Pain can be very overwhelming sometimes. It’s something that doesn’t escape your awareness. And if you’re experiencing pain right now, it’s possible that you’ve been experiencing it and putting up with it in many aspects of your life.
You feel it at work, while you’re exercising, whilst you’re making a cup of tea, visiting friends or family, before bed, when you wake up……When we are experiencing pain, it affects our entire being throughout every aspect of our life and caan have limiting effects on how we experience life.
One of the first questions that can come when pain issues crop up is, What has caused this? Why do I have pain?
Your mind can sometimes sift through your past history, looking for answers. Did I push too hard in my gym session? Was it when I moved the couch the other day? Maybe this helps you narrow down a timeframe or identify something that happened before this all started.
Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture offers some interesting ideas around pain management. It looks at what type of pain experience someone presents with, to find out what is causing it.
As always, if you are experiencing a pain related issue, please seek advice from your medical professional.
Injury, overuse, strain or tissue tear.
Commonly seen in overuse pathologies is “tennis elbow”. Tennis elbow in a way sort of gives you the clue. When someone plays too much golf and uses incorrect technique whilst doing it begins to overuse the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints involved in the movement pattern. And similarly, more obvious injuries which can be identified by that initial pain that shocks the body, is a sign that tissues, muscles, joint structures have been compromised.
In Chinese Medicine theory, this all translates to diagnosing pathologies related to blood stagnation, qi stagnation, or blood deficiency. When we overuse a certain part of the body, that area doesn’t get enough time to recover, or have periods of rest time, so that the tissue can adequately adapt to whatever pressures are being placed upon it. If we go to the gym 2 or 3 x times a day and don’t rest, how is the body able to recover and grow stronger? Balance is the key. We need appropriate rest to compensate for the effort used. And in Chinese Medicine, this can all lead to Blood deficiency.
Restriction or blockage of circulation.
“When there is free flow of Qi, there is no pain” Using Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine principles, sometimes the cause of pain can be related to a problem or blockage with the circulation in certain areas of the body.
The body is made up of fascial planes, blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, veins and they are all required for effective blood flow, oxygen delivery, metabolism and energy production. If there is a blockage in some part of the body, then Chinese Medicine tells us that the body will not effectively circulate blood constituents, red blood cells, oxygen etc.
Chronic Pain Loop.
When pain has persisted for more than 3 x months, it almost becomes a “pain that no longer seems to serve a purpose”. It might seem confusing and what caused the issue can become a distant memory. Importantly, the brain and nervous system are tied together and have involvement in identifying and responding to pain.
Proprioceptors and Nociceptors at the extremities link to nerves, which link to the brain. So in chronic pain, it seems that some aspect of that pain has a relationship to how the nervous system and brain are signalling each other.
Short Video on Pain Management and how Acupuncture sees the body:
Neuropathic Pain and Nerve Entrapment
The Nervous system is a complicated matrix of myelinated and unmyelinated highways which feed messages back and forth between the body and mind. Unfortunately, that highway has one central highway that runs through the spine, hidden underneath the cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebra. There are also areas of the spine called nerve roots.
These are like exit/entry points from the spine to the body. And in some cases, the discs which are like separators of the vertebra and act like cushioning shock absorbers, can be damaged or begin to narrow. If you imagine those nerves as highways that pass through bridge-like structures, what happens if the bridge brakes and falls on the road? The road becomes blocked and the traffic can not move along the road as easy.
When Spinal Nerve roots get compressed because the surrounding areas begin narrowing and encroaching onto them, nerve signals become deranged and can cause referral symptoms into what they call “dermatome” areas. That’s just a fancy name for a map of areas on the body that relate to certain nerves in the body. One example of this pain is Sciatica. Sciatica can sometimes be from the nerve becoming restricted from disc malfunction, or it can also be caused from nerves being “entrapped” from tight muscles, which brings us to the reason number 5.
Emotional Stress, Tension and Anxiety
In Chinese Medicine theory, an Acupuncturist sees a lot of stress related dysfunction in the clinic. In our framework, stress is related to the liver. Stress tends to tighten up muscles, in particular it presents commonly in the upper back and neck areas, sometimes leading to headaches (read more on that here).
When muscles are tight, they put more pressure on joints, inhibit movement in opposing muscle groups and also create circulation issues. And like we said earlier, lack of circulation can lead to pain.
The musculoskeletal system has hundreds of muscles (how many here) in the body and they all have various origins and insertion points on the body. And when they get stuck or overly tense, they can sometimes get locked into tense holding patterns that may refer particular patterns of pain.
The above 5 x examples are not all the possibilities, but still may give some clues about what is happening for certain people. (link here to a more in depth article on pain?) And sometimes the causes can be mixed, with a combination of injury, overuse and chronic pain theory.
In its most basic form, whenever pain rears its ugly head, or has been ongoing for some time, injury, overuse, circulation and the complexities of the nervous system, musculoskeletal system and brain can be areas where we should pay special attention to.
As an Acupuncturist in the clinic, every day we are faced with various problems that present in various unique ways, depending on each unique individual. Looking at the body holistically and considering scientific mechanisms and theories about pain can be very helpful. So what happens then, how do we go from finding out what’s causing it, to doing something about it?
I’ll try to follow up with an article in the time to come.
Feel free to visit my website for more information, and as always, please reach out if you’re currently dealing with something, or are searching for answers.
Thank you for reading.
Practitioner of Acupuncture in Hobart Tasmania