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Acupuncture for Edema

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese method used to treat various conditions, including edema.
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Chinese medicine delineates edema into multiple syndromes, based on how and where it occurs in the body. Ankle edema is attributed to Kidney Deficiency (TCM), while hand edema may be attributed to Heart Qi Deficiency. 

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese method that uses pressure points located in the hands and feet to treat a variety of conditions, including edema. 

Edema according to Acupuncture

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, edema is believed to originate from these organs: lung, spleen and kidney. The basic principle is that when these organs fail to transport and transform body fluids, water is stored up all over the body and edema results.

In the practice of acupuncture, edemas are classified under either yin or yang disorders. Yang edemas are acute with quick onsets. They first start at the head and on the face before moving downwards.

Yin edemas have slow onsets. They start at the ankles and legs and are restricted to the lower part of the body.

These classes of edemas are further subdivided in acupuncture practice. There are 3 subdivisions for each class of edema.

Yang edema can be further divided into:

Edema caused by exogenous wind: This begins on the face and spreads to the limbs but is concentrated in the head. It presents as pitted edema and is believed to be caused by wind-heat or wind-cold. The affected area is seen as thin, taut and shiny skin. This edema is accompanied by fever, soreness, coughing and racy pulse.

Edema caused by retention of dampness: This presents with pitted edema on the legs and can involve low urine production, fatigue and distended abdomen.

Edema caused by damp heat: This presents as taut and shiny skin, with fever, thirst, low urine production and tightness of the chest.

Yin edema is classified into:

Edema caused by deficiency of spleen yang: This is a pitted edema found in the lower part of the body. It involves diarrhea, low appetite, distension of the abdomen, low urine volume and coldness in the limbs.

Edema caused by declining kidney qi: This is experienced as a pitted edema which is more prominent in the lower half of the body. It presents with cold limbs, lumbar pain, shortness of breath and mental fatigue.

Edema caused by deficiency of the stomach and spleen: This type of edema causes a sallow skin. It is found in the head in the morning and moves to the limbs later in the day or after physical exertion.

Acupuncture Points

Each kind of edema is treated from a unique set of acupuncture points. Acupuncture needles and moxa are equally effective at these points.

Moxibustion is the burning of mugwort or moxa over the acupuncture points on the body.

Treating edema with acupuncture should be left to professional and experienced acupuncturists because finding acupuncture points and knowing the correct sequence of activating them can be difficult for novices.

Below are examples of acupuncture points used in treating certain forms of edema.

Edema caused by qi stagnation and the constriction of blood vessels:  He Gu (LI4), Nei Guan (P6), Tan Zhong (Ren17), Tai Chong (Liv3), Yin Ling Quan (Sp 9), Zu San Li (S 36), San Yin Jiao (Sp 6), Xue Hai (Sp10) and Shui Fen (Ren 9).

Edema caused by wind-dampness: San Yin Jiao (Sp 6), Yang Ling Quan (Du3), Feng Fu (Du16), Feng Chi (G20), Feng Shi (G31), Yin Ling Quan (Sp 9), Zu San Li (S36) and Zhong Wan (Ren12).

Edema caused an inefficient spleen: Nei Guan (P6), Yin Ling Quan (Sp9), San Yin Jiao (Sp6), Nei Ting (S44), Zhong Wan (Ren12), Zhang Men (Liv13) and Zu San Li (S36).

Edema experienced during pregnancy: Yin Ling Quan (Sp9), Zu San Li (S36), Pi Shu (B20), and Shen Shu (B23).

Edema experienced during menstruation: Pi Shu (B20), Tong Tian (UB7), Guan Yuan (Ren4), and Ming Men (Du4).

An example of how acupuncture is used to treat edema can be seen from the moxibustion treatment of pedal oedema. The acupuncture points favored are Spleen 9 and Stomach 36.

Spleen 9 is found below, but on the inside of, the knee. It is a point situated below the medial condyle bone of the knee. Stomach 36, on the other hand, is found on the shin bone, a few inches below the knuckle of the knee.

During treatment, a smoldering moxa stick is held a couple of inches above these points for 5 minutes. This is repeated over the course of a week.

Herbs are also commonly used in acupuncture treatment of edema. Usually, they are decoctions containing herbs known for their diuretic properties and the ability to stimulate blood circulation.

How Does It Work: 

An acupuncturist is able to identify and treat the underlying deficiencies and imbalances that cause edema, by utilizing both herbs and acupuncture. 

As edema is usually considered as a symptom of a ‘deficient’ condition in Chinese medicine, it would likely require 10-12 sittings to achieve a lasting effect. 

Western medicine looks at edema from a different perspective. It simply considers it as an abnormal buildup of fluid beneath the skin, or in one or more cavities of the body. 

Generally, the amount of fluid is determined by homeostasis; and the enhanced secretion of fluid into interstitial spaces or impaired removal of this fluid causes edema. Acupuncture treats the underlying metabolic imbalances that result in edema. 

In Chinese Medicine, edema has two varieties: Qi Edema and Water Edema. Your acupuncturist will be able to assess which type of edema you have and the organ systems that are affected. He will accordingly choose the right acupuncture points and herbal formula for you. 

Types of Edema and Acupuncture: 

Acupuncture can effectively treat different types of edema conditions such as lymph edema, ankle edema, leg edema, arm edema, macular edema, and facial edema. 

While acupuncture significantly treats edema caused by lymph node removal in breast cancer surgery, it might not be as effective at treating other types of edemas caused by surgical trauma. 

Considering that this Chinese method poses few threats, it is worth trying. While immediate reduction of edema often occurs with acupuncture, this treatment along with other herbal therapies is effective in addressing most types of edema. 

Studies have found that acupuncture significantly reduces edema. Other scientific studies have suggested that it can encourage the production of cortisol, a hormone that alleviates pain and inflammation. 

Is Acupuncture Safe?

You must talk to your physician about acupuncture before you opt for the treatment. Although relatively safe, acupuncture may not be recommended for patients with certain conditions. 

You must check to make sure that your acupuncturist is licensed by the state and is experienced in performing acupuncture. 

In case of macular edema, even if acupuncture rectifies your vision loss, you may still have an underlying condition which needs to be treated, so follow your eye doctor’s recommendations properly. 

You may also consider taking a natural fluid retention remedy such as Capisette, which contains potent herbs like dandelion extracts, horse chestnut, ginkgo biloba, and buchu extracts.

Next Article: Drinking and Fluid Retention
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