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Treated with acupuncture pain can often be greatly relieved, both in acute and chronic conditions. And it's also used for anaesthesia.
In the past, Western doctors mostly used acupuncture only for pain relief. They thought of acupuncture as just another way to remove pain when pills didn't work for long enough.
Or when they'd run out of ideas!
What's more, they thought the way to do it was by sticking a needle in where it hurts, as if they were using a hypodermic syringe to inject a painkiller.
However, more and more Western trained doctors are beginning to realise that 2500 years of acupuncture pain experience in China and elsewhere just may have something to offer.
Not only that, but a substantial written legacy exists of the thoughts, ideas, suggestions and formula put forward by some of the brightest and most observant doctors the world has even seen.
What did all those thinkers have to say about acupuncture pain?
On my way to China in 1982 I sat in with a Chinese doctor in Hong Kong. We hardly spoke any of each other's language so I learned plenty about sign language - not least because he had quite a few Europeans as patients and very few of them spoke any Chinese either.
He communicated by sign language and drawing pictures. Also he was most observant: he used his eyes, his sense of smell, his ears and his assessment of their emotional makeup. Then of course he also used his sense of touch, not only palpating where patients showed him it hurt, but also by taking their pulses the Chinese way. He also looked at their tongues.
From this he was usually able to treat them very successfully. He used acupuncture, acupressure, herbs and suggestions for diet. I was very impressed and learned a lot by seeing how with acupuncture pain was relieved, often within a minute.
He invited me, unexpectedly, to have a meal with him and his colleagues. (I was extremely honoured.) At the dinner, one of the doctors who spoke good English asked me to explain what I thought an English doctor might suggest for a throbbing headache, worse for touch and if lying down. I said perhaps an aspirin. (At that time, there was little knowledge of the dangers of aspirin.)
My suggestion was duly translated into Chinese and passed round the table - there were perhaps a dozen doctors there.
Then he asked me what I thought an English doctor might prescribe for backache, worse for standing, better for lying down. I said, well - perhaps an aspirin.
This was duly passed round. It provoked some raised eyebrows.
Then one of the doctors asked me, via the interpreting doctor, what English doctors would prescribe for a painful bruise. I had no idea what most doctors would prescribe but I knew my own family's doctor had once prescribed aspirin.
Now some of them began to shake a little: they were much too polite to laugh out loud.
What would an English doctor prescribe for tired, aching eyes?
Aspirin. (OK! the picture is of Paracetamol, but the principle applies all the same. We didn't have any aspirin in the house.)
Now they couldn't control themselves. They began to cry with laughter. My English-speaking doctor sent his colleagues fierce looks: he was most apologetic.
Why were they laughing?
Because each of these conditions is completely different in Chinese medicine and whether using herbs, diet, or acupuncture pain would receive completely unique treatment.
They were gently pulling my leg, of course. They knew perfectly well what aspirin did.
But they couldn't understand how in Western medicine a doctor could responsibly prescribe the same drug for so many different kinds of pain when each required its own individualised kind of treatment.
Taking those pains in order, what might the diagnosis in Chinese medicine? And the appropriate treatment?
Throbbing headache? A throbbing head pain, worse for touch or lying down, indicates almost certainly an excess yang situation, requiring treatment that sends yang down the body from the head. There are various ways of doing this.
Backache worse if standing, better after lying down for a while? This is a deficiency situation mainly of Kidney qi. Treatment should strengthen that energy.
A painful bruise indicates stagnation of blood: treatment is aimed to move the blood and nourish the tissues.
Tired, aching eyes? This is also a deficiency situation, mainly of what is called Liver Blood but also of qi.
Admittedly an aspirin might ease the pain in all these but only in one case does it actually address the real cause of the problem. In all the other cases, aspirin would hide the cause of the pain, leading the patient perhaps to overtire himself, worsening the problem.
There are three very different situations as regards pain.
1. Too much energy (Qi) or Blood: an excess. (Read about Excess or Deficient here.) This leads usually to signs of heat, pressure, throbbing and dislike of touch. This is like a flooding river forcing back flood defences.
2. Too little Qi or Blood: deficiency, possibly from over-work, not eating or not absorbing enough good food, over-tiredness or lack of sleep. This is like a river in a drought, where the fish are marooned in puddles in the river-bed. What is needed is rest, nourishment and time, so that the body may recover. Acupuncture helps too! (Click HERE for someone in the Edinburgh area of Scotland, where the author of this site works, or for elsewhere, click on BAcC.)
3. Invasion by an external pathogen - a bug - leading to malaise and pain (which might be excess or deficiency type.) This is like a river polluted with offensive matter.
Taking that analogy a bit further. The Chinese medical tradition believes in what are called acupuncture meridians or 'channels'. These are like rivers carrying energy and nourishment throughout the body.
If a problem occurs at one point along a river it makes sense to adjust the flow in the entire river as well as perhaps to deal with the problem locally. If you have an excess yang situation, you should adjust the flow of the river from one of its main acupuncture pain control points, which may be some distance from the pain.
In a deficiency situation, the problem will recur unless something is done about the cause of the deficiency. Treating this gets to the heart of the matter, and the acupuncture points that do it may be far from where it hurts. If you have a deficient kind of pain, it will usually improve after rest or sleep, and often you will like the feeling of pressure or gentle massage or rubbing on it, and warmth.
In an invasion from outside, the river system must be cleansed: use appropriate acupuncture pain control points.
Usually, but not always, the best way to treat pain with acupuncture is to consider the underlying condition, treat that and then supplement it with acupuncture pain points near the site of the pain.
So, having found on which channel(s) the pain lies, use points further along that channel to control the flow of energy in it. Which points? Probably one of the five-shu points. Then, if appropriate, use local acupuncture pain control points.
However, which acupuncture points to use is rather a lifetime's work! - though 2500 years of experience is available to the student.
You certainly can!
And the general rule for acupuncturists is to clear the excess and then treat the deficiency. For instance, in cases of pain caused by Qi stagnation, there is very often an excess (being the distending, bursting pain, sometime burning too) and the underlying exhaustion which adverse circumstances have caused.
It's a common situation which everyone experiences from time to time. I received so many questions about it that eventually I wrote a book - see below.
If you live in the Edinburgh area of Scotland, where the author of this site (and of the books described below) works, click on Edinburgh Acupuncturist.
If you live elsewhere, click on BAcC.
3000 years of Chinese being stressed, and at last, here's a book showing how all that experience can help you!
By the author of this website, it explains in simple English how to use stress to improve and enhance your life.
NB You can also order 'Qi Stagnation - Signs of Stress' from your bookseller.
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