How I healed my sinus infection without antibiotics

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This post was originally written for my personal blog a few years back, but has been so incredibly popular with folks trying to manage their own chronic sinus troubles naturally that I wanted to share it here with you.

My story

Last weekend Minneapolis had a heat wave and while everyone else was riding bikes and grilling outside, I was laid up in bed with some very angry sinus pain. Not fun. But that was a week ago, and now this weekend is almost here, and I'm feeling great and ready to get back on the saddle (literally and figuratively).

A few patients this week asked me if I took antibiotics to get over my sinus woes, and were surprised when I told them I didn't. Their next question was always: "How?"

Before we start, please take note that I don't shun all uses of antibiotics - I just believe that they are both over-prescribed and over-consumed in our current pharmaceutical based medical system. This over-consumption is already leading to strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria - otherwise known as superbugs. This is leading us to a time and place where antibiotics won't be nearly as effective when they are truly needed.

So, how did I do it?

A little history

First off, I have a long and painful history with sinus infections. I had more of them (and took antibiotics for more of them) than I have fingers (and maybe even toes)  before the age of 25. My doctor even ordered a head CT during an especially nasty bout. So, this would be a good time to explain that the term sinus infection is really misleading. The Oxford Journal reported that generally less than 2% of sinus infections are complicated by a true bacterial infection. The actual medical term is acute rhinosinusitis, which actually means acute inflammation of the nose and sinuses. And this inflammation can be caused by just about anything: a cold, allergies, or irritation. The inflammation makes it difficult for mucus to drain properly, which leaves us with lots of congestion and a painfully full sensation in our heads.

So, because of my long sinusitis history, I have a pretty good idea of when my sinuses are angry and inflamed - my head feels like a brick, I can't blow my nose, and I get a pounding feeling behind my eye each time I take a step. Fun times, right?!

Well, after attending a bonfire at a friends house and being in the line of smoke all evening, I woke up the next morning with excessive sinus congestion and post nasal drip (when mucus runs down the back of your throat). I knew what it meant and where it was leading, so I took action immediately!

The treatment

Here are the list of things that I do immediately when I come down with a case of sinusitis. This routine usually clear everything up for me within five or so days. If your sinus symptoms are lasting longer than 7-10 days, there is a larger chance that it could be due to bacteria and a visit to your physician might be in order.

Rest, lots of it. It sucks being sick. You miss out on fun shows or bike rides or gorgeous sunny March days. I get it. But our bodies do most of their healing work while we're sleeping, so sleep I did.

Drink clear fluids. I ate Phở at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, drank lots of herbal tea (this one is my fave), and kept drinking good old fashioned water.  This step is the most important. Clear fluids are needed to help thin out the mucus as much as possible so that it can drain out of the small, inflamed passageway. The more you drink, the thinner your mucus will become, which will make you better, faster. Stay away from milk products and sugary beverages though. The dairy will thicken your mucus and the sugary beverages will increase the inflammation. I also start taking shots of fire cider to help thin out the mucus even more.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Most people are familiar with the fact that acupuncture is great for chronic pain, but did you know that it works great for colds, the flu, and sinus pain too? At the first sign of congestion, I started taking some Chinese herbs and made an appointment for myself.

*Please only take Chinese herbs that have been prescribed to you by a board certified Chinese herbalist. They are powerful healing tools that can produce amazing effects when used correctly, but can also create further complication when the wrong herbs are self-prescribed. Also, only a board certified herbalist will be able to check any possible interactions with your prescription medications. OK, rant over!

Whole food supplements. I prefer 100% food based supplements over super-dosing with isolated vitamins that we're grown in a lab. So, for those who are wondering, here's what I took:

Standard Process Congaplex. This is my supplement of choice whenever I feel a virus coming on. Its a mix of carrots, alfalfa, mushrooms, echinacea, and calcium lactate to provide the nutrients bodies need during inflammatory states. But the kicker is the addition of animal glandulars such as thymus (the home of white blood cells) to help kick start our own white blood cell production. BOOM!

Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Butter Blend. I apologize if you just threw-up a bit in your mouth after reading that, but listen to me when I tell you that it really isn't bad tasting. I know that when I'm sick I need an extra dose of vitamins A and D to help soothe my irritated mucus membranes and boost my immune system. And I know the best and most natural way to do that is with this blend of healthy fats. So down the hatch it goes. (I prefer the cinnamon tingle flavor by the way.)

Herb Pharm's Goldenseal and Usnea. Years before I became a Chinese herbalist, I fell in love with traditional western herbalism. I had (and still have, much to my fiance's dismay) shelves and shelves of tincture bottles in our kitchen, all filled with the powerful magic of plants. (Sorry, is this getting too woo woo for you?) I was fairly certain that my sinusitis wasn't a bacterial infection, but just to be safe, I decided to incorporate these two traditional herbs into the mix for their bitter taste and strong anti-microbial properties. Usnea has even been shown to be effective against penicillin resistant gram positive bacteria (fellow science nerds out there will be super into that fact).

Two over the counter drugs: Mucinex and Advil. What? An acupuncturist is taking OTC meds? Yep! Here's my take on pharmaceuticals. They're not all evil (though some of them might actually be Satan's spawn), and sometimes they're necessary, but for my body, I prefer not to take anything long term. I believe there's a time and a place for everything, and if a few days of Advil and Mucinex get me healthier, faster - keeping me away from a round of Amoxicillin - then so be it. Why did I choose these two specifically? Mucinex helps thin out the mucus clogging my sinuses (remember we talked about the importance of thinning out that mucus earlier?) and Advil helps reduce the inflammation that was narrowing the sinus passages.

*Please note that not everyone reacts well to over the counter medicines and my experience is mine alone. While Advil and Mucinex are both considered safe by the FDA, each has their own list of side-effects. Please do your due diligence before starting any new over the counter drugs.

Other tips and tricks

I made a batch of my daikon & honey cough syrup to add to the herbal tea I kept downing. Also, since it's delicious, it helped mask the incredibly bitter taste of the goldenseal tincture.


I used Simpler's sinus blend essential oil in a diffuser (this is the one I have at home) and even placed a drop or two in my nostril when I was super stuffed up. This blend of eucalyptus, rosemary, and inula essential oils always opens my nose up immediately and I love the smell.

According to Chinese medicine, excessive mucus in the head is due to an abundance of dampness and phlegm. The best foods to eat when trying to transform damp phlegm are warm, aromatic foods and spices. Think onions, garlic, ginger, and black pepper. Also try to avoid dairy products (we talked about that earlier) and raw fruits and veggies. Those might sound super healthy, but if you don't have the strongest digestion in the world you body might not be able to break down those cold foods very well, which can result in even more dampness.

Many of you are probably wondering where my neti-pot was this whole time. Well, in the first two days I did use it a bit and I felt it was helping. Then, the mucus just stopped moving. Once that happens I never try to force it with the nasal flush. Because in my experience, it always makes my situation worse. I prefer to use it as a preventative measure during allergy season, as opposed to using it as a treatment method. But everyone is different and I know tons of people that swear by it. So if you're someone who loves it? Then that's awesome.

And lastly, the most important thing you need to heal your sinus pain...patience. Healing the body takes time. It's important to give your body the time it needs to let your immune system get to work. So often people freak out at the first sign of sinus pain or green snot and rush to request antibiotics. I simply chose not to do that because I knew I had other options - and I'm glad I did.

Ready to solve your sinus woes with self care based on Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Find out how with our sinus self care e-book:

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Sinus & Cold Self Care E-book
8.00 10.00

Here's what's inside this 22-page e-book:

  • The symptoms of sinusitis, standard treatment approaches, and how a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach is different.

  • The basics of TCM Five Element theory, and why it matters to our health.

  • Wei qi: the importance of our outer protective layer and easy ways to strengthen it!

  • Self-care tips for colds & sinusitis with food therapy, herbs and supplements, over-the-counter medications, acupressure, essential oils, and more.

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**The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

***Heads up! This post may contain some affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links you won't pay a single cent more, but we'll get a small commission that helps keep the content flowing. P.S. We only recommend products we use in our own daily life - duh!

Thoracic Spine Health and Back Pain

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Back pain is a common complaint we see in our clinic. And while we're well versed in helping you reduce your symptoms with our little magic needles, we know there's a lot people can do to prevent back pain through posture and movement. That's why we enlisted our fitness friend, Hannah Wydeven, to write a series of blog posts about back pain. You can read pt. 1 and pt. 2 of this series as well.

Hannah is the owner of Solcana Fitness in the Seward Neighborhood of Minneapolis (where both Amy and Kim work out AND offered group acupuncture!). Hannah has been a fitness coach since 2010, and works with all types of bodies, specializing in helping womxn and queer folks gain confidence in the gym. You can check out her work at www.solcanafitness.com. 


In the last installment of this blog, I talked about core bracing, and how proper bracing can support back health. This time, we are going to move up the body a little bit and talk about the thoracic spine. Your thorax is the part of your body between your neck and your abdomen, so your thoracic spine is that mid-to-upper back area around your shoulders. Frequently, people associate back pain with the lumbar or lower spine, but much of those pain problems might actually originate from issues the thoracic spine. Thoracic issues can also lead to shoulder pain, neck stiffness or pain, and a host of other problems throughout the body. 

The thoracic area is the central part of the S-curve of your spine, and has the ability to flex, extend and axially rotate. The thoracic region is also the longest portion of your spine, and the only one attached to the rib cage. As you can imagine, the health of your thoracic spine is going to have a huge impact on the other portions of your back. With 12 vertebrae, the Thoracic spine is the most complicated portion of the spine, and therefore a good place to look if you are dealing with bodily pain. There are two major types of thoracic issues I see daily in the gym that can contribute to back pain issues. 

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Thoracic Kyphosis

This is an extreme flexion of the thoracic spine. Kyphosis is actually a technical term for a type of flexion that is beyond the normal range, but it can also be a useful term when we are talking about the way that your t-spine looks when it’s out of normal alignment. In this position, the thoracic spine curvature both puts increased pressure on your lumbar and cervical spine, frequently leading to a lordosis in those areas. This has the effect of creating the “sway back” and “turtleneck” look. This isn’t a cute look, but it’s also problematic because it creates pressure points in the neck and low back that can be particularly painful and even damaged. 

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Thoracic kyphosis is often a symptom of desk life, or even spending too much time on your phone or looking down at your laptop. This disadvantaged position can become somewhat permanent when we get up and walk around that way, workout that way and even sleep that way. Folks with this problem find that their shoulders feel super tight, their lower back feel sticky and painful, and they may even have sharp neck pain or numbness in their hands and arms. 

Immobile T-spine

The other major problem I see in folks who come to my gym is immobility in their thoracic spine.  Years of repetitive movement, lack of movement, or even weak back muscles can all contribute to this problem. What is happening with a stiff thoracic spine is that the fascia around the spine and muscles in that area has become brittle and non-pliable, losing its ability to move in a variety of directions. Immobility in the t-spine can be extremely problematic, as it means the other portions of your spine and back will compensate for that lack of flexibility and damage can occur. For example, when a person with a stiff t-spine attempts to carry weight, their lower back will compensate through lordosis, which causes pain and injury, or they will not be able to properly stack weight over their shoulders, causing pain in the shoulder tendons. 

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Luckily, the thoracic spine is a relatively responsive part of the body to change. By adding in a few motor control fixes, stretches and stability exercises, we can see a pretty dramatic change in the way our thoracic spine functions. 

Test and retest

Start by trying a cat and cow position, taking a snap of yourself to see how flexible your thoracic spine normally looks. 

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Then, try the following simple exercises:

Foam Rolling: The foam roller is a very effective way to break up some of the fascial connections around your vertebrae, and invite some increased pliability in your back. I recommend starting with the foam roller hot-dog style, right below your shoulders. Inhale, lifting your body up, then as you exhale, reach overhead and soften your body around the roller. Try this in several different spots along your thoracic spine. Spend 2-5 minutes here. 

Sit’n’Press: Sit with your entire back up against the wall, feet pressed together. Goal-post your arms against the wall and slowly slide your arms up, keeping everything attached, as far as you can. Try this 10-15 times. 

T-spine Rotations: Lay on your back with knees and feet up, arms out to the side. Keep shoulders on the ground as you slowly rotate your feet and knees toward one side. As soon as you feel your shoulder try to leave the ground, pull your knees and feet back to the midline. Try 10 reps per side. 

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After trying these exercises, give your cat-cow a retest and see if you were able to add some more dynamic movement to the thoracic spine. Do you feel more upright? A little more powerful perhaps?

Putting it all together

Lastly, to keep yourself in check when you are walking around or just living on the daily, here is a quick way to get your t-spine in line, that builds on the foundation we have set over the last couple of blog posts. Set your brace (butt lightly squeezed, pelvic floor lifted, squeeze the grape in your belly button, breathe into the diaphragm). Now, while maintaining that brace, extend your thoracic spine by imagining you are trying to broaden your chest. Tuck your chin back a bit to get your cervical spine in place, and voila, you are the master of your spine!

Though the spine seems extremely complicated (soooo many pieces), controlling it is not as difficult as it seems. A little bit of motion and body awareness can go a long way. 

So what if you already have pain? What can you do to deal with it? Next blog post, we will start tackling the spine one piece at a time, talking about ways we can manage pain and improve it over time. Tune in then for more spinal yumminess! 

Like what you read? Check out more at www.solcanafitness.com. Interested in working out with us? E-mail hannah@solcanafitness.com to meet with a coach 1-on-1 and learn more.
 

*The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

*Heads up! This post may contain some affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links you won't pay a single cent more, but we'll get a small commission that helps keep the content flowing. P.S. We only recommend products we use in our own daily life!

An update on our "Pokes" events

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Community giving is an important part of our business values here at Constellation. So, last September, we started our successful Pokes events. This was an opportunity for us to offer monthly sliding scale community acupuncture (CA) with all proceeds donated to a non-profit organization. In June we switched up the format, partnering with with local artist and healer Sarah White to organize Pokes for BIPOC, offering free treatments for folx who self-identify as black, indigenous, or persons of color. In total, we raised over $3,000 for ten amazing organizations, and provided over 160 sliding scale and no-cost treatments. 

As our clinic has grown and schedules have boomed in the last year, we’ve had to ask ourselves hard questions about how to focus our energies, taking into account the very real limitations of our small clinic space and our small team (we need days off too!). After some soul searching and business visioning, we have decided to end the monthly Pokes events at our clinic.

Here at the clinic, we will continue to focus our energies on growing availability for one-on-one appointments, and our group healing offerings will gradually shift offsite. We are excited about the possibilities that come with collaborating with other spaces and organizations! 

We understand this may be a disappointment to our clients who have valued our sliding-scale CA events for more affordable care. We would like to use this as an opportunity to lift up our favorite local community-style clinics: 
    •    Southpoint Community Acupuncture
    •    Minneapolis Community Acupuncture
    •    Three Treasures

And finally, our commitment to community giving isn’t ending - it’s just changing shape. Our growth over the last year as made it possible for us to allot a percentage of all our clinic income for community giving, and we are excited to continue supporting organizations doing important work locally and nationally. We are proud to make this a priority in our small business, and your continued support helps make this possible.

Thank you!

Bracing for back pain management

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Back pain is a common complaint we see in our clinic. And while we're well versed in helping you reduce your symptoms with our little magic needles, we know there's a lot people can do to prevent back pain through posture and movement. That's why we enlisted our fitness friend, Hannah Wydeven, to write a series of blog posts about back pain. You can read pt. 1 of this series here.

Hannah is the owner of Solcana Fitness in the Seward Neighborhood of Minneapolis (where both Amy and Kim work out AND offer group acupuncture!). Hannah has been a fitness coach since 2010, and works with all types of bodies, specializing in helping womxn and queer folks gain confidence in the gym. You can check out her work at www.solcanafitness.com. 


In the first installment of the Your Beautiful Back series, we talked about pelvic tilt, and the effect the position of your pelvis can have on the health of your back. This week, we are focusing on how to appropriately brace your core to support your spinal health. 

Bracing is when you activate specific muscles in your core to keep your spine in a neutral position while you move. It’s something we learn to do as kids as we grow and build our body awareness, but as adults our movement becomes limited, our body awareness and abilities may decrease, and suddenly the brace is forgotten like an elementary school Tamagotchi. 

Learning how to brace your core appropriately can help improve the health of your back, pelvic floor, shoulder, neck and even relieve secondary pains like headaches and joint pain. How? When your back is supported and in a neutral position, your body will sit in natural alignment, immediately reducing points of compression and shearing stress. 

So how do you actually brace correctly?

Stand up wherever you are and let’s give it a shot:

  • Start by relaxing your arms to your sides, turning your palms out toward the side, rolling your shoulders back and sliding your shoulder blades down into your back pockets.
  • Squeeze your butt together like you are trying to crack a walnut between your cheeks. Notice how your pelvis tucks under just slightly.
  • Lift your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor muscles are like an elevator of muscle stretching from the front of your body to the back, supporting your bladder and other organs. When you lift, it will feel the same as when you are stopping a stream of urine.
  • Exhale as if you are trying to fog a window aggressively. When you do this, you will feel like your lowest abdominal muscles are zipping up and contracting. It feels like you are trying to hold a grape in your belly button.
  • Now, when you inhale, do so by breathing into your diaphragm, right below your rib cage, without losing the tension in your lower abdominal. Continue breathing into your diaphragm.

You will notice that when you are in a braced position, your body feels more supported and controlled. You may have instant pain reduction, or even grow an inch or two like I did!

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Practice the brace a few times, with different degrees of intensity. The intensity of the brace will vary depending on the job you need to do. Just standing at your desk? Bracing at 10-20% effort is probably enough for this simple task. Lifting a couch to help a friend move? Try a 70-80% brace for this longer effort under duress. Performing a heavy back squat? You will need as close to 100% as you can get for this level of exertion. 

Let’s try a second test. Come down to your hands and knees. Extend one arm and the opposite leg. Try both sides. Now, in that same tabletop position, activate a strong brace and repeat the same exercise on both sides. The major difference you will notice is that your low back stays in a neutral position, forcing your glutes and upper back to engage in order for your limbs to move. When you move this way without bracing first, there is an exaggerated motion in your lumbar spine, putting undue pressure on your low back. 

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So far we have explored two simple ways that you can change your movements patterns to change your back health and prevent or reduce pain. If you practiced your pelvic neutrality last time, you are ready to go to add this new layer of appropriate core control. When you hold your core tight, do you find yourself standing straighter? Feeling stronger? I sure hope so. 

Next time we will talk about thoracic spine and shoulder pain. Tune in then!

Like what you read? Check out more at www.solcanafitness.com/blog. Interested in working out with us? Check out our upcoming [Em]Power Strength Series, Sep 4th - Oct 4th, 4:30 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

*The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

*Heads up! This post may contain some affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links you won't pay a single cent more, but we'll get a small commission that helps keep the content flowing. P.S. We only recommend products we use in our own daily life!