This year National Pain Week (July 21-27, 2014) is being celebrated by creating awareness that PAIN IS AGELESS.
Pain is one way that your body can tell you that something is wrong and needs attention. It is a feeling triggered in the nervous system that may be sharp or dull; off-and-on or steady; localised (such as back pain) or all over (such as muscle aches from the flu). Pain occurs at any age and stage of life as it can be the result of infection, injury, surgery or a range of other reasons, some that can be difficult to find.
In Chinese medicine, pain is considered to be due to a stagnation of or obstruction to the circulation of Qi and Blood in the meridians (energy channels) of the body.
If there is free flow there is no pain
If there is pain there is no free flow
This reduced circulation can lead not only to pain but also to stiffness, a reduced range of movement, tension, discomfort, paraesthesia (tingling, tickling, prickling, pricking, burning or pins and needles), swelling or heat sensations. Pain can affect your tissues (eg: joints, muscles, organs) or your nerves (eg: due to diabetes, shingles, trigeminal neuralgia, multiple sclerosis) or both (eg: fibromyalgia which appears to result from neurochemical imbalances in the brain which affects pain processing). Although pain usually goes away once the underlying problem is addressed, it can last for weeks, months, or even years.
Physical pain is a common occurrence for many people unfortunately and accounts for 7 of the top 10 conditions for which people use acupuncture. The general aim of acupuncture is to help restore balance and harmony not only internally but also in how we respond to our environment (eg: feeling arthritic pain when it’s humid). For pain problems, this largely involves reestablishing a healthy flow of Qi and Blood in the meridians by using points that nourish and clear blockages to encourage flow. This will increase oxygenation and nutrient distribution within your body to assist in the healing process.
One of the benefits of Chinese medicine is that it looks beyond the structural issue of a problem and takes a holistic approach which includes looking at a person’s underlying issues of constitution, general health, lifestyle and psychology. It is not only about treating the injury but also about supporting the whole person to heal as illness affects tissue functionality, which in turn affect the structure just as a change in structure can affect the function. The interconnection of structure and function is an example of yin and yang at work in the body.
In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers report that acupuncture is effective in reducing people’s chronic pain, more so than standard pain treatment. The result was a clear and robust effect of acupuncture in relieving chronic pain in the back, neck and shoulders, as well as pain due to osteoarthritis and headaches. Acupuncture patients say their chronic pain episodes become less frequent and less intense with regular sessions over a given period of time.
Acupuncture alone has deep and powerful effects, however, in Chinese medicine other modalities can often be included within a treatment. These include:
- Moxibustion: warmth can increase circulation and dry damp (swelling, oedema)
- Gua sha (scraping): disperses stagnation of Qi (spasms) and blood (bruises)
- Hot packs: increases circulation & relaxes muscle spasm
- Plasters and liniments: good for bruises, strains and sprains; for injuries close to the surface
If your pain is severe or acute it can be helpful to have 2-3 treatments per week initially. Once your pain is reduced then a few weekly treatments are beneficial for long term healing and strengthening until you are pain-free. For wellness and prevention, it is important to look after yourself on a regular basis, so speak to your practitioner about what is best for you.
From a home remedy perspective RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) is often recommended, however, Chinese medicine tends to recommend the use of heat rather than cold in order to enhance circulation. A recent review concludes that ice, applied to muscles, appears to have a local anaesthetic rather than analgesic action. Insufficient evidence was found to support the assertion that ice can reduce muscle spasm however there was evidence that heat can. For low back pain, there was moderate evidence of significant short term benefit from heat wraps but insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion on the use of cold.
So, next time you encounter nagging pain, reach for the heat pack rather than the ice pack and call your local acupuncturist to help relieve your pain. As the sooner you address the issue, the quicker it’s likely to heal!
NOTE: In an official report, “Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials“, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has listed a number of symptoms, diseases and conditions that have been shown through controlled trials to be treated effectively by acupuncture. The following are those that involve some level of pain: low back pain; neck pain; sciatica; tennis elbow; knee pain; periarthritis of the shoulder; sprains; facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders); headache; dental pain; temporomandibular (TMJ) dysfunction; rheumatoid arthritis; postoperative pain; renal colic; biliary colic; primary dysmenorrheal (menstrual pain); acute epigastralgia; peptic ulcer; acute and chronic gastritis; adverse reactions to radiation or chemotherapy.
Your feedback and questions are always welcome so please leave a comment below.
For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Tania Grasseschi (Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs and Wholefood counselling). Tania is a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (AHPRA registered) in Katoomba and Botany