The Treatment of Pain with Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is probably one of the oldest complementary therapies and continuously practised systems of medicine in the world. Developed through empirical observation by the Chinese over thousands of years, this unique medical system is used to treat a wide range of diseases, and is of especial use in treating various kinds of pain.
Everyone will, at some time or another, suffer from pain or disability. Pain is an unpleasant experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. It may arise from accident or injury, cancer, arthritis, a multitude of physical ailments or even emotional distress. It may affect the head, neck, torso or any of the extremities as well as internal organs, causing different kinds of pain, such as headache, neck pain, throat pain, shoulder pain, joint pain, abdominal pain and lower back pain.
No matter what the cause, pain, especially chronic pain, transcends simply physical hurt. It limits the activities of everyday living and can erode the sufferer's ability to function. However, pain is, in reality, nature's way of protecting the body from potential tissue damage, because it serves as a warning signal, alerting the person that something is wrong. In this sense we can say that to avoid pain is to avoid severe injury.
How do modern medicine and TCM explain the occurrence of pain? Modern medical research has discovered that pain signals are transmitted by specialised nervous system cells (receptors), which are found throughout the skin and other body tissues. These cells respond to injury, inflammation or tissue damage. Immediately after receiving these messages, the signals travel by electrical and chemical means, from receptors through sensory neurons to the spinal cord and then through interneurons in the spinal cord to the brain, where they are finally interpreted as pain. TCM takes a different view: that the body maintains a balance between the principles of Yin and Yang,and between Qi and Blood.Qi and Blood travel through the body along well-defined pathways called channels. When there is not enough Qi and Blood (Emptiness or Deficiency), or when they are stuck in one area (Fullness or Excess), there is an imbalance between Yin and Yang, the Internal organs are not functioning optimally, and illness and pain develop.
Pain, whether acute or chronic, could have a variety of causes. Acute pain is usually characterised by acute onset, a short duration, normal functioning of both the peripheral and central nervous systems, a predictable course and, in most cases, a good outcome. In terms of modern medicine, acute pain usually is the result of an injury, surgery, inflammation or medical illness. Acute pain often goes away with the healing process.
Chronic pain, however, is different; it is the kind of pain that most people worry about as it lasts beyond the expected time for healing; that is, it does not go away when it is supposed to.
Chronic pain is often difficult to relieve or cure completely, and may occur even if there is no tissue damage or physical cause. The exact causes of chronic pain are not fully understood, or, in other words, one could say that there is no adequate medical explanation for many chronic pain cases.
Pain can be extremely debilitating and frequently requires unique treatment approaches. In some cases it can be seen that the damaged tissues have been repaired, but nevertheless the pain continues. Besides tissue damage, there are some other clinical symptoms associated with pain, such as muscle tension, spasm, stiffness, or weakness. There could also be some degree of immobilisation of an injured part by the patient in order to avoid pain from movement. It has also been observed that, whatever the cause of chronic pain, feelings of frustration, anger and fear make the pain more intense and more difficult to treat.
In short, pain, especially chronic pain, interferes with normal life and physical activities. We could even say that such pain can often diminish the quality of people's life in terms of their psychology, sociology and physiology. It is, finally, one of the most frequent causes of suffering and disability in the world today.