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These 3 TCM Methods Can Help Ease Transverse Myelitis Symptoms

Transverse myelitis is a rare but debilitating disease. Here is a list of natural remedies that can help with the recovery.

Woman sitting on a wheelchair with mobile in hand

Imagine how it would feel to suddenly lose the sensation and functions of the lower part of your body. Alarming, isn’t it? These are common symptoms of transverse myelitis – a rare, albeit debilitating disease of the spinal cord. The condition occurs when the spinal cord gets inflamed on both sides. As a result, there is weakness, a loss of sensation and dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system in parts of the body that lie below the spinal lesion.

The disabilities may last for three to six months but may be permanent in some people. Approximately one-third of the patients recover with no disabilities, one-third recover with some disability, and the rest are permanently disabled. 

Causes of Transverse Myelitis

The basic pathology behind transverse myelitis is inflammation of the covering surrounding the nerve cells in the spinal cord, also called the myelin sheath. As a result, messages conveyed by the brain don’t get relayed to regions beyond the spinal cord lesion to the lower parts of the body. The inflammation may occur due to various causes such as infections, immune system disorders, and multiple sclerosis. However, in a majority of cases, there may be no definite cause for the illness.

Infectious agents like enteroviruses, herpes viruses, HIV, Varicella Zoster, and Zika virus are known to cause the condition. Bacterial infections responsible for transverse myelitis include syphilis, tuberculosis, mycoplasma pneumonia and bacterial skin infections. Transverse myelitis has been associated with many autoimmune diseases like ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). 

Symptoms of Transverse Myelitis 

Causes of Transverse Myelitis
Transverse Myelitis patients might experience an inability to move their arms or legs.

Transverse myelitis symptoms may appear suddenly over a few hours or progressively over a few days or weeks. They usually occur on both sides of the body but sometimes may appear on one side only. Symptoms of transverse myelitis include: 

  • Pain: Patients generally experience a sharp pain in the lower back that may shoot down the leg, arms, chest or abdomen. The location of the pain depends on the level at which the spinal cord is involved. 
  • Abnormal sensations: Some patients experience numbness, tingling, burning or cold sensations on the affected parts. These may be brought on by extreme sensitivity to touch or temperature. 
  • Weakness of arms or legs: Patients may experience heaviness and inability to move their arms or legs. At times, patients also suffer total paralysis of the limbs. 
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control: As the spinal cord controls the involuntary movements of the bladder and bowel, any damage to it may cause loss of this control. Patients may have the urge to pass urine more frequently, urinary incontinence, difficulty passing urine and constipation. 

If you experience any of the symptoms of transverse myelitis, you should immediately contact your doctor. Other serious diseases can cause similar symptoms, which need to be treated urgently.

Treatment Options for Transverse Myelitis 

A therapist applying acupuncture needles on the back
Acupuncture helps resolve inflammation and may help recover from transverse myelitis.

Treating transverse myelitis in Western Medicine involves treating infections, reducing inflammation, and relieving symptoms such as pain. One may also need to be treated for long-term complications, such as stiff muscles, painful spasms, depression, anxiety and sexual disorders.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also has therapeutic options which can help relieve the inflammation and symptoms when performed under the guidance of a registered practitioner. TCM physicians are trained to formulate treatment with herbal medications, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, blood-letting, guasha and tuina according to the unique body constitution of every individual patient. 

Acupuncture 

Acupuncture helps reduce nerve inflammation, stimulate healing and fasten the recovery of their functions. From a TCM perspective, Real Medical Senior Physician Brandon Yew explains that acupuncture unblocks the meridian channels by dispelling disease-causing agents, restoring and enhancing qi (life force), blood circulation and the functions of the vital organs. However, it’s best to seek the advice of a trained TCM practitioner as transverse myelitis is a complex medical condition. 

Acupressure 

Acupressure is an easy self-help remedy which you can do at home. However, please take note that It only helps with mild symptoms. Place your fingers or a blunt object like a massage stick on specific acupoints mentioned below, and apply an appropriate amount of pressure to elicit a sensation of soreness or tenderness. Massage each acupoint in a clockwise and anticlockwise circular motion 20 times each. Repeat for at least three minutes per acupoint.

The acupoints that Physician Yew suggests might help relieve symptoms of transverse myelitis are:  

  • Bai hui (DU20, 百会): Dispels localised pathogens to allow better qi and blood circulation for improved alertness, cognition and mood  
  • He gu (LI4, 合谷): Dispels pathogens and restores and enhances qi and blood circulation within the meridians. 
  • Nei guan (PC6, 內关): Restores and enhances the heart’s function for improved qi and blood circulation within the meridians.  
  • Dan zhong (RN17, 膻中): Dispels pathogens for better qi and blood circulation within the chest and revitalises the functions of the Heart and Lungs. 
  • Zhong wan (RN12, 中脘): Dispels pathogens for improved qi and blood circulation within the upper abdominal cavity and revitalises the Spleen’s function.  
  • Guan yuan (RN4, 关元): Dispels pathogens for improved qi and blood circulation within the lower abdominal cavity and revitalises Kidneys’ yang energy. 
  • Qi hai (RN6, 气海): Dispels pathogens for improved qi and blood circulation within the lower abdominal cavity and revitalises Kidneys’ yang energy. 
  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里): Dispels pathogens to improve qi and fluid circulation within the meridians and revitalises the Spleen and stomach. 
  • Feng long (ST40, 丰隆): Dispels pathogens to improve qi and fluid circulation within the meridians; strengthens the stomach’s function.  
  • San yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交): Revitalises the functions of the Spleen, Liver and Kidneys. 
  • Tai xi (KI3, 太溪): Revitalises the Kidneys. 
  • Tai chong (LR3, 太冲): Dispels pathogens to improve qi and blood circulation within the meridians and revitalises the Liver

Do take note that acupressure is not as effective as acupuncture. Thus, it is strongly recommended to receive acupuncture for better treatment outcomes.

Exercises 

Exercises like Qigong or tai chi also help improve the symptoms of transverse myelitis. However, starting slowly and scaling up as you improve is recommended to avoid injuries. Engaging a qualified instructor to minimise musculoskeletal strain injuries and other complications is best. 

Transverse myelitis is not life-threatening but can throw your life off balance. However, with natural therapies, you have a good chance of making a complete recovery with no side effects. So if you know anyone suffering from the condition, do advise them to look at traditional medicine options.

References

  1. Mayo Clinic. Transverse myelitis  [Accessed on 1 July June 2022].  
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Transverse myelitis.  [Accessed on 1 July 2022] 
  3. NIH. Transverse myelitis. 2022 [Accessed on 1 July, 2022] 

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