What Kind of Pain Do You Have? – Part II

In my last article about pain, I discussed how Chinese medicine distinguishes between different types of pain, and adjusts the treatment strategy to the type of pain being treated.  In this blog post, I will talk about pain caused by Stagnant or Stuck Blood.

Pain that is sharp like a drill or knife is usually due to Blood Stasis Stuck Blood doesn’t budge. It’s fixed in a particular location, such as the stomach, uterus, knee or other joints This is not a vague sort of pain. You know exactly where it is: you can point to it. This type of pain feels worse with pressure, so you guard it. You might experience a shock of severe pain every time you take a step or move in a certain way. You feel like you’re getting stabbed, and it’s always in the same place. Pain from Stuck Blood can make life miserable. Not only do you hurt all day long, but it’s also hard to sleep at night. The pain keeps waking you up. Then, you feel exhausted, and irritable from lack of sleep, so you develop Stuck Qi as well as Stuck Blood.

So, how do you develop Stuck Blood?  When the body experiences trauma, such as from sports injury, whiplash, or surgery, the blood vessels break and blood escapes into the intercellular fluid.  It may have seemed as if you healed from the initial trauma.  But, all that blood that has leaked out—and, it has a very hard time being reabsorbed by the body.  The leaked blood congeals.  Then, tiny scabs or scars get trapped inside your body, impeding the flow of healthy blood.  The healthy blood gets stuck behind the congealed blood.  This adds to the build-up and congestion.  Eventually, you experience a major “traffic jam”. 

Chronic unresolved Stuck Qi or Cold can also transform into Stuck Blood by impeding the circulation over a long period of time.  For example, a woman with Raynaud’s syndrome may suffer from poor circulation and painfully cold extremites.  Over time, her hands and feet turn purple due to Cold congealing the blood, causing Blood Stasis.  A worker may spend many hours repeating tasks using poor ergonomics and taking inadequate breaks.  Over time, he develops minor aches and pains (Stuck Qi) which if ignored long enough, may transform into severe and disabling repetitive strain injuries (Stuck Blood).

Other causes of Stuck Blood include genetic tendency, liver disorders, vascular compression from wearing tight shoes or clothing, chronic respiratory problems, and infections.

Another sign of Blood Stagnation is the color purple, such as a purple tongue, purple veins or spider veins or a dark blue or purplish color under the eyes.  Dry scaly skin, especially in the lower legs is due to poor circulation and systemic Blood Stasis. 

Many diseases have a Stuck Blood component.  For example: fibroid tumors, endometriosis, painful digestive problems, stroke, psoriasis, cystitis, and arthritis.  As an acupuncture practitioner, I do not base my Chinese medicine diagnosis of “Stuck Blood” on your Western diagnosis.  Instead, I look for signs of Stuck Blood, such as sharp pain at fixed locations, the color purple, a choppy pulse, hard masses beneath the skin, thick or painful scars, or pain at an important reflex zone on your lower left abdomen. 

Acupuncture and moxabustion are wonderful therapies for Stuck Blood, because they penetrate to a deep level and really get things moving.  Massage and acupressure are often not well tolerated when the pain is severe, but acupuncture feels very soothing.  Distal points are often treated first when local points are tender to touch.  Gradually, as the tissues heal, more vigorous local treatments, including acupressure are used to further improve the Blood circulation and eliminate toxins.

What kind of pain do you have?

Hopefully, none! However, if you do suffer from pain, acupuncture, Asian bodywork (shiatsu, acupressure, tuina) and Chinese herbal medicine have been successfully eliminating pain by addressing the root causes for thousands of years.

In simplistic terms, acupuncture moves “Stuck Qi” or energy to remove pain. In actuality, it is more complicated than that.

Chinese medicine distinguishes between different types of pain, and the treatment will be different depending on what type of pain you have. For example, your pain may be due to:

  1. Stuck Qi
  2. Stuck Blood
  3. Cold or Wind-Cold
  4. Dampness or Phlegm
  5. Heat

Often, pain is due to a combination of two or more of these factors, such as:

  1. Stuck Qi and Stuck Blood
  2. Stuck Blood and Cold
  3. Cold and Damp

Let’s take a look at the first type of pain, Stagnant Qi:

Stuck (or “Stagnant”) Qi pain comes and goes. The pain might tend to affect one area primarily, such as your neck, head, back, stomach or intestines. But, the pain isn’t fixed in one exact location, such as a joint. One day, you might have pain and tightness on the left side of your neck, upper shoulder and jaw. A few days later, the other side hurts worse. Another day, you might have a transient pain in your chest. Or, your lower back goes into spasm. The pain feels worse:

  1. After a stressful day at work
  2. After a verbal confrontation with an adversary
  3. When you’ve been stoically taking care of everyone else and neglecting yourself
  4. While you study at your desk for hours on end without taking time to stretch and exercise

Stuck Qi causes “knots”. If someone were to rub your shoulders while you were having a Stuck Qi tension headache, they would say, “your shoulders feel like one big knot”. Stuck Qi can also feel like pressure building up. Your body might feel bigger and bloated. The bloated feeling is like a tire being overfilled with air (not water, or edema). Intestinal gas, which can be painful, is often due to Stuck Qi. When a woman’s breasts feel big, swollen and sore before her period, this is due to Stuck Qi. Or tension headaches that feel like your head is in a vise. Another characteristic of Stuck Qi pain is that it often feels better with movement and worse with inactivity.

When you don’t breathe fully, it is because you are holding in, or holding on to your negative emotions. When you are in this tense, angry, or depressed state, you sigh frequently. These are signs of Qi stagnation.

Emotional causes of Stuck Qi include: chronic anger, resentment, frustration, impatience, perfectionism, brooding, obsessing, worrying, setting overly high standards and feeling “driven”, being overly self-sacrificing or stoic (which builds resentment and bitterness over time, whether or not this is expressed).

Physical causes of Stuck Qi include: sedentary lifestyle, overeating, excessive studying (such as for school), overwork (especially mental work), poor ergonomics in the work environment, wearing overly constricting clothing such as high heel shoes, repetitive strain, environmental toxins, structural imbalances (such as scoliosis or short leg syndrome).

Shiatsu and acupuncture are excellent treatments for Stuck Qi. The acupuncturist determines the exact locations (meridians of energy channels) where the Qi is stuck and then stimulates points along those channels, which act as pressure valves to release the Qi. Relief often comes quickly, even instantly. Follow up visits address the cause of the Stuck Qi so that the tendency for the Qi to get stuck in certain areas is gradually eliminated.

I will address the other types of pain in future articles. Stay tuned…