Chinese Medicine for Pain: Multiple Methods Work Wonders
By Dr. Mark Wiley, OMD, PhD
Pain is such a prevalent part of our modern life. And we as a culture continue to develop new ways to combat it… from pills and physical therapy to hypnosis and invasive surgery. Some old, some new, and many based on old but really nothing new… or different. The result: we are still in pain.
In China, the incidence of daily chronic pain is far less than is experienced in Western countries, especially the United States. One of the reasons is the way the Chinese frame their daily action around a modus of prevention. As the saying goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But more than that, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers up 10 pain-relief methods that are able squash the pain early on… preventing it from becoming chronic.
TCM dates back 5,000 years and has been clinically proven a safe and effective treatment for many ailments and diseases, both chronic and acute. The varied treatments for pain is among its crowning achievements.
Pain is quickly caused by physical trauma, or slowly caused by stress and activities of daily living that lead to an excess, stagnation or deficiency of energy, blood and fluids in the body. Indeed, the pain sensation itself is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong or out of balance in our body.
In addition to leading a lifestyle steeped in prevention of pain, illness and disease by regulating sleep, play, work and diet the Chinese have at their side many proven methods of pain relief for times when that old nemesis finds its way into the body. Each method uses a different approach to ridding the body of pain while rebalancing it to keep the pain from coming back and becoming chronic.
Regardless of treatment method, all TCM practices strive to balance the body by following this theory: “Where there is free flow, there is no pain. Where there is pain, there is no free flow.” That free flow is blood and energy, thought and range of motion. Let us now take a look at the methods.
Acupuncture — Perhaps the most well-known modality of TCM, acupuncture has a long history of development and today has many styles and protocols of use in the East and West. It is based on the theories of meridian channels and the points of energy that fall along those channels. By inserting very thin stainless-steel needles into a selection of points, stagnations can be moved, deficiencies can be strengthened and excesses can be reduced. This leads to free-moving blood and energy in the body, thus promoting balance and pain free existence.
Moxibustion — Often used as an adjunct to acupuncture, moxibustion is the application of heat on or above the acupoints or painful area. Moxa is herbal wool that helps stimulate blood and energy flow to the desired area by dredging otherwise cold or blocked meridian channels via the heated application of herbal cones or poles placed at or held over the specified area. If this sounds strange, think about using a pain cream and a heating blanket… though with less precision.
Tui Na Bodywork — China’s 3,000 year tradition of bodywork known as tui na is based on acupuncture theory. It is a rigorous therapy that loosens muscles and joints, relaxes tendons, reduces swelling and relieves pain by promoting the circulation of energy, blood and lymph. It combines techniques of manually pushing, pulling, grasping, pressing and manipulating the muscles, tendons and bones to work through stiffness or injury. I personally love tui na, and it has helped me over the years. However, it is not to be confused with a nice relaxing massage! It is vigorous and sometimes painful… but then, it is a therapy based on correcting a problem not in bringing on stress release in the moment.
Guan Fa Cupping — Cupping therapy is one of the oldest forms of healing found around the globe. It is a method of relieving severe musculoskeletal pain and tension derived from stress and injury. Stiff shoulder from stress? Whiplash? Tight back from sitting too long? Cupping may be the therapy for you. Special glass or plastic cups are placed over the stiffened are and air is removed from them to create a negative vacuum. This pulls blood and energy into the spasmed muscle area to promote healing. With the movement of fresh blood comes fresh oxygen and nutrients, and thus less pain. Cupping does, however, leave perfectly round purple blemishes on the shin for about five days. However, they do not hurt because they were not derived from trauma. It is merely the stagnant blood and toxins moved out of the deep muscle layer and brought to the skin layer to be removed from the body.
Gwa Sha Scraping — Meridian Scraping utilizes special stones and liniments to remove stasis and cramping along muscle groups and/or meridian lines to aid healing and remove painful symptoms. Like cupping, scraping therapy leaves pruple blemishes on the skin for a few days, until the toxic blood is moved about of the body. (Think a bruise that disappears over time). However, gwa sha therapy is a bit painful, as the practitioner presses his instrument along the length of the light or spasmed muscle, in effect “scraping” it, forcing the removal of stagnant blood and energy and toxins. If this sounds strange, think about acupressure or trigger point therapy, but done in one motion along the length of a muscle… not just in one area at a time.
Herbal Medicine — Chinese Herbs promote healing through the bloodstream and meridian complex by balancing organ energy. Over several thousand years of use with millions of patients, herbalists have derived specific “patent formulas” for nearly every health condition… including pain. These formulas contain an average of six different herbs each-some for stimulating blood, others for coating the stomach, others for pulling the herbals to lower parts of the body. These Chinese herbal remedies are not single-dose herbs for problems, like we see in the West. Many herbs are combined into each formula to provide a well-rounded method of stopping the symptom while at the same time balancing the body to keep it from returning. And since there are many types of pain (e.g., tendonitis, bruising, flesh wounds, headache, etc), there are many pain formulas. Having the correct diagnosis will go a long way to choosing the correct formula for your pain.
Medicated Diet Therapy — The Chinese don’t diet. They eat properly most of the time, and it is only in recent history that they now have heart disease and diabetes on the horizon. (Thank you American fast food!) However, the Chinese have developed what they call the Medicated Diet Therapy. Depending on your condition, you are prescribed a selection of foods containing the right active property and flavor to help remove symptoms, balance organs and return the body to balance.
Physical Exercise — This is one of the greatest prevention methods for avoiding pain. Physical exercises has been a mainstay of China’s health for centuries, with practices like the Yi Jin Jing (Muscle Tendon Change Classic) and various forms of Kung-Fu. For sure, the Chinese methods of exercise far surpass our American lazy counterpart, where we can be found pounding on a treadmill… our minds not in the moment or activity but glued to a television, a magazine or listening to an iPod… our upper body holding on to a bar or only moving back and forth, while our legs to the work, and vice versa. There is no unity here, no balance to the exercise, no connection of mind/body/spirit. Is it any wonder we suffer so many injuries during exercise? To avoid injury during exercise and to prevent daily aches and pain through proper exercise, do as the Chinese do: focus your mind in the moment, use full range of motion in all directions, don’t tax the heart or lungs past what they can handle… and conduct proper warm up and cool down as equal parts of the activity.
Qi Gong — Qi Gong energy work is now quite popular in the West. In China people can be found in droves in the local parks at the break of dawn practicing qi gong and tai chi to maintain or regain their health. Qi Gong are systems of concurrently exercising the body and the internal organs to stretch the body, open the meridians, release tension, clear the mind, balance respiration and improve the circulation of energy, blood and body fluids. All of this is achieved in relatively brief exercise sets that are painless and effective against pain, stiffness and disease. Some of the more common and effective qi gong methods are the Ba Dua Jin (8 Brocades) and the Spring Forest systems.
If you suffer chronic pain or have had recent onset of pain, stiffness and discomfort… do as the Chinese do! Live a life of balance, and when you find yourself off kilter, then invest time in one of the healing methods above and squash it before it become chronic.
“Pre-Heal” your body with
Spring Forest Qigong while erasing
unhealthy imbalances you already have …”
Qigong Master Chunyi Li learned his art from the masters of the famous Shao-lin temple. Now he’s created Spring Forest Qigong, a system perfect for Westerners to use to balance the body’s energy to prevent sickness and disease while balancing their energy now.
Research paper after research paper has shown qigong gives you health benefits like…
- Slows the Aging Process! Qigong “massages” your organs, increasing circulation and the healthy function of the organs that are the engines of your body’s systems …
- Stops Stress in its Tracks! Tension melts away as you increase oxygen to your tissues and release stagnant energy flows in your body …
- Bolsters Your Immune System! By stimulating your lymphatic system you become less susceptible to flues and viruses. Plus; you recover faster if you do get sick …
And the health benefits of Spring Forest Qigong keep on coming …
- Lubricates Joints For Pain-Free Movement!
- Great For Weight Control!
- Gives You A More Youthful Appearance!
- Improves Blood Circulation!
- Alleviates Arthritis!
- Gets Rid Of Chronic Fatigue!
- Improves Your Metabolism, Digestion, And Elimination!
Updated: May 13,2011