Barbara’s Needles

Adventures in Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine

Acupuncture for Healthy Sinuses August 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbarasneedles @ 7:15 pm

Many patients come to me with “Sinus Headaches” double-underlined and highlighted in their patient intake.  Sinus Headaches don’t always come from actually having a sinus infection.  For many people, their headaches are due to allergies, major shifts in barometric pressure, or actual structural problems in their sinus cavities that make it difficult for them to physically drain.

Seasonal allergies effect more than half the US population and accounts for 4 million work days lost per year at a cost of almost 8 billion dollars annually.  It makes sense that sinus headaches are one of the most common symptoms.  Most allergens are airborne and when we inhale through our nose, all those little irritating particles enter our sinuses.  Our eyes water, we sneeze, and our noses fill with gunk causing pressure build up and pain.

Solving that problem is two-fold.  We need to open up the sinuses so they can drain, and strengthen the body’s resistance to whatever the particular allergen is.  Acupuncture and herbs are almost always necessary.  It can also be really helpful to come in for treatment about two months before your particular “allergy season” begins.  At that point, we have time to strengthen your immune system so that when the blooms come, you won’t suffer as much.  It is harder to back track than prevent in the first place.

We are half-way through August here in the Bay Area (not that you’d know… I’ve got a wool hat on right now), and things are going to start blooming.  Privet trees, now.  Chinese Elm, now through September.  Weeds are starting to pick up.  Goosefoot, pigweed, amaranth, and Russian thistle are flowering.  Also, given the moisture and lack of warmth this spring and summer, mold counts are pretty high as well.  So if you’re starting to feel your sinuses whine at you, give me a buzz.

In cases of shifts in the barometric pressure causing pain, it is important to look at the overall health of your constitution.  In Chinese Medicine, phlegm is exactly that, phlegm.  Damp, sticky, icky, and really hard to get rid of. We think of the accumulation of phlegm as stemming from a type of constitution that is susceptible to its build up.  If you are a person who gets stuffy after a night of drinking pizza and beer, you are one of these people.  If there is going to be a big shift in the weather, or you live in a damp climate (humid, heavy fog, you live in a lower level apartment or sleep in the basement of a house), you need to be careful of your diet.  Greasy foods, alcohol, cheese, fried things, spicy fried things, ice cream… all of these can wreak havoc on your body’s ability to break down phlegm.  If you have too much of it and the weather shifts to cold and chilly really fast, you could be in for a world of hurt with your sinuses.

If you find yourself there, a few acupuncture treatments focused on opening up your head and a week or two of herbs should help correct the problem and help strengthen your body against the next wave of pizza and fog.

The person whose sinsuses didn’t come out just right will have to be cautious of their diet all their life.  They will also need to be hyper-vigilant about taking care of themselves the moment they get a tickle in their noses.  A neti-pot is a critical investment for this type of person.  Please see my entry below “Smart Wintertime Health Care” for details on how to use a neti-pot.  It may feel funny at first, but if you stick with it, you will find that you have less trouble, less often.

If your sinus headaches come from a sinus infection, herbs are used that are anti-viral and anti-bacterial in nature.  Caught early enough, most patients are able to avoid having to take a broad-spectrum antibiotic.  Antibiotics, although critical when necessary, are not a lifestyle choice and have long term ramifications if you have to take them all the time.

If this post strikes a chord with you, give me a buzz.  I’m more than happy to talk to you about your health and be helpful where I can!  510-684-6659.

Have a healthy day!



August 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbarasneedles @ 9:27 pm

I wanted to share this article with you all about back pain and Acupuncture.  I think it lays it out nicely about how it works and what to expect as a patient.   Especially the expectation that one treatment won’t necessarily cure it.  I think as Acupuncturists we all fantasize about the magic wand treatment, where one is enough and they are all better.  Occasionally this is the case, but 90 percent of the time, not so much.  That doesn’t mean Acupuncture doesn’t work.  It means that it will take a bit of time to ease your body back to a pain free state.
A very important part of recovering from something like back pain is understanding how you got there in the first place.  How functionally healthy you were going into your injury almost always dictates how long it will take you to get out.  If you drive/commute to work in a seated position, sit at a desk for the majority of your day, sit on the way home, and then sit for an episode of whatever entertains you before you go to bed, only to repeat the next day… chances are your spine isn’t as healthy as it could be.  This is the kind of scenario where you hurt your back carrying heavy groceries in from the car, picking up your kid, or “sleeping wrong”.  In this case, more time is necessary to ease whatever spasm has been caused, and to help you to re-educate your body to have good strong core muscles.  Good strong core muscles help prevent further back pain, and can help reduce the likelihood of worse injury or dysfunction later in life. All my back pain patients get homework.  While I help realign your back with needles and manual therapy, you help strengthen the correction with exercises, stretching, and movement.  Meeting in the middle is where the healing happens.

Even in the EU, countries are talking about adding Acupuncture to their nationalized medicine because of its efficacy in the management of back pain.

Acupuncture definitely works for back pain.  It is however a group effort.  This group effort will get you better faster and strengthen your back against further and repeated injury.

Ciao for now!



Babies, Babies, Babies! December 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbarasneedles @ 4:49 am

What a breath of fresh air.

I have been bringing my acupuncture and massage experience to the birthing arena.  Using ‘tacks’ (small bits of surgical tape with a 1.5mm long needle on a loop), I needle points specific to harmonizing contractions, improving the efficacy of contractions, helping the cervix to fully efface and dilate, decreasing perceived pressure and pain, and increasing a sense of well-being and trust to the mother. I treat during and between contractions with pressure on the needles and massage to help the patient stay present and comfortable as much as possible. Creating impulses of pressure and sensation can override the pain messages from the brain, making the discomfort of labor more tolerable.

So far I have been reasonably well received by the staff and doctors at the hospitals I have been to.  One particular hospital in the Bay Area that I was blown away by was Kaiser in Walnut Creek.  In the Labor & Delivery ward, the only men I saw were Dads.  If you were a patient with an uncomplicated or low-risk pregnancy, you had a nurse-midwife and other L&D nurses.  The staff OB poked her head in to say hello, but let us know that we probably wouldn’t see her again.  My patients’ birth plan was totally respected, her wishes granted, and no agenda was pushed.  My patient only wanted a saline lock, no IV, no problem.  As long as she drank her water and stayed hydrated, there was no need to tie her up to an IV stand where it becomes more difficult to move freely. Movement, like massage and needling, is also one of those messages that interrupts and lessens the perception of pain in the brain. She was monitored intermittently so again she wasn’t tied up to a machine.  The nurses and the midwife were interested in what my acupuncture and massage were doing to help the patient and no hairy eyeballs were sent my way.

The birth was entirely in the hands of the patient.  She was never made to feel like there was a particular way to do it nor a particular time frame she had to fit in.  No one came in pushing an epidural or pitocin.  No one came in warning about a C-section.  I do realize that these are occassionally necessary, but not all the time and not for everyone. It was really nice to see such a supportive staff to the mother and her intents to do things naturally.  The midwife who delivered my patients’ daughter had delivered over 2000 babies. She was such a wise, calm presence. I think this also hugely affects the outcome of an experience such as childbirth.  If the support people are calm and trusting of the process, the mother will feel safer in letting herself open up to the experience, physically and mentally. There was no rolling eyes at a ‘hippie dippie’ approach to life or birth.  There was no fear factor of eminent interference in the most perfected biological process in the human condition. Look around.. there is a reason why there are billions of people on the planet.

The Papa-to-be was incredible.  He stayed with his wife through each contraction.  He kept her present and did not let her be swept away or overcome by discomfort.  The support he offered her was truly moving. I try not to get choked up at work, but man, the love between them was amazing!


It Takes a Village… December 14, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbarasneedles @ 6:15 am
Tags: give cancer a run for its money.

I did a cartwheel in my office today after my patient went on her way.

Her timeline:

  • March 30, 2009: Whipple procedure for pancreatic cancer.
  • May 15, 2009: Evidence found of metastasis to the Lungs, 9mm tumors.
  • June 5, 2009: Chemo starts.
  • July 20, 2009: PET scan reveals reduction in number and size of pulmonary tumors.  9mm has shrunk to 5mm
  • September 23, 2009: PET scan reveals further improvement and reduction in size of tumors.
  • November 23, 2009: PET scan reveals further reduction in size of pulmonary tumors.  5mm has shrunk to 2mm.  No evidence of hypermalignancy.
9 months after going into surgery for Pancreatic Cancer there is no malignant activity in the body.

Her game plan:

My patient participated in IV and Oral Chemotherapy, acupuncture twice a week, supplements, yoga and some psychotherapy.   Our acupuncture treatments focused on managing the side-effects of chemotherapy so my patient could feel as good as possible and stay on her western treatment schedule.  Her side effects from chemo included digestive upset, poor appetite, anemia, scar pain, insomnia, pain at the corners of her mouth, pain in her hands and feet, low energy, feeling blue… all things quite common to cancer treatment.  With each visit, we addressed these different side effects and had lots of conversations. I believe her commitment to her wellness is what has gotten her through these very trying 9 months.  She made a decision early on that she was not going to be a statistic.  She took advice from her Medical Doctors,  Alternative Medical Providers, and her Acupuncturist. She followed the advice to the best of her ability.  She came to all of her appointments and she never felt bad for herself.   While I realize that her journey isn’t over, I am encouraged and inspired by her tenacity and bravery.  Cancer is a big bad scary word.  Each patient has a completely different process.  I am so pleased, proud, and humbled by this woman’s bravery, dedication, and willingness to do the work that she needs to do. I am so blessed to be a part of her journey.

And Now, I offially accept Visa and Mastercard May 9, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbarasneedles @ 7:35 am
Tags: , ,

Sorry,  no AMEX.

I went back and forth on this for a long time, but I have decided to go for it.  Times are tough for everyone and if you need a boost and need to put off the payment for a little while, I want to be able to help you!




A Difficult Anniversary March 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbarasneedles @ 2:19 am

A year ago today a dear friend of mine died.  Claire.  She was young, beautiful, healthy, talented, and had the whole world in front of her.  She was a classmate of mine at Acupuncture school.  After several months of respiratory problems, the doctors finally figured out she had lung cancer.  She was 30.  Two weeks later they found tumors in her brain.  Two weeks after that, she was gone.  So fast.  Left us all breathless.  I sit here trying to find the right words to describe what an amazing person she was.  People always ask me if she smoked or had a family history of cancer.  No and no.  She was a yoga teacher, a spinning instructor, had never had a cigarette, ate organic food, drank kombucha and sang to her coffee everyday.  I’ve never met such a bright light in my whole life.  Losing her was like losing faith in that if you do “everything right” somehow you’ll get by without too much suffering.  Try as we can, sometimes it doesn’t quite workout the way we imagine things.  I try to be grateful for the present moment.  For the people I love.  For my family.  For the friends I’ve made.  For the health I enjoy.  For the air I breathe.  For the opportunities that I’ve had. We can’t live in fear that we will fall ill or lose everything, but I can’t help but reminded of my mortality.

It’s moments like these where I try to recall the teachings of my favorite Buddhist author Pema Chodron.  All the fears we have we share with others.  If I can remember that my own fears about mortality are shared by most people, I can have compassion for them and myself.  If I can remember that many people are saddened by the loss of Claire, I can also have compassion for them and myself.  If I can remember that life is not fair and the rules are not clear, I can have compassion for all those who shake their fists at the sky and cry, ‘why?’.

It’s interesting to me how much easier it is to have compassion for others than it is to have compassion for the self.  I think people in the caring professions would agree that we spend so much time helping others, sometimes we forget to care for ourselves.   Be it rest, proper nutrition, or even the room to grieve.  I find it ironic that I am blogging this and trying to make it into a lesson.  Perhaps if I can share this with others, part of the message will make it into my own heart.

To all those who suffer, may compassion flood your heart in knowing you are not alone.


New Insurance Action March 5, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbarasneedles @ 2:26 am

Well, Insurance companies seem to be getting creative with coverage…

For the following companies, I offer a 20% cash discount on services.  This does not cover herbs.  This is technically not an insurance product, but you can have a 20% discount when you present your card.

1. Great West Healthcare

2. Medical Resource, LLC

3. United Naturally

I am now accepting the following Insurance companies in the traditional billing sense.  Copays and coverage vary by plan/group, etc.  If you intend to use your insurance, please let me know when you book your appointment so we can get the ball rolling!

1. Blue Shield of California

2. United Healthcare

3. Spring Hill School

4. Secure Horizons/AARP Plus Plan

5. PacifiCare

Look forward to helping out!



“Painful Needling is Not a Technique” Ikeda Masakazu Sensei, Feb 27, 2009 March 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbarasneedles @ 2:31 am

Acupuncture often gets the reputation as being painful.  A lot of schools teach that if the patient doesn’t “feel the Qi”, it’s not a good treatment.  This usually translates to one of nine classical needling techniques called “De Qi”.  This is the heavy, distending, achey, ouch that most people associate with acupuncture. Needle-phobes and sensitive people naturally shy away from such a proposition.

As a kid, I was the one who had to have nine nurses pin me down to give me a tetanus shot, screaming bloody murder.  Even into my adulthood I have opted to have fillings drilled sans novacaine, because I hate needles.  “Why why why would you become an acupuncturist?” you may ask.  Good question.  That’s a long story, for another day.

For the record, there are eight other needling techniques that are classically used in acupuncture.  Just because we tend to only learn one in school, doesn’t mean it’s the only way. This is the topic of great debate between different systems and schools in the Acupuncture community.  I went to a mostly “De Qi” oriented school, but found a few teachers who practiced the gentler Japanese Meridian Style and spent the majority of my school years with them, learning as much as I could.

What I got out of Acupuncture school is that acupuncture doesn’t have to hurt.  “De Qi” is not the only way.  I found Japanese Meridian Therapy.  Very fine needles, very shallow insertion, and very profound effects.  I think of acupuncture as a reminder to the body to do what it already knows how to do.  Like sleep properly, digest well, not spasm, menstruate painlessly, not crave things…  Our bodies contain an innate wisdom to heal.  We just need to remind it.  My personality is one that will accept gentle reminders.  I don’t handle being shoved very well… Deep, painful needling is like a shove to me.  When I get shoved, I tend to dig my heels in and fight it, whether or not it’s good for me in the long run… So I needle others the way I wish to be needled.  Gently, with respect and humility for the innate knowledge in your body to heal itself.

I promise in my clinic, that you will never feel shoved.


Smart Wintertime Healthcare February 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbarasneedles @ 1:18 am

It’s winter here in the Bay Area and I must admit, I snicker a bit when people complain..  I grew up in Michigan where “winter” means four feet of snow and -20 degrees.  Nonetheless, people get sick here just as much as in the frigid north.  There are a few good tips out of the Chinese Medical Dictum that can help you stay healthy.

1. Wear a scarf.  In Chinese Medicine it is believed that illness can be caused by wind.  The Chinese word for wind is “feng”. Yup, just like Feng Shui, which means “wind water”.  Most of the acupuncture points located on the back of the neck and upper back have the character “feng” in it.  This is where wind can enter the body and manifest as an achy neck and back, a runny nose, headache, a sore throat, and a fever.  If you keep those wind points covered when you are outside, under an A/C duct, near a fan, or around any other cold and draughty environment, you can protect yourself from wind entering your body.  On this same note, take care not to leave the house with a wet head.  Also, if you work in fitness or love to workout, make sure that after you exercise you take care to change into dry clothing.  If you feel damp and cold, you may be more suceptible to catching, well, a cold!  Oh and flip-flops? Do I really need to say anything about wearing flip-flops in 45 degree rain? Good, I’m glad we’re clear on that.

2. Eat warm foods.  Chinese Medical Practitioners believe that the Qi that protects us is made from the air we breathe and the food we eat.  Cold food and raw food are more difficult to digest.  This compromises half of the energy we use to build our protective Qi. By eating warm soups, steamed vegetables, and such we let our body focus on protecting us.  If you must must must have salad or are a raw foodie, try to make sure that you have ginger tea with and between your meals to keep yourself warm.

3.  Neti-Pot, Neti-Pot, Neti-Pot!  Do your colds go straight to your sinuses?  Do you work in healthcare, around a lot of sick people?  Do you work around a lot of people period?  Do you take public transportation?  Do you fly a lot?  If you answered yes to any one of these questions a Neti-Pot is a worthwhile investment. Our nose and sinuses are part of the primary line of defense against pathogens in the atmosphere.  As we inhale through our nose, bacteria and other lovely things get caught in our nosehair to prevent them from going further into our sinuses and lungs ( I hope this makes you want to blow your nose:)  A Neti-Pot is designed to help you rinse your sinuses.  It is a little different than sinus flushes where you use a spray bottle to blow saline solution into your sinuses.  The Neti-Pot is designed to gently flush your sinuses, not blast them.  You can also change what you rinse your sinuses with.  On a nit-picky note, I’m just not that into ramming a solution from a plastic bottle up my nose… I haven’t checked recently to see if sinus flush bottles are BPA or phlalate free, but I’m not taking any chances.

You can buy Neti-Pots at Whole Foods, Pharmaca, and other alternative health type retail places.  The ceramic ones are best and they look like a little genie lamp… think, Aladdin has a head cold… much sexier yes?  You’ll need a Neti-Pot, organic sea salt and a tincture of Organic Goldenseal Extract. Herb Pharm is one of my favorite brands.  Goldenseal has natural anti-biotic and anti-viral properties and is great to put right where the problem is!

If you are just looking to prevent infections and keep your sinuses happy, you only need the sea salt and warm water. I keep the Goldenseal on hand in case I even feel a twitch of a sinus infection coming on.

To the Bathroom sink we go.  Have a box of kleenex at the ready.  Wash your Neti-Pot before you use it.  Fill the pot with lukewarm water.  If it is too warm, it will really burn and your nose will be very angry with you.  You should be able to stick your finger in it and have it feel gently warm.  Stir in a quarter TEAspoon (a tablespoon would not feel good at all!) of Organic Sea Salt.  Make sure it is completely dissolved.    If you are flirting with or already have a sinus infection or a cold, add a full dropper of the Organic Goldenseal Extract.  Now the fun part…

Put the spout end of the Pot into one nostril so it makes a seal.  Turn your head to the side so the Neti-Pot nostril is away from the sink.  Lean over and point the top of your head toward the bottom of the sink.  The more upside down you can get your head the better.  At this point the solution will pour up your sinuses and back out the other nostril.  This can be a bit creepy at first.  If your eyes start to burn you may have used too much salt.  This is okay, just keep it in mind for next time.  When you think you’ve used about half of the water, remove the Pot and bring your head up.  Gently blow your nose.  Repeat on the other side.

If your nose is so blocked that the water won’t come through, use slightly warmer water, but not too hot.  You can also try to gently push some air out of your nose while you are upside down, sometimes that will break the blockage loose.

I recommend using a Neti-Pot every evening for general health and 2 to 3 times a day with Goldenseal when you aren’t feeling well.

4.  Miso soup.  Food of the Gods and great for when you are just starting to feel sick.  If you’ve got that little tickle that says “Oh god, here it comes”, get thee to Whole Foods for your Neti-Pot, Sea Salt, Goldenseal Extract, and a big bucket of fresh Miso soup.  Most Whole Foods make them on site.  Or go to your favorite Japanese Restaurant and get some to go.  Go home, Neti-Pot your sinuses, take a hot shower, get your jammies on (socks and scarf  required), get under a blanket, drink your soup and take it easy.

5. Get some acupuncture!  If you come in just as your cold is starting, we can probably knock it out, or at least dramatically decrease the length of time that you are sick.





Officially taking Blue Shield of California February 5, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbarasneedles @ 1:35 am

In these uncertain financial times, I decided it would be nice to make myself available to more than just the “cash” patient.  I am officially a provider for Blue Shield of California.  The plans I take are available here:

Click on find a provider (you can search without being signed in), and search provider, complementary medicine, acupuncture, Martello, and 94707.

I’m still in the process of getting credentialed for United Healthcare, so stay tuned on that.

I’m also offering a special for frequent cash patients at two visits a week for $120.  Regular sessions are $85. And yes, I do have a sliding scale.

Best in Health,