June 23, 2022
Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine for Scar Healing from Gender Affirming Surgery
In honor of Pride Month, we at AIMC have been reflecting on ways that acupuncture and East Asian Medicine (EAM) can support our LGBTQ+ community, particularly with medical challenges that are specific to their identities and experiences.
Today we’re highlighting some ways that acupuncture, EAM, and herbal medicine can support gender-affirming surgeries and post-operative healing. There is increasing demand for gender-affirming surgeries each year, and surgeries have become more accessible thanks to professional associations, healthcare providers, and advocacy groups. These gender-affirming surgeries support transgender and gender expansive folks’ ability to feel that their bodies represent their true identities, and significantly reduces mental health challenges and psychological distress. According to a recent study published in JAMA Surgery, there was “42% reduction in the odds of experiencing past-month psychological distress, a 35% reduction in the odds of past-year tobacco smoking, and a 44% reduction in the odds of past-year suicidal ideation” in survey respondents who had undergone gender affirming surgery.
As we see an increase in the number of these surgeries occurring, we want to ensure that patients have access to the best possible care and resources for their recovery. We want to highlight a few modalities an Acupuncturist might use to help support a post-operative patient, and share a bit of the exciting, early-stage research verifying the efficacy of these ancient (and some more modern!) techniques. Acupuncturists, you can use these articles to inform your treatment choices when working with a post-operative patient.
It is important to note that this blog post is not medical advice. Folks interested in learning more about these modalities, as well as gender-affirming surgeries, should find a local, licensed practitioner.
Scar Healing Techniques in East Asian Medicine
- “Surround the Dragon” Acupuncture Techniques: In EAM, scars can cause qi and blood stagnation, which causes pain. For folks healing from gender-affirming surgery, there is evidence that “Surround the Dragon” and other traditional needling techniques can support with scar pain, facilitate wound healing, and reduce loss of sensation.
- Efficacy of acupuncture in treating scars following tissue trauma
- The successful treatment of pain associated with scar tissue using acupuncture
- Dry needling for scar treatment
- Encircling needling is superior to “Bangci”(focal center-side needling) in promoting wound healing in diabetic mice
- Acupuncture with e-stimulation: In addition to more traditional needling techniques, modern Acupuncturist may reach for an e-stim device to enhance the effects of treatment. There has been some exciting research conducted to better understand the impacts of acupuncture with the addition of electrical-stimulation on scar and wound healing.
- The use of acupuncture-like electrical stimulation for wound healing of lesions unresponsive to conventional treatment
- Electroacupuncture: Applications in the Treatment of Chronic Nonhealing Wounds
- Moxibustion: Moxibustion is the EAM practice of burning dried mugwort leaves near or on the skin to warm and initiate the flow of qi and clear pathogenic factors in the surrounding areas. One study looked at the ways moxibustion may promote wound healing in rats, and we are hopeful there are more studies to link it’s benefits to healing.
- Moxibustion Promotes Formation of Granulation in Wound Healing Process through Induction of Transforming Growth Factor-β in Rats
- Internal herbal medicines: There is a long history of prescribing and ingesting herbal medicines to enhance health and vitality across the world. In East Asian Medicine, we have a number of herbs and formulas we may reach for depending on the patients constitution. One famous formulation for pain relief and wound healing is the patented medicine Yunnan Baiyao.
- Research Advances in Pharmacology, Safety, and Clinical Applications of Yunnan Baiyao, a Traditional Chinese Medicine Formula
- Effects of Yunanan Baiyao adjunct therapy on postoperative recovery and clinical prognosis of patients with traumatic brain injury: A randomized controlled trial
- External application of herbal medicines: Herbs in EAM’s materia medica can also be applied topically for dermatological concerns as well as wound healing. One study found that the application of Astragali Radix, or Astragalus root, accelerated healing by suppressing inflammation and stimulating cell growth in the wound area. This is an exciting finding, and we hope to see more studies of topical herb applications!
- Wound-healing activity of Astragali Radix in rats
- Bonus: An exciting study tested the development of a band-aid treated with Yunnan Baioyao (see: Internal Medicines above) for an external, topical application on the wound.
We are incredibly excited to see a greater emphasis on identifying ways EAM can support LGBTQ+ people in their gender identity exploration, and we are looking forward to further research that will only help our community of practitioners to deepen their practice and understanding of these specific health issues.
If you have undergone Gender Affirming Surgery and are still working to recover sensation or reduce pain after surgery, an Acupuncturist could make a great ally on that journey. As with every helping profession, not every acupuncturist practices from a sex-positive, trauma-informed, or radical liberation perspective; we encourage Queer folks looking for East Asian medicine to seek care that will affirm and celebrate their identities.
To do so, you could search this growing database from the Queer Circle Podcast, seek care at a POCA-affiliated community clinic*, or look for a local Acupuncturist who includes language around non-discrimination on their website or marketing materials. At AIMC, we strive to make our classrooms and our clinic safer spaces for all who seek care, including those with LGBTQ+ identities.
About the Author
Molly Pilloton Lam is a first-year Master’s student at AIMC with a background in working with BIPOC communities in education, educational leadership, public health, and trauma-informed youth mental health program settings. She is interested in expanding education and equitable access to acupuncture and EAM in BIPOC and communities, particularly to support people with the impacts of trauma. She is excited to be a student at AIMC for her pathway to acupuncture, and looks forward to uplifting its traditional practices and other BIPOC practitioners’ voices.