One thing that affects a number of people in the cold weather states this time of year is Raynaud’s phenomenon. This is when the extremities – particularly the fingers or toes – turn different color shades when exposed to abrupt temperature changes. The color shift will go from white to blue as the blood vessels in the extremities spasm, constricting blood flow and cutting off oxygen supply, and then suddenly open again causing a rush of blood and a flushed red color. When people have this kind of color change in the extremities without other accompanying symptoms it is called Raynaud’s disease, otherwise it is Raynaud’s phenomenon.
There is no known cause of Raynaud’s. We know that Raynaud’s requires spasming of the blood vessels, and there might be an underlying neurological component where the nerves that control vasodilation in the fingers or toes do not respond as they should when exposed to sudden changes. Because we don’t know the cause, standard medical treatment is symptomatic – wearing gloves, taking vasodilating medications, avoiding temperature extremes, avoiding stress (a common constrictor of blood vessels), and other similar precautions.
So does acupuncture show promise for treating Raynaud’s? The Western medical research is still in its infancy – very few studies have been published specifically looking at treating Raynaud’s with acupuncture, and results are mixed. This doesn’t mean that we know nothing, however. Some things we do know are:
- Acupuncture has a vasodilating effect. This is simply a result of inserting a foreign object into the body – the body increases the local blood circulation around the needle to defend against potential invasion. When treating Raynaud’s, in our practice we also often use an adjunct treatment method called moxibustion, which is the burning of mugwort on or near the skin as a form of heat therapy. This also help to increase local blood circulation, and these effects can be long-lasting.
- Acupuncture reduces stress & promotes mobility in the joints. Both stress and immobility are common causes of restricted blood flow. Constriction in a joint (like the wrist) can also cause nerve condiction issues – carpal tunnel syndrome is an example most people are familar with. Since Raynaud’s defintely has a circulatory component and may also have a neurological component, it’s important to treat areas of the body or life that might cause either of these systems to be impeded.
- Patients who come for treatment for Raynaud’s see good results. Most patients with Raynaud’s who come for treatment have it as a secondary complaint. Nevertheless, the clinical results are promising and long-lasting in patients who stick to the full course of treatment.
If you suffer from Raynaud’s phenomenon or know someone who does, don’t let winter be a time of pain or restriction for you. Schedule your consultation today and we will help you find relief.