Melissa Lo, Acupuncturist

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ContributorDr. Robert G. Watkins IV, MDRead Full Bio

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Robert Watkins IV, M.D., is co-director of Marina Spine Center and Chairman of the Surgery Department at Marina Del Rey Hospital. Dr. Watkins is a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon, specializing in minimally invasive spine surgery, computer-assisted surgery, spinal-deformity treatment, and disc replacement. Dr. Watkins earned his medical degree at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at the L.A. County/USC General Hospital. He then worked as a traveling fellow in Europe, specializing in artificial-disc replacement and scoliosis surgery. Over the past decade, he has lectured on spine issues to doctors, patient groups, athletic trainers, and physical therapists; led research teams that have published studies; and taught surgeons on specialized techniques. He is the spine consultant to many Los Angeles sports teams, and has treated professional, college, and high school athletes from all over the country.

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My name is Melissa Lo. I'm a licensed acupuncturist. I went to school at Cal State University Northridge for my undergrad in biology, and then I went to Dongguk University of L.A., which is a acupuncture school. I became an acupuncturist because when I was growing up, I used to do a lot of ballet. So I had a really bad injury in my hip, that actually was not getting any better through traditional Western techniques; chiropractics, physical therapy. So my mom actually dragged me to this old school acupuncturist in my city, and it was the only thing that worked for me. I actually got to avoid doing surgery, which was one of the treatments the doctors had recommended.

There's a lot of different reasons as to why back pain can occur. Obviously, if you have an acute trauma, having an injury is definitely one of the primary reasons. But when we treat and diagnose for back pain, we're actually looking at the root cause. If you have a patient, for example, someone who did have a car accident, versus maybe an elderly grandparent who has chronic back pain, it's actually different type. So when we diagnose, we actually have to figure out what triggered the back pain. So acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, but it's actually a technique that we use continuously. Just like with anything, a time passes, people start noticing that certain like, specific body parts actually correlated with health disorders.

So acupuncture is the use of very, very fine needles to help stimulate acupuncture points. As you can see, there's all these channels and all these points. Each one of these channels are related to meridian pathways, and each one of these points can be used to help with stimulating for certain conditions and disorders. So when we use needle therapy, we're actually trying to target specific points to get energy flowing. So especially since we're talking about back pain, we can actually do distal points, local regions, but also parts that are further away from the body to help with whatever condition we're focusing on. In Eastern medicine, our belief is that qi and blood all correlate together. So when you have pain, it's actually blockage in different regions of the body.

So when we use the needle therapy, it stimulates the Chi, the energy, to help reduce pain, to help improve that area. Our belief is all about making sure that the energies move consistently. So needle therapy is very beneficial, but it's not the only complementary medicine we do use. For example, in my practice, we actually integrate traditional Tui Na, which is a traditional type of Asian massage that follows the energy pathways at these acupressure points. Traditional Chinese herbal treatment is actually really helpful. It's a natural type of medicine for patients who can't take drugs like Vicodin, painkillers, things like that. The traditional herbs are more food-based.

So something as simple as goji berries, which is actually really commonly known right now, it's a traditional herb that we use to help with detoxing the liver. I do believe that there should be an integration of Eastern and Western med, because in the end, you're looking at the benefits for the patients, and some patients unfortunately can't get the best result from Western med. It's actually becoming more common, because as time passes, we've seen a lot of patients go through the traditional Western route, and they don't get the relief, especially when you're talking about back pain, especially when you do something like cortisone shots, or maybe even have some mild surgery. A lot of times, unfortunately, some patients don't get any relief, or sometimes even get a little bit worse.

So a lot of the patients who are pretty much at their wit's end try to look for other complementary medicines, and acupuncture is one of the top ones that are out there. So during our initial consultation, we definitely want to get a full medical background history. So whether a patient has had any surgeries, any major injuries is always very important. Any drugs that they're currently on is also very important, because, of course, there are conflicts between Western drugs and Easter traditional medicine, especially if we're gonna recommend traditional herbals. A lot of people are really nervous when it comes to acupuncture, because they don't really know about it. Living in the United States, when we think of needles, we think of the needles we get at the hospital, when we're getting our blood drawn, which are pretty thick.


However, acupuncture needles are actually very fine. They're actually as fine as your hair. So here's an example of one of the needles. I don't know if you can see. But it's actually really, really thin, and it's a stainless steel needle. It's actually really, really flexible, it's really durable, and the great thing about acupuncture needles is that they are one time use only, so we can actually reduce contamination, especially when you're talking about blood-borne pathogens. A lot of people get really nervous with that. Obviously, it's still a needle, so you're gonna feel a slight break in the skin, but normally most patients don't feel much, or if they do feel anything, it's kind of like a mild, sore sensation. That's about it.

When you're getting the treatment, a lot of patients feel maybe like a slight stimulation, maybe a little soreness, maybe a little warm sensation. But more patients actually fall asleep on the treatment table, because it's actually quite soothing and relaxing. With a patient who has back pain, acupuncture is beneficial throughout. So if they have it after an-an acute trauma, if they have it right before or right after the surgery, it's perfectly safe and fine. So actually there's no exact time that it's best for. We just can treat throughout the condition. But in general, acupuncture is more of a preventative medicine.

So if you have someone who has, like, chronic lower backache, nothing really severe, but you want to make sure you kind of reduce, maintaining with acupuncture is actually really beneficial. For example, if we were working on a patient with sciatica, a lot of times they're gonna have pain kind of in their butt cheek, and it's gonna radiate. Sciatica has a few different ways of hurting. It'll actually be due to a lot of times stiffness in the lower back, which causes the muscle to tighten, and actually pinches along the sciatica nerve. So when we're doing acupuncture, even though a lot of people think automatically you're gonna focus with the sciatica nerve, you actually have to release the lower back, target the points here, and actually do points down at the end of the channel.

Because in traditional Eastern medicine, one of the longest channels in the body is the urinary bladder channel, which deals with all types of lower backache and pain. So when we trigger points down here, it can actually release the entire back. So that's an example of one of the cases we would work on. After surgery, what's most important is to make sure that the patient's wounds have all healed, because obviously if they have any scar areas that are still open, we want to try to avoid doing treatment, because even though we're doing very fine needling, if we do any acupressure, we do use herbs and, uh, herbal oils and things like that.

But a lot of times, for example, after surgery, we want to make sure that the muscles are nice and relaxed, because most of the time after surgery, patients still have a lot of tension and tightness. So we do acupuncture to just maintain the muscle rel-relaxation, but a lot of times after surgery, we do recommend more traditional herbal blends, maybe even some nutritional supplementations, especially if it's something related with the spine, some bone density issues. We do give recommendations of maybe integrating in some more calcium support, some bone support, and also diet. Diet and exercise is really important. So it's kind of like targeting the root cause, as opposed to just the symptom, because the pain is just a symptom of something else.

So that is our theory about treating pain management. If you have pain in the local region, it's actually called ashi [PH] points. When you're doing further away from the body, they're called distal point therapy. So depending on the patient's condition, you have to select a formulation. And it doesn't always mean that just because your left back hip hurts you're gonna just do the left region. You can actually do cross needling technique. There's a lot of different mo-modalities, I guess you could select from. There are combination points that I've seen has been really beneficial. One of the most commonly well-known one is actually UB40, which is down here at the back of the knee. It's actually the command point for all back disorders.

So actually for anybody who's had some sort of trauma, who has just finished or recovering from surgery, or just has lower back soreness, that's one of the top points that we do integrate in. But there are a lot of specialty points, especially for pain management, especially specifically in the lower back. So depending on, like I said, the type of injury, we'll select a combination. So it's a really great complementary medicine to integrate into daily life, just to keep your energy up, to keep your immune system strong. So a lot of our cases who come in for back pain or some sort of pain management, they end up staying with us long term, even if they're maintaining once every couple weeks.

Laser acupuncture is another form of treatment that we offer, and it's actually really beneficial, especially when you have young children, or people who are a little bit more nervous when it comes to using needle therapy. What it does is it uses a low frequency laser, and it's actually, um, put on the body, kind of like a sticker, and it's actually put on the acupuncture point. So it does not break the skin, but it still has the ability to help stimulate that area, to help with rehabilitation. It's very beneficial, especially when you have somebody who maybe has something like bursitis, some sort of inflammation, maybe even some scar tissue.

So depending on the patient, we can differentiate which type we would use, but in general, we can also alternate between acupuncture and laser acupuncture. We have seen that really be helpful for cases, especially patients who have just had surgery, because of course, they have scar areas, or maybe some inflammation in the body, which is really beneficial to help with stimulating that. So acupuncture is really beneficial to target the whole body's health and energy flow, because a lot of acupuncture points, they're not correlated with just one condition. So a lot of times when we treat, we can actually use one point to help cover a whole wide range of issues.

But that doesn't mean that we need to do 20 or 30 needles. So sometimes a lot of people get worried with acupuncture because they think they're gonna be looking like a porcupine, 'cause they're gonna have so many sticking out of them, but we can actually do treatments even with two or three needles. So we just have to get an idea of what their condition is, and then treat them based off that. I think that acupuncture has a really big place in regards to integrating in with Western medicine, especially with pain management, back pain disorders. And a lot of practitioners are actually more open to integrating in. We have had a lot of referrals from Western practitioners who are more open, because they have seen the benefits of it. Because unfortunately, surgery isn't something that patients want to go for.

It's not their number one choice. So a lot of Western doctors are even more open to find other modalities to help alleviate the pains that the patients are dealing with. And we've actually had cases where surgery was gonna be the l-next option, but by integrating acupuncture in first, they actually got the relief they needed and they could avoid surgery. A lot of times I have patients who come in who have tried everything, and they've pretty much given up. But by turning to Eastern medicine, they've actually gotten the relief that they didn't think that they would get.

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