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Articles by Jim Martin, LAc

Headache Treatment with Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

“My only regret is that I didn’t come to see you twenty five years ago Mike said as he gathered his things together and walked back to the reception area of my office. That was the bad news. The good news was that, for the first time in twenty sis years, he was experiencing a dramatic reduction in the headache which had plagued him since an accident in the 1960s had damaged the front of his head, requiring surgical implantation of  a special fabric material to patch it all together. Several weekly treatments, followed by a couple more at wider intervals, and his chronic pain was an unpleasant memory. For several years following, I saw Mike at an annual community event and his upturned thumb and smile confirmed that the problem had not returned.

Several yeas ago a most pleasant fifty something woman came in complaining of migraine headaches which had forced her to take refuge in bed every week of her life since she was a small child. “Gripping, vicious pain” required weekly self injections with monthly trips to the doctor for heavier medications. Even with this regimen, she suffered a constant low level tolerable pain, with monthly exacerbations characterized by vomiting and dehydration. Following the second treatment she reported that “The entire left side is much better. The tenderness is gone. I can’t believe it. It’s like 90 % better. My shoulders feel lighter. This is the best my neck has felt in 20-30 years.”

Every month or so one regular patient shows up for her weekly treatment looking miserable, grimacing and exhausted. Typically, she will report that she has been down for several days with a pounding headache that her strongest prescription painkillers can’t even touch. And typically she will leave the office and hour later smiling with her pain either completely gone or at least reduced to a mild background discomfort.

The common thread among people such as these is that they have suffered for years from disabling pain, for which they have received conventional medical care in the form of medications which have produced further complications and misery but no relief of the problem whatsoever. It is with these patients that acupuncture and Chinese medicine can really prove its worth.

Why is it that natural medicine can be so effective when conventional western medicine has completely failed? Two factors to consider are first that we look for the underlying cause of the problem rather than simply covering up the symptom, and second that we are working in the realm of ‘chi’ or energy that is not even recognized yet alone involved in the treatment program.

First, consider the Chinese medical diagnosis. We examine the nature of the headache to determine which ‘organs’ and energy meridians are involved. A headache which feels like ‘a tight band wrapped around the head’ or which gets worse in damp weather may be related to the ‘spleen.’ If it corresponds to the menstrual period it may relate to the ‘liver.’

Headaches on the temporal region, the sides of the head, may be ‘gallbladder,’ while frontal pain may involve the ‘stomach’ meridian. I emphasize may be because many other factors must be considered before determining an accurate diagnosis. Are pulses weak, pounding, slippery, fast or slow? Does the tongue have a thick coating, or scalloped depressions around the edges? Is there a history of trauma such as car wreck, fall or even surgery? Did they vote for Dubya or Gore? (Just kidding). The point is, many clues help fine tune a diagnosis, facilitating the most accurate and effective selection of acupuncture  points and herbs.

Once the diagnosis is determined, a treatment plan is developed which utilizes all the appropriate resources available. Often I begin with some Shiatsu massage to loosen tight upper body muscles. The Chi Machine has also proven invaluable in relaxing the body and is frequently used in cases of pain anywhere in the body to get the ‘chi’ and blood circulating. Gwa Sha is a friction technique involving the rubbing of a hard object over the skin to elicit a red bumpy rash of released metabolic waste material. It can also be extremely effective in moving ‘stuck blood and chi.’ Acupuncture, applied to points not only on the head but often extremities as well, targets meridians involved in the region of  discomfort. Specific points have functions such as ‘clears the channels,’ relieves headache,’ ‘releases wind,’ or ‘opens the orifices.’ Many people are familiar with the ‘Hegu’ or Large Intestine point located between the thumb and forefinger which is a principal point indicated for any kind of headache. Chinese herbal formulas combine individual herbs with specific functions such as ‘crack static blood,’ dispel wind damp’ or ‘clear the channels.’

Lastly, I may recommend such diverse therapies as relaxation exercises, subliminal cassette tapes, visualization or hypnotherapy to complete the process. ‘Whatever Works’ could be my motto.

If you don’t suffer from chronic or acute headaches you probably know someone who does. Consult a qualified acupuncturist for advice on how you can transform your disabling pain into a fading memory.




Jim Martin, LAc., Dipl. Ac.(NCCAOM)


Serving Washington and Columbia counties since 1994, including cities and communities of Scappoose, St Helens, Warren, Rainier, Columbia City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Beaverton, Aloha, Portland, Gaston, Banks, North Plains, Carlton and Yamhill Oregon

Pain, headaches, gwa sha, gua sha, fibromyalgia, migraines, acupuncture, spooning, exercise, visualization

Gwa Sha (Spooning/Coining) Treatment I

“If you ever do that to her again I’ll kill you!” I’ll never forget these words of a young woman as she related her husband’s reaction to a rather little known and poorly understood treatment I had given her called ‘Gwa Sha.’ His concern was, however, easily understood, as his wife’s neck and back were covered with a bright red rash, suggesting that she had fallen from a motorcycle and slid unprotected down the highway or, in this case, been severely abused by some crazed and violent acupuncturists. What he did not know was that she was in no pain and that, in fact, she felt much better than when she came in complaining of upper body pain. He also had no way of knowing that the rash would dissipate within a few days, leaving her skin soft and smooth exactly the way he remembered it.

‘Sha’ is described as a condition in which the waste products of cellular metabolism (the burning of glucose in the cells for energy) become trapped in the muscle fibers, often as the result of major trauma such as whiplash but sometimes from accumulated smaller traumas from daily wear and tear and exercise. The Chinese medical diagnosis is ‘stagnation of blood and chi in the meridians,’ meaning that there is obstruction of the energy and fluids in the affected area. The result is stiffness, soreness and pain. Typical western medical treatment for this condition consists of medications including pain killers, muscle relaxers and possibly anti-depressants, plus massage, chiropractic, physical therapy and so on. People who come to see me usually have already been down this path, but have failed to find satisfactory relief from their problem. In my experience, these therapies can be even more effective when applied after ‘Gwa Sha’ treatment. For example, I used ‘Gwa Sha’ on one woman who was referred from a chiropractor who was unable to adjust four vertebrae in her neck. Immediately after ‘Gwa Sha’ treatment, three of the four vertebrae were successfully adjusted.

‘Gwa Sha’ is perhaps the most dramatic treatment I have ever used for the relief of neck and shoulder stiffness and pain. It is remarkably simple yet effective. The skin is coated with a liniment, then briskly rubbed with a hard object such as a coin or ceramic soup spoon, resulting in a red rash. It is said that the pressure and stroking motion dislodge the encapsulated waste products and draw them to the skin surface where they may be eliminated from the body altogether. ‘Sha’ is a Chinese word for sand, describing the rough texture of the rash as it appears in some cases.

The benefits of ‘Gwa Sha’ treatment are first that it produces immediate results most of the time. The appearance of the rash itself confirms the correct diagnosis of the ‘Sha’ condition in the muscle tissue, and usually provides significant immediate pain relief. Patients will generally report a 50-90% reduction of pain and stiffness immediately upon conclusion of the treatment, although occasionally the discomfort may increase somewhat on the day following treatment, and then reduce significantly the following day.

Disadvantages of the treatment are that it may be temporarily uncomfortable for some people during the actual process, and that a red rash will be produced.

The rash will act like a common bruise, starting to fade within minutes, turning black and blue to green and yellow, and usually disappearing within about four days. There is no bleeding or injury to the skin whatsoever. The biggest problem is convincing concerned friends and family that you are not suffering from the treatment in any way, despite its frightening appearance.

Who receives ‘Gwa Sha’ treatment? I recommend it as the first line of treatment to most people suffering from upper body discomfort because it is so fast and effective in the great majority of cases. In addition, I have applied it successfully to arms, hips, buttocks and legs. I frequently use ‘Gwa Sha’ even on fibromyalgia sufferers, with extremely sensitive skin and muscles, who have reported relief of symptoms where all other prior treatment has failed.

I then follow up with acupuncture or ‘Moxabustion’ (heat) to target remaining problem areas, and may recommend Chinese herbal formulas, supplements such as enzymes or therapeutic magnets to use between treatments.

In some cases, a single session is sufficient to bring resolution to the problem. However, only so much ‘Sha’ can emerge at one time, and in other situations where the problem is more severe, several sessions, usually a week apart, are necessary to complete the job.

All considered, patients like the results and often come back and ask for more ‘Gwa Sha’ treatment when in need. It is a powerful tool from ancient Chinese medicine well suited to help relieve the aches and pains of the modern American public.


Jim Martin, LAc., Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)


Serving Washington and Columbia counties since 1994, including cities and communities of Scappoose, St Helens, Warren, Rainier, Columbia City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Beaverton, Aloha, Portland, Gaston, Banks, North Plains, Carlton and Yamhill Oregon

gwa sha, gua sha, trauma, pain, injury, neck, shoulders, fibromyalgia, asthma, bronchitis, hepatitis


Natural Relief for Back Pain

“I was just brushing my teeth when suddenly I felt a ‘pop’ and hot electric shock across my back that put me on the floor in agonizing pain.” This is how patients commonly describe their encounters with immobilizing back pain. In my own case, just bending over to photograph a shard of ancient pottery in the desert left me with severe spasms, unable to bend to tie my shoelaces. Sleeping on the ground, surrounded by curious skunks, I was unable to move, but thankful they weren’t snakes.  Perhaps you have a similar experience, or just soreness following a day of gardening. Either way, you are not alone. Back pain is one of the commonest afflictions of modern Americans, said to be the number one reason for lost productivity on the job, and one of the main reasons people come for acupuncture treatment.

While it may appear that backs suddenly go out for no reason, it is understood that the sneeze was only the final straw in a chain of events possibly including injuries, poor nutrition or conditioning and so on. In Chinese medicine we consider many other factors including constitutional weakness, age, weather factors and emotions. Selection of points and herbs depends on the resulting diagnosis.  I would like to present several cases to illustrate different underlying factors and methods of treatment.

Typically patients are treated with acupuncture and other modalities. One elderly woman, unable to lie on her stomach, was treated sitting up in a chair, using just points on one hand, ear and ankles. In two treatments she was fine, returning after seven years for a shoulder problem. One middle aged woman’s   back took a daily pounding driving a forklift. From past experience she knew that a planned drive to southern California would be extremely uncomfortable. She bought a magnet to place on her low back for the trip and, when she returned, reported have had no pain and wanting another magnet for her mother. Another middle aged woman reported back pain suddenly seizing her while driving through a rainstorm, then calming once back out in the sun. I saw it as extreme sensitivity to dampness and gave an herbal formula that seemed to take care of the problem in a couple weeks. A fifteen year old girl came in who suffered severe mid back pain and cried herself to sleep every night for months. I diagnosed ‘stuck blood’ and performed one treatment of ‘gua sha’, rubbing her back with a Chinese soup spoon to resolve the problem. The most dramatic case I recall was a man with herniated disks, considering spinal surgery. After five minutes on the ‘Chi Machine’ he was pain free and remains so almost three years later.

I do not want to suggest that back treatment is a quick fix- it is not in most cases. I do want to make the point that many alternative techniques are available for relief from acute or chronic back pain.


Serving Washington and Columbia counties since 1994, including cities and communities of Scappoose, St Helens, Warren, Rainier, Columbia City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Beaverton, Aloha, Portland, Gaston, Banks, North Plains, Carlton and Yamhill Oregon


Pain, back pain, aging, degeneration, injuries, herbs, supplements, acupuncture, nutrition, gua sha, magnets, Chi Machine


Natural Herbal and Supplement Support for Baby Boomers

Treating many baby boomers in my practice I often see the many degenerative conditions associated with aging. I also see people consuming piles of drugs, often with known hazardous side effects. On occasion I have worked with the patient and their doctor to reduce or eliminate prescription medications and replace them with safer and sometimes more effective natural remedies. Being a boomer myself, I am determined to delay the onset of these uncomfortable and debilitating problems as long as possible. To achieve this end, I take a select group of herbs and supplements



Two issues frequently arise when considering natural products vs drugs. One is convenience. What! Nine tablets a day!? Yes. Natural remedies are generally less potent and therefore safer, but require larger dosing. Also, they usually take longer to produce results, as they are working to support the body’s healing and function rather than just covering up symptoms like pain.  Get used to it. Second is cost, as supplement s are in most cases not covered by insurance, the exception being certain health savings accounts that will reimburse. Its just a matter of priorities. Do you spend that $50 or $100 on new clothes, expensive sports equipment or concert tickets, or invest in your long term health and wellbeing. Depends on your life goals, and is a personal choice.


Like me, my patients are constantly bombarded by advertising for health and anti-aging products on Facebook, email and telephone. Making informed decisions on choices can be overwhelming.  Many people present a rag tag collection of supplements based on every source from People Magazine to Dr. Oz. Often they will ask me what I personally use. I have put together a program of products that include some general supplements with many varies benefits with others specifically for my age and health condition.


First are adaptogens, herbs to counter the damaging effects of stress while building strength, endurance and stamina, speeding recovery from physical activity, building immunity and improving mental function. Who can’t use all this? Next are systemic enzymes with anti-inflammatory, scar dissolving, immune enhancing and cardiovascular benefits. Vitamin D has become a big deal in the health news the last couple years for a whole list of reasons. Antioxidants fight free radicals said to contribute to over sixty diseases including cancer and diabetes. For my focused products I use glucosamine sulfate proven to benefit arthritis in my knee, but be careful choosing products as some commonly sold have no evidence of actual benefit. Then I add garlic, CoQ-10 and l-carnitine and potassium with magnesium for heart health.



For breakfast or lunch I drink a smoothie containing  green superfoods, an all-star team of nutrients, with omega oils  for  inflammation, brain building, healing, cardiovascular health and physical performance. I prefer plant based oils over krill or fish because animal oils are great for omega 3 but lack   omega 6.


A word of caution: buying products online can be risky. Watch for imposters, expiration dates and potency. One customer, thinking he was saving $20 on a $150 purchase, actually spent seven times more to buy online. Finally, as I sit writing this article, I receive an email warning of an enzyme product on the market cut with antibiotics. Good luck to you in your pursuit of a happy healthy life into old age!


Jim Martin, LAc

Columbia Acupuncture


Serving Washington and Columbia counties since 1994, including cities and communities of Scappoose, St Helens, Warren, Rainier, Columbia City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Beaverton, Aloha, Portland, Gaston, Banks, North Plains, Carlton and Yamhill Oregon


Pain, aging, degeneration, herbs, supplements, acupuncture, nutrition, superfoods

Movie and Video Suggestions


1. Food Matters

2. Forks Over Knives

3. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead