat Right For Your Blood Type” by Peter D’Adamo” There’s eating healthy and then there’s eating healthy FOR YOU!

I can’t stress the importance of eating a diet that’s in sync with your unique needs. Most of the problems I treat can be improved greatly, if not eliminated entirely, by eating well.


3 Simple Strategies to Help You Focus & De-stress

person stressed with head in handsDo daily distractions leave you feeling unfocused, stressed out and tense? Does it seem like you can’t complete even the simplest task without being distracted? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the things pulling on your brain–texts, emails, social media alerts, noisy colleagues, ringing phones, family obligations? Don’t worry, here are three great ways to start taking back control. (And by the way, I am happy to support you in practicing all three so let me know what you’re up to!)

Distracted thinking — daydreaming or mind wandering — affects everyone. In fact, researchers found that people think about something other than what they’re actually doing — or supposed to be doing — almost half of the time. It turns out that a wandering, easily distracted mind is actually the default mode for the human brain.

Succumbing to distraction over and over, though, can build stress, foster unhappiness and even lead to depression. So if you’re one of the many looking to figure out how to handle distractions and improve your ability to focus, take comfort in the fact that research has shown a way forward.

And that way is “mindfulness”.

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness of where you are, what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. At work, for instance, it means you’re focused on the project in front of you; if you’re talking with a friend, it gives you the ability to really focus on your surroundings, your conversation and your inner experience. Scientists have shown that you can train your brain to become more mindful. Like anything else, it just takes practice! Important note: be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to be a ‘beginner’ at this.

Ready to get started? These three practices have all proven useful in building mindfulness.

1. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)

MBSR training has become a recognized way to help people learn to avoid distractions and increase their attention and focus. It can also help improve memory, motivation and autonomy — all things likely to make you (and others) happier. MBSR programs typically include breathing combined with awareness exercises.

For additional ideas and simple practices, see the following links:

2. Meditation

Meditation is often misunderstood. It’s not just about clearing or emptying your mind. The real ‘goal’ is to increase your awareness of the present moment. It also slows down and eases your emotional reactivity. With practice you develop a more gentle, accepting attitude toward yourself and others. Regular meditation practice has been shown to actually alter the brain, but in a good way. One study showed that the area of the brain dedicated to regulating your emotions was significantly larger in meditators. In other words, in a world determined to trip you up with distractions and unpleasant surprises, meditation can help you stay more positive, responsive and focused rather distracted and reactive.

3. Mindful movement

Yoga is a good example of mindful movement. Basically, it’s a combination of structured breathing, controlled movement and mental focus. And science backs this up! Many studies have found that after beginning a yoga program people feel less stressed, more focused, even more optimistic. In fact, yoga’s been found to be even more beneficial to people who’re highly stressed. And before you think you have to be able to bend yourself into a pretzel to do yoga, check out this link:

Or this one:

Yes, you can take back control of your focus, shed that stress, and wake up happier to meet your day. If I can do it, I know you can too!

To your health!

Dr. Tyme Gigliotti, D.Ac., L.Ac.


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