Chinese Medicine & Chronic Pain

Acupuncture is an amazing medicine. A lot of conditions that Western Medicine is baffled by can usually be approached differently by Chinese Medicine. We speak a different language about the body, and can see different patterns. In cases of chronic pain, acupuncture can be very useful when Western Modalities can’t find a solution. Chronic pain is a symptom that can be so relentless that many people can’t enjoy life outside of it. As an acupuncturist, I want to help bring people to a higher quality of living, so I am always encouraging patients to recognize patterns in their symptoms. I ask about the quality of the pain, if there is a Western diagnosis, what time of day does it occur, and how long has it been occurring. These questions point me to a correct way of working with the pain. How exactly? Well, let’s take a look at how it is viewed through this lens.

What is pain?

In acupuncture, we insert needles at points along physical channels where blood and energy flow. These channels are called meridians. Meridians run all over the body from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet, and there are over 400 points along them. When I talk about pain, I am referring to stagnation in these channels. According to Chinese medicine, all pain is stagnation. Now, there are certainly many different types of chronic pain. Some can be structurally related to an injury, some can accompany diseases, and other cases could be headaches or joint pain. Regardless of the cause (which is still addressed, but right now we are focusing on the pain itself) pain is still a stagnation or blockage within a channel. By asking very specific questions about the sensation of pain, the exact location, and the times of day I can deduce what channel it is occurring on, and where the stagnation may potentially be. Once I have this information there a number of ways to treat it.

Methods of Treatment

The way an acupuncturist may choose to treat pain depends entirely on the root cause. In certain cases, I may put needles at specific points to increase blood flow through the channels. Other times, I may involve Asian bodywork techniques such as gua sha or cupping to break apart the stagnation. All of the different methods that go into it are different ways of moving channel blockages, and they all work for the types of pain they are chosen for! Many people use acupuncture and Chinese Medicine to control chronic symptoms because, as I said before, it is a different language about what the symptom is. Patients know when a treatment is working because they find relief, and they know when a certain method isn’t working. This is why I love this work. It is like a feedback loop of healing and learning. Each patient’s pain is different, and each patient has something to teach from it.

Resources:

Bisio, T. (2004). A Tooth From the Tiger’s Mouth. How to Treat Your Injuries with Powerful Healing Secrets of the Great Chinese Warriors. New York, NY.

Tan, R. T-F. (2007). Acupuncture 1, 2, 3. San Diego, CA.

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