11 surgeries. Rotator cuff repairs. Carpal tunnel releases. Knee arthroscopy. Bunionectomy. Surgery for back issues. Neck issues. Cardiovascular surgery.
This is what one of my patient intakes looked like several years ago. This poor lady was feeling defeated and didn’t think there was anything that could help. She hurt all the time. Her surgical sites would often hurt and even the problems that were supposed to be fixed by the surgeries still hurt.
She had chronic muscle pain (fibromyalgia), chronic fatigue, chronic insomnia, and she was still dealing with chronic cardiovascular disease. Every morning was incredibly difficult because she felt so stiff and it would take around 2-3 hours just to get moving well.
The role of circulation in chronic disease
Circulation is amongst the most important features of either our health or our disease state. Truly, our blood carries with it all the nutrients and oxygen our bodies need to constantly be producing energy, digesting our food, and healing ourselves. It also carries away waste products to get eliminated by other parts of the body.
But as we age, our circulation tends to become slower. Our blood becomes thicker and stickier (viscosity). This decreases the amount of blood flow that gets delivered to our tissues and our organs. It means slower healing times. Less ability to recover physically and mentally. It means a slower mental state. It means risk of heart attack or stroke. It means stiffness first thing in the morning like the patient I mentioned above. It really means lesser quality of life all the way around.
What makes this worse is having scar tissue from surgeries or old injuries (see the patient mentioned above). Scar tissue alone can decrease normal blood flow to an area. When blood flow is decreased like this, inflammatory molecules called free radicals accumulate in these areas.
Now guess what happens when you suddenly increase circulation to these areas? The free radicals get drawn into circulation where they cause pain and inflammation! This is often why so many people suffering from fibromyalgia or chronic pain conditions can deal with so much pain from getting exercise. It becomes a terrible motivator NOT to exercise!!
So what else cause circulation to get bad…
In addition to scar tissue, there are a number of factors that can lead to worsening circulation as we age:
- Decreased activity levels
- Very simply, when we don’t move as much, our circulation decreases. We will often get these problems over time from sitting at desks or spending too much time sitting and watching TV or scrolling through our phones
- Vascular changes
- Damage to the cardiovascular system from poor diet and lifestyle choices, chronic stress and chronic inflammation leads to decreased flexibility in the blood vessels which then hinders circulation
- This is a big one and it’s truly not just diabetics. It really pertains to excess sugar in EVERYONE! Sugar in general causes the blood to become more sticky and causes inflammation in the cardiovascular system. So not only does the sugar increase blood viscosity, but the damage to the arteries also contributes to poor circulation
- High blood pressure
- Blood pressure is a complicated, multifactorial condition which can have a variety of causes, but in and of itself it decreases circulation and often causes further damage to the cardiovascular system
- Weight gain
- This is basic physics. Add more weight and the system has to work harder. This means more work for your heart and decreases in circulation
- Nicotine use
- Cigarettes and other forms of nicotine can cause tension in the arteries and decrease circulation
- Excessive alcohol
- While alcohol actually thins the blood, drinking too much (2-3 drinks per night is often too much) will lead to worsening circulation over time. Plus, alcohol is basically sugar which we’ve already seen causes circulation problems
So what do the symptoms look like in this stage…
Symptoms in this stage are largely associated with decreased circulation and platelet adhesion (platelets sticking together and decreasing blood flow). While blood flow problems can cause issues in virtually any body system, here are some common symptoms that point in the direction of a blood flow issue:
- Pain that is worse in the mornings
- Sharp or stabbing pains
- Chronic, stubborn, fixed pains
- Pains from old injuries or at old surgical sites
- Pains at tendon or ligaments sites (because these are already less vascularized) such as tendon problems of the elbow (tennis elbow), shoulder issues (like frozen shoulder), knee pain, pain and stiffness in the hands and feet
- Insomnia (some forms of insomnia fall in this category, not all)
- Chronic emotional issues (old, stuck emotions)
- Chest pain or costochondritis
- Varicose veins or spider veins
Can this be treated…
Proper treatment of these circulation issues takes a well planned approach. Often with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or autoimmune diseases, it’s actually important to first address the initial stages of treating chronic disease (as described here). If you attempt to just dramatically increase circulation before addressing these factors, it is possible you may drive retained pathogens deeper in the body. This could not only make the condition worse in the long term, but it will also further hinder circulation later on (as sad as this sounds, I have seen numerous practitioners make this mistake).
But when it comes time to properly address circulation, Chinese herbal medicine shines and really has no equal. Medicinals that address blood flow like this tend to inhibit prostaglandins and interleukins to address pain (these lead to thickened blood with age). They also tend to act on TNF (tumor necrosis factor) receptors which further aid in pain relief. They stabilize nerve membranes and minimize movement of calcium ions (extra calcium amplifies pain signals). They are also anti-inflammatory and have effects similar to glucocorticoids (endogenous steroid hormones the body uses for pain and inflammation).
These medicinals also aid in regulating nitric oxide. When nitric oxide levels are too high, they can create inflammation, damage nerves, and cause swelling (by way of vascular permeability). Blood moving medicinals regulate this effect, improve circulation, and aid in removing damaged tissue to allow for healing.
The effects of these are so profound that Dr. Thomas Whalen, anesthesiologist, commented that “It would take multiple drugs [taken simultaneously] to get the same effects.” This is possibly why we have such a horrible issue with polypharmacy (people taking numerous medications) when dealing with chronic pain problems.
So what happened with the lady mentioned above…
Though the medical history was quite extensive and she felt hopeless, we still proceeded through our process beginning with immunity, gut dysbiosis, and stress. For stage 4 (circulation) we used a variety of plant based medicinals used for enhancing circulation and we combined this with our Tibetan Herbal Foot soaks.
Though there was a lot of damage, this lady was able to get out of pain. It no longer takes her several hours to get moving in the morning. She reports having great energy throughout the day. It did take us around 8 months to get her that far, but even after follow up 2 years later, she was still maintaining her active lifestyle and no longer controlled by pain and fatigue. She even reported that her cardiological report showed decreases in the coronary blockages she has.
Grandma Style Approach
Keeping circulation optimal is a daily event. It involves having a good lifestyle that takes care of your body, your organs, and your mind.
The most basic way to do this is to simply move around a lot. This doesn’t have to be at all high intensity, but simply walking, being active, dancing, or just spending time outdoors. The movement itself will aid in promoting circulation and also improving lymphatic movement.
Decrease sugar. Sugar is a major reason why our blood flow gets poor. It causes us to retain fluid. It causes inflammation in our bodies. It makes our blood more sticky. Decreasing sugar will not only help with circulation, but it will also improve energy levels which will cause us to be more active.
Soak your feet. Our feet are one of the most abused and neglected parts of our bodies. Our circulation generally gets worse in our feet first and then progresses to the rest of the body. For our patients, we utilize Tibetan Herbal Foot Soaks which are a specific blend of wildcrafted Tibetan herbs designed to promote circulation, warm the body, decrease inflammation, and promote cardiovascular health. They are one of the major tools used in our cardiovascular protocol.
If you or someone you love and care about suffers from a chronic, debilitating medical condition, please contact us by calling 720-541-8458 or reach out via our Contact page.