Addressing pain with the five pillars of Chinese Medicine
Pain is usually an unwelcome visitor. Whether pain is a short- or long-term guest in your life, by addressing your health issues with the five pillars of Chinese medicine, you can make lifestyle adjustments that encourage your body’s ability to heal and cope.
First of all, keep in mind that pain is not the problem; it’s merely a signal that something in your body needs attention. We would be in trouble if we had no way to sense or respond to pain. It’s a survival mechanism. But that’s not much comfort when you have a sprained ankle or chronic back pain. That’s why it’s never a good idea to ignore your body’s pain signals; if your symptoms are severe with quick onset or do not improve within a reasonable amount of time, then it’s important to seek medical advice and help.
Chinese medicine addresses all health issues, including pain, according to the five pillars of diet, exercise, bodywork, herbal medicine and acupuncture. Each pillar has a contribution to make in strengthening the body’s ability to heal or deal with pain.
With every bite of food you eat, you are making a choice to either fight disease, or fuel it. So when it comes to eating to reduce pain, think inflammation.
A basic anti-inflammatory diet reduces intake of dairy, red meat, sugar, coffee, alcohol and soda and increases water intake and healthy, unprocessed foods. You don’t have to switch from carnivore to vegan overnight, but making smarter food choices that reduce inflammation helps your body heal faster and better.
Remember that everything you consume will end up being the building blocks of new cells and tissue, so build wisely by eating wisely. Your health care team can help you design an eating plan that fits your specialized needs.
Most people who are in pain limit their motion, and, most of the time, this is a smart idea. But if you are dealing with chronic pain, you may need to slowly increase your range of motion and activity level under the supervision of your health care team.
Tai chi or qi gong are gentle forms of exercise that can be adapted to any activity level and can be good places to start increasing your activity level. Yoga is also easily adapted to different levels of activity.
The main goals of exercise are to improve a person’s strength, overall conditioning, range of motion and flexibility. It’s not a contest. Go slow, go smart and keep going. Inactivity can compound pain issues over the long term.
In Chinese medicine, bodywork, or tui na, is a combination of massage and chiropractic techniques. Here in the U.S., we leave chiropractic work to licensed DCs, but still use a variety of massage techniques to help relieve pain. This can include tui na, gua sha (a type of scraping of the skin), cupping or even Western-style energy or massage techniques for those of us who hold dual licensure.
Healthy, therapeutic touch has great potential to relieve emotional and physical discomfort and is an important tool in pain management.
When it comes to pain relief, there are more options than just aspirin. Your acupuncture physician may prescribe a Chinese herbal formula to help relieve pain, reduce inflammation and promote healing after doing a thorough intake of your current medications and supplements.
When it comes to using Chinese herbs, it’s important not to self-diagnose and buy off the Internet. For one, it may not be an appropriate choice for your individual needs.
Acupuncture physicians prescribe based on the individual’s pattern of expressing illness, not the illness itself. Second, some medications are not appropriate to combine with Chinese herbs. The quick no-go list of meds includes Warfarin, lithium and seizure-controlling medications or generic counterparts.
Because acupuncture works with the nervous system, it can be an effective way to mitigate pain and retrain your brain how to deal with it. Acupuncture is used as an anesthetic in China in emergency situations or surgeries, but is more commonly used for non-emergency acute or chronic pain management here in the States.
Sometimes relief comes quickly with acupuncture. More often than not, it takes a series of sessions to make progress with pain management. Acupuncture is not designed like a pill to be a quick fix; it’s more like going to the gym the way it stimulates the body to heal more efficiently over the long term.
If pain has overstayed its welcome, Chinese medicine may give you some new tools to help.
Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist in Florida. Nicole has two bachelor's degrees - Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences - as well as a master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.vitalichiacupuncture.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.