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Degenerative Disc Disease Treated with Acupuncture

Degenerative Disc Disease Treated with Acupuncture

Degenerative conditions often seem mysterious and confusing to the Western medical mind. Inflammation is usually seen as the cause of skeletal disc degeneration, neuropathy, muscle atrophy and breakdown of the joints (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis). Where the inflammation comes from, many doctors cannot confidently say. The answers given are usually “overuse,” “aging,” or “genetics.”

The medical classics of Chinese Acupuncture are rich in discussion of degenerative conditions afflicting the bones, joints, muscles and flesh. The classical Chinese Medical term for degeneration of the physical form is “Wei atrophy syndrome”: an inflammatory process that destroys the structure of the body. However, “Wei atrophy syndrome” is not a mysterious condition in Chinese Medicine. The inflammation is seen as an end-stage to the condition; not the root. The origination of degenerative processes can be something as simple as an unresolved viral, bacterial or fungal infection. It can also have its roots in emotional trauma or longterm mental stress.

There are many causes of inflammation from the Chinese Medical point of view. Any unresolved condition (viral, bacterial, fungal) will “transform” into inflammation as it takes residence in the body. The idea of “residence” refers to a longterm unresolved contracted condition (usually caused by an agent such as virus, bacteria or fungus) which initially “lingers” in the head, throat or sinus.

Contracted agents “manifest” through the muscles, skin and sensory orifices. The organ that contends with these agents are the Lungs. Sweating and urination are the major ways the body detoxes externally contacted agents. The immune system is heat-based energy. The body heats up, generating a lot of water to flush out offending pathogens. The heat travels through the muscles and skin: our external armor against the outside world. The Lungs are the organ that control sweat and urination as a detox method. It is also the first entrance into the body from the outside via the breath (nose and mouth).

The fever we experience during a common cold is the body’s immune response: it’s way to detox offending agents. If the body fails to “release” the virus, bacteria or fungus, it will “internalize”: moving deeper into the body. The immune system will continue to react to it however, creating internalized inflammation. In time, the inflammation will begin to dry up the body fluids and the blood and damage it’s functional energy. This gives rise to pain, stiffness, burning in the muscles, as well as neurological conditions such as numbness, tingling or neuropathy (loss of movement).

The body is wise. It will do whatever it can to prevent damage to the internal organs.


When a pathogen moves inside the body, there is the threat it can move into one of the organs. To prevent this from happening, the body will shuttle the offending pathogen into a relatively “safe” area of the body where it can be held: the minor blood vessels and the joints. In these areas, the pathogen is kept away from the organs. However symptoms will still occur. The immune system will still react to these “incubating” pathogens, creating more inflammation. This is where the degenerative process manifests. Heat from the immune system will begin to degenerate the structure: skeletal discs, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons. The heat can also create hardening of the vessels, buildup of plaque and diminish circulatory function.

The inflammation comes from the body’s immune response. The inflammation is what damages the body structure, such as the discs, joints and muscles. Therefore, in treatment the first step is to calm the immune system and clear the inflammation. However, most therapies stop there. Unfortunately, clearing only the inflammatory process will not cure the root of the problem. Since the inflammation is only the body’s innate immune response, stopping the inflammation will simply manage the condition, not cure it. The ultimate goal in treatment of degenerative conditions with Acupuncture is to eliminate the lingering pathogenic agent being held in the joints and minor blood vessels: to create a detox. Then the immune system will stop generating inflammation because it will not have anything to fight.

Nicholas Sieben, MS, L.Ac.

Nicholas is a healer who uses acupuncture and reiki to help awaken and heal. His mission is to promote greater freedom of body, mind and spirit through compassionate self-awareness. Through the use of ancient medical practices and the spiritual philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism, Nicholas helps illuminate the path to healing. He is a student of the renown Taoist priest and Chinese Medical Master Jeffrey Yuen. He completed his acupuncture studies under Mr. Yuen at the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences, and received a B.A. from Brandeis University in Sociology and Philosophy. He has a practice in New York City.

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