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by Maureen Cromey
An Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine Expert
“The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure but to avoid pain” - Aristotle
Pain is everywhere, from birth to the grave we feel pain. It is part of the sensation of life, it warns us, teaches us and it can destroy us.
Pain has many sides to it; it’s a short four letter word used to describe a universe of human experience. The range and depth of pain is boundless, and our language is inadequate. We cannot understand or truly describe pain in words. A pain can be a prick from a needle or the experience relived nightly of some devastating loss of a child or family. It can be the pain of betrayal or torture or injury or disease.
During my life I have felt pain, it seemed bad to me, but upon reflection it is probably only a fraction of the pain felt by others. In my work I treat pain every day with acupuncture, herbs and talking.
In Chinese Medicine terms pain is caused by a stagnation of qi energy or blood energy. Ultimately all pain, be it emotional, or physical is caused by this. Where there is an obstruction or blockage of energy pain manifests. There are many different ways to describe the characteristics of pain and to help with our diagnoses we ask many questions. The small four letter word is expanded and examined, its nature analysed and responses recorded.
Pain caused by blood stagnation is always aggressive; it is stabbing and sharp, and often hot. The painful area may look discoloured or blotchy and it is usually worse at night. This is the pain of angina or some injuries, sharp headaches and excruciating period pain. It can be the stabbing in the chest of grief, or the laboured exhalation in pleurisy.
Qi stagnation is a bigger, wider pain. It hurts too, but in a different way. If it is an excess of qi in one area, like a ponding of stagnant energy, it aches and swells. It is better with gentle movement and a lot worse with pressure. It is the pain of many digestive problems, bloating and aching. Back and neck pain worsened by stress and also headaches and migraines. You can have a deficiency of qi energy which also pools and stagnates. This pain is an aching lower back, exhausted sore knees and nagging headaches that last for days. It is better with pressure and massage, rest and warmth.
Pain can be caused by emotions which will block energy as surely as any physical injury. This pain will be felt just as strongly. A broken heart is quite literally that.
Although we may not always beat pain, we can avoid it, manage it, minimise it and happily we can often clear it.
To treat pain we have to clear the stagnation of qi and blood. This is the first step which will bring immediate relief. Action taken will always depend on the type of pain.
We can do a lot to help ourselves and prevention is always better. Maintaining a healthy fit body, stretching and exercising gently each day will help muscles and joints to disperse stagnation and recover quickly from injury. If you have a weak area such as lower back or knees take extra care of this area, stretching, massaging and keeping warm and protected. Avoid activities which exacerbate joint problems such as sitting for long periods, jogging on weak knees or carrying a heavy shoulder bag. Eat appropriately and rest and relax, nurturing your body and spirit.
Some pain will not respond to self-treatment. Pain from headaches, digestive problems, disease or injury may need special attention and management. Your Chinese Medicine practitioner can treat you to initially relieve the pain and then, with a combination of advice, lifestyle management and acupuncture, herbs or massage, work at clearing the root cause preventing recurrence of the pain. Stress and anxiety can cause havoc with the flow of qi causing blockages affecting digestion, musculature and nervous system causing pain and discomfort.
There are emotional events in our lives that can cause terrible pain - bereavement, lost love, injury and sickness of those we love, redundancy and separation. These are not to be expected and the shock and loss can be very hard to cope with. Allow time to come to terms with what has happened and once we can accept the situation and the pain caused, our energy can start to flow again, and the pain will gradually disperse. Talk to a counsellor or good friend to unburden yourself of thoughts and fears. Acupuncture is soothing and calming, it helps acceptance and reduces depression by affecting brain chemistry. There are some wonderful herbal formulae that taken daily gradually move energy and blood restoring flow and easing emotional pain. I have treated many people who are ravaged with emotional pain and it is wonderful to watch light and hope return to their eyes.
Acceptance is the key to managing and releasing pain from our bodies and souls. Accepting a terrible event and its consequences is not easy and for some people it will seem impossible. Do not be shy or embarrassed to ask for help during this time, accept help that is offered and allow yourself time to reflect and recover.
In the words of Lao Tzu, “New beginnings are often described as painful endings”