Can Alternative Treatments Help after Spine Surgery?

Question: I am 60 years young, and I had an operation on my back 10 years ago for a herniated disc. I have no pain, and I've very active, but lately my balance has been shaky. Could acupuncture help my condition?
—Bartlett, TNAcupuncture needles in the back of a patientAnswer: An analogy I like to use is the following: when we are born, we have a full "tank of Qi." In Chinese medicine, the Qi (pronounced "chee") is an energy or life force that we all possess. Much like a full tank of gas before we leave on a road trip, we have a full tank of Qi for our journey of life. The tank is half empty at midlife.

This tank of Qi is housed, so to speak, in the energy system of the kidneys, according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

I say "system" because the functions of an organ system in Chinese medicine are much broader in scope than in Western medicine. For example, the functions of the kidneys in TCM are to:

  • Store essence (the male sperm and female egg) and govern birth, growth, reproduction, and development
  • Produce barrow, fill the brain, control bones
  • Govern water
  • Control the reception of Qi
  • Open into the ears (Each organ system opens into an orifice that connects to the outside world, thus the ears for the Kidney system.)
  • Manifest on the hair (Each organ system manifests into an area of the body that can be seen, we could say the hair is the external bloom of the kidney system.)
  • House the will power
  • Maintain the integrity of the low back and legs (including knees and feet)
  • Aid digestion
  • Be the source of Qi for all organs (the gas tank analogy)

When the Kidney System Weakens
The kidney system is like the "battery-pack" of our body. At 60, you're past the midlife mark, and thus, your kidney Qi is only half-full. When you had back surgery, it pointed to a weakness in the kidney system as that system was weakened and unable to maintain the integrity of the low back. Low back pain (regardless if it leads to surgery) is a signal from the body that the kidney system could use some support and strengthening.

Balance and the Kidney System
The kidney system sends its essence (a refined form of Qi) upward, through the spine to nourish the brain. I don't know if there is "dizziness" that accompanies your shaky balance, but either way, the essence is not reaching the brain to maintain stability. There could be other patterns involved in addition to the kidney deficiency, but we'll stick with just the kidney system here.

The Infinite Intelligence of Our Body
When the body sends us a signal in the form of a pain or symptom, it really is a message of intelligence. The symptom or pain is trying to get our attention for various reasons. The shaky balance is yet another signal that the kidney system could use some strengthening and support (the first that we know of was the disc herniation that led to your surgery 10 years ago). If the root cause is not supported, the body will keep sending forth signals in the form of symptoms.

Acupuncture, Nutrition, and Herbs
In TCM, acupuncture, nutrition, and Chinese herbs would be very helpful in supporting the kidney system under these circumstances. They would be instrumental in filling up a tired system. And this will help to keep you young!