Acupuncture and Post-Surgical Care
A Guest Post by Katrina Hanson LAc, owner of Prism Integrative Acupuncture in Oakland
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
TCM is an ancient healing system involving acupuncture, herbal medicine, moxibustion (moxa) warming therapy, cupping massage, nutrition, lifestyle, and other healing modalities. Together, they bring patients back into balance by addressing the root of a problem rather than just the symptoms. Some acupuncture points trigger a release of calming hormones, some rewrite pain pathways, some awaken the immune system, have anti-inflammatory effects, or increase circulation. Many pharmaceuticals are derived from medicinal herbs; herbs in their natural form are generally a milder form of related pharmaceutical medicines. Moxa helps warm and promote circulation, cupping releases muscle tension, nutrition and lifestyle changes help prevent symptoms from recurring. Acupuncture and TCM work in a series of treatments, generally starting with 1-2 treatments per week and spreading out to monthly treatments as your symptoms improve. Just like you have to take your medications every day for them to work, you have to get acupuncture regularly to see results.
Surgery in TCM
In Chinese medicine, surgery is considered to block the flow of the meridians (similar to nerve and blood vessel damage in Western medicine). Improperly healed scars and old scar tissue can have the same effect, potentially causing pain, sensation loss, decreased circulation, and even impaired internal organ function depending on the depth of the scar tissue. Acupuncture as soon as possible after surgery helps to promote healing, reduce pain, swelling, and bruising, and prevent scar tissue from forming. Once the bandages are removed, scars can be worked on directly to prevent adhesions and reduce the appearance of scars. Cupping massage is also used to treat surgical scarring and adhesions to underlying tissues, and moxa can be used for post-surgical pain as well as reducing scars.
Acupuncture is extremely useful for alleviating postoperative constipation. Studies have shown that patients receiving regular acupuncture post-surgery actually perform better (have more frequent, easier, less painful, and more complete bowel movements) than those taking laxatives or stool softeners alone. Acupuncture points on your arms, legs, and abdomen are most frequently chosen for this purpose, especially two points on either side of your navel. Acupuncture is also helpful for boosting your energy post-surgery, which is generally the most long-lasting surgical side effect.
Swelling, Pain, and Bruising
Acupuncture and moxa (herbal warming therapy) help reduce swelling and pain post-surgery. They can even be used around bandages during those initial weeks when swelling and pain are more prominent. Acupuncture is done very superficially over areas of swelling or around bandages and moxa is done either over swelling or on distal points (on your arms and legs) to promote circulation and lymph drainage. Acupuncture house calls are a great way to recover more quickly from surgery; an acupuncturist can come to your home the day after surgery and all you have to do is take a recovery nap!
Scars, Neuropathy, and Scar Tissue
Surgical scars that are at least two weeks old can be worked on with acupuncture. Such treatments not only reduce scar pain, but also help to break up scar tissue and adhesions, increase local circulation, and aid healing. This leads to less noticeable scars and a reduction in keloiding. Scars may not only be cosmetically undesirable, but may also have an impact on health. This is especially true for very large scars; scars with abnormal coloration, lumpiness, numbness, tingling, itchiness, heat or cold sensations, achiness or pain, tenderness to touch, and muscle restriction. Such scars and associated adhesions can indicate or lead to nerve and blood vessel damage, decreased range of motion and muscle strength, increased likelihood of future injury, or chronic pain (especially pins and needles, tingling, and burning pain). Scars are especially important to work on if they’re on the torso, where underlying adhesions can impair bowel function, chronic pelvic pain or infertility, depending on the site of the scar. TCM considers any visible scar a potential issue and we work on all of them with either acupuncture, moxa, cupping, topical serums, or a combination of these.
Katrina Hanson LAc
I am a California licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist. I received my training through the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College (AIMC)’s rigorous four-year Master of Science program, and interned at UCSF Benioff’s Mission Bay Children’s Hospital and the San Francisco Homeless Prenatal Program, as well as at AIMC’s teaching clinic.
I went into the program with the intention of focusing in LGBTQ medicine, and this continues to be a driving focus of my practice. I specialize in transgender medicine, hormone regulation for every body, pre-post-surgical care, scars, neuropathy, and hair loss. I love guiding patients through times of hormonal upheaval, allowing them to stay grounded despite the emotional turmoil that often accompanies times of illness. My favorite part of my job is watching people regain ownership of their healing process, reconnect with their bodies, and make positive changes in their lives.
In addition to maintaining a private practice, I teach at Bay Area acupuncture schools–instructing students on gender vocabulary and pronouns, western and eastern transgender medicine, and approaches for creating an LGBTQI-inclusive practice. In my spare time, you can find me hiking or camping with my partner and our dogs
All information in this blog is for educational uses only. Always consult your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements, or changing or discontinuing your medications.