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As you grow older, Blood Stasis (also known as Blood Stagnation, though the terms technically mean something slightly different) will almost certainly affect you.
It's a major constituent of ill-health, particularly chronic ill-health.
It occurs in just about all enduring or chronic diseases, and is thought to be the cause of most of the signs of aging.
It often occurs where you have tumours and fibroids, including in many forms of cancer, but also when you have varicose veins and ulcers.
It's also implicated in serious life-threatening conditions like stroke and heart-attack.
So ... important!
If you can prevent it, or at least postpone it, you'll age more slowly and you'll look and feel younger than your contemporaries.
Before getting into Blood Stasis - just a quick word on one of its main causes - Qi Stagnation: click here to read the page we have on that, but for a much more detailed (and interesting, I hope!) explanation, read my book on the subject.
So ... What is Blood Stasis? Although it can occur from many causes (there's a list below) let's take an analogy.
Suppose you have a river running from where it rises as a spring in the mountains,
In the mountains, the water is clear and cool. As it runs along, down steep hills and over waterfalls, it runs fast. It erodes the earth and rock, picking up sediment and carrying it downstream.
On the way, it drops some of that sediment, but the speed of the water often picks that up again and carries it further.
However, as it broadens out in the lower reaches, the land is flatter and its speed comes not so much from gradient as from the mass of water which different tributaries have contributed to it.
So it still moves fairly fast, and after heavy rain or after winter, can still pick up plenty of sediment.
Eventually it reaches the sea and here is spills out with no further to run. Here tides take the water in and out so its onward progress is much slower. Down here, moving sluggishly it begins to drop sediment.
This analogy helps us understand how Blood stasis occurs and the problems it causes. In the upper reaches, the river is young and rushes along, with clear water, great noise and energy - like many healthy youthful people.
As the river grows older (its lower reaches), the water is not so clear, and it moves more sedately.
Moving slowly it freezes more easily, and conversely sudden storms make it overflow its banks, producing damage and mayhem: it doesn't recover so quickly from trauma.
The river Danube in Budapest (pictured on right) moves more slowly. Large river craft ply its reaches. It can freeze over. It's hard to alter its path. Older people don't adapt so easily to surgery and accidents. They get cold and stiffen up more easily.
In some rivers, in drought - which seldom affects the high mountains streams - the river dries, causing death to the fishes and stagnant water which has no force and no ability to nourish the land alongside it.
Consequently the earth dries and fails to nourish the plants and animals.
In your body, your flesh wrinkles and dries out. Compare that with the flesh of healthy young people, which is full, well-nourished, elastic and of good colour: all those qualities that gradually erode with age.
| If for some reason, perhaps a dam or a landslide, the river is dammed up, it stops moving. |
As the water forces its way through, the noise and problems are huge.
Think of the pain round an inflamed, swollen joint when it is forced to move, especially in the cold.
In certain places the river enters a lake, where water can stay for ages before finding its way out. If the lake has a healthy environment and isn't contaminated, the water will remain fresh and eventually flow onwards, having nourished wildlife and the land around it.
But in such a lake, if farmers take too much water for irrigation purposes, or heat evaporates it too vigorously, the water may fall to a level too low to run away, so it stops moving.
Similarly, in body cavities (such as your abdomen, your chest or your head) and round joints where there are lots of little cavities, the Blood can 'silt up', leading to Stasis.
Your heart is a body cavity too. When it silts up, or a valve gets blocked or tired, it can stop or struggle to keep going. Then you have a heart attack.
This stasis is like a very slow-moving traffic jam. From a Western perspective your blood is still moving otherwise you'd have tissue death but from the Chinese perspective your Blood isn't moving properly - hence Blood Stasis.
This could have been causing you mild long-term problems which you attributed to something else.
The presence of Blood Stasis isn't always obvious!
The symptoms run from mild to severe. You might have very few of them. However, the more severe your condition, the more of them you'll probably have.
Moving from the milder to the more severe symptoms (of course, you may not have all these, and their order is only approximate):
- Dry skin
- Blue, dark or purplish discoloration of skin in small or large areas, and varicose and spider veins
- Lips and nails are dark or purple, especially when cold
- Complexion is darker than it should be
- Tongue colour is purple
(for more about this see below)
- Poor circulation to limbs with cold hands and feet
- Any ill-health condition that endures indefinitely
- Tendency to haemorrhage dark blood or clots (for example, menstrual blood would be like this)
- Pain that is sharp, deep, boring, colicky, and made much worse when the area is pressed. In earlier stages the area affected may ache and be better after rest.
- Lumps that are palpable, defined and localised: they don't move from their position much, if at all, and they hurt when pressed
- Anxiety, restlessness and insomnia (if occurring with the other Blood Stasis symptoms)
- Difficulty lying down because of pain. Gentle movement or an upright position is often somewhat better, except you get tired more easily
(for why, see below)
- Confusion, inexact memory, uncertainty (if occurring with the other Blood Stasis symptoms)
- In addition, your energy suffers. You body's Qi has to work harder to push Blood around, so you have less energy for living, digesting and moving.
This leads to Qi deficiency. That means tiredness, with your body feeling heavier than when you're well, and lowered spirits.
Possibly you find yourself taking more deep breaths than normal.
Talking for long periods may be an effort.
And you like taking more naps throughout the day.
Local symptoms of Blood Stasis that you might develop after an injury could be merely a patch of drier or darker skin: by 'darker' I mean that it might be purple or blue or dark compared with surrounding skin. In cold conditions that colour might deepen.
A localised patch of skin like this will lie on the path of
one or more of your acupuncture channels and, in theory if not practice,
there may be a slight reduction in the functioning of its corresponding
For example, if it lies on your Stomach channel, you may find your digestion is in time slightly less effective than previously, or you don't digest food quite so well, or food doesn't fill you up as efficiently as once it did.
In acupuncture theory, there are a number of causes of Blood Stasis.
The first cause, at least in the West or more developed countries, is often Qi stagnation. (Click on the link to read more about this.) Qi Stagnation works like a block. In theory, healthy Qi is like gravity and pulls the river water closer to the earth's centre, (to continue the analogy from above). But if, for whatever reason, that force is reduced, the water - the Blood - cannot flow so fast.
You can read about the main causes of Qi stagnation through the link above, but mainly they are emotional, being made up of frustration, sadness, grief and anger. They disturb the flow of Qi which then can't move the Blood.
If the condition continues for too long, or is too violent, it can cause Blood stasis. As you would expect from the analogy of the river, this occurs more easily where there are the body's equivalent of lakes or stretches of slow-moving water.
For example, qi stagnation acts more powerfully, or is easier to acquire by older people, in cavities in the body like the abdomen (hence women suffer from pre-menstrual tension and menstrual cramps) and the chest (where the heart may suffer from Heart Blood stagnation) or the Lungs may experience Lung Qi stagnation.
In older people who inherited the genetic tendency to varicosities, or even those who didn't but took too little exercise, or anyone who tends to sit around too much (think of all that sitting at desks - which you're probably doing right now too!), the veins begin to silt up.
Then you can get clots leading to heart attack or stroke, and/or varicose veins, potentially leading to varicose ulcers.
Even after you've developed symptoms of Blood Stasis, you can prevent further deterioration by taking appropriate exercise. The main thing to emphasise is that it should be gentle to begin with, increasing the force and speed only gradually.
The aim of exercise is to move the Blood and, with treatment (see below) exercise of the right kind - take advice, but Tai Ch'i is good - can often bring you back to full health. Skipping is good too. And walking regularly excellent.
Especially if you are otherwise healthy.
But don't leave it! It takes longer to work the older you are or the more frail, and the more severe your Blood Stasis.
If you've had an operation for something you now realise was caused by Blood Stasis, then you must be even more careful.
The operation itself can cause Blood Stasis (see below), but any operation also disrupts the flow of Qi and you may first need rest and recuperative time before you start a steady exercise regime. Even exercise may then not bring you back to 100%, but it will help.
Don't overlook the effect of OVER-exercise, for which see over-strain, below.
Trauma takes many forms: accidents; bruises; turmoil caused by sudden overwhelming emotions; physical over-strain; surgery. These prevent the free flowing of Blood, leading potentially to Blood Stasis. Indeed, it's almost a rule in Chinese Medicine, that where there has been surgery, there will be Blood Stasis.
Nowadays, tumours can often be removed by surgery, but this doesn't usually improve the underlying condition that led to surgery in the first place. If that's the case, the condition will tend to recur with the added problem that if surgical procedures cut the acupuncture channels, along which Qi travels, Qi and Blood flow may be compromised.
Surgery or accidents to the head or spine can often lead to Blood stasis. Many women who had epidurals during childbirth go on to experience symptoms of Blood stasis later on, without relating them to the epidural which they had many years before.
Caesarean Sections (CS), which are operations to remove a baby directly from the abdomen at childbirth instead of the 'natural' way through the vagina, cause considerably scarring - see below - and are not inconsiderable operations anyway. They often lead to blood stasis in the abdomen: that, in time, can look like swelling, almost as if pregnant, very hard to shift by diet and exercise.
Scars - an example
What's more, if you've had a CS (Caesarean Section) when giving birth, you'll probably have a big scar across your abdomen. This saved your baby's life - and may have saved your life too! - but the surgeon cut right across some of your most vital acupuncture channels, including Ren Mo, the Stomach, Spleen and Kidney channels and would certainly also have interfered with your Liver channel.
In effect, it cut you in half! That scar may cause many problems in the future, and of course, it's nearly impossible to attribute those later problems to the scar, at least as far as Western medicine is concerned.
The least you can do is to massage the scar daily with good oils or creams. If you do this it may largely disappear, together with some of those long-term consequences.
(Which oils to use? Surgeons recommend and use Kelo-Cote. Others like InstaNatural Scar Gel cream. I have patients who simply used olive oil and/or Arnica oil or Vitamin E cream. But the massage is what helps the different parts of your body reconnect!)
Being a form of Blood stasis, the scar often benefits from herbal creams that move Blood: but all these scar-removing oils and creams require persistence.
It may take a year of massaging the oil in up to three times a day: it certainly won't go in half-an-hour!
Overstrain - another kind of trauma - can occur in older or less fit people, and in supposedly fit people who push themselves too hard over a long period of time, even from
In fact, heavy lifting even by young people can cause Blood Stasis. It depends on body shape, strength, fitness and so on.
Many women can, with suitable training over time, build enormous strength, just like many men.
Many women are much fitter and stronger than many men, anyhow. But anyone in trying to increase strength even further can over-strain.
The effects of this may not appear for many years or can come on in weeks.
Over-lifting (including pushing yourself too hard for too long in some other form of exercise, even if it felt fine at the time) also strains Kidney Qi, especially Kidney Yang.
You might begin to notice this if you or your hands are always cold, at least until you've done a lot of exercise to warm up. This might indicate that your Kidney deficiency has begun to lead to Heart deficiency ... and eventually can lead to other signs of Yang deficiency and disturbed sleep ...
... if so, you might be getting occasional palpitations (or slower pulse, or intermittent pulse, maybe fibrillation) too. This is not yet dangerous, but perhaps you should see your friendly neighbourhood acupuncturist!
I emphasise, the effects of over-strain may not appear for years. But they may come within a matter of days, weeks or months in susceptible people who push themselves too hard...
... even if they thought they were fit and strong.
This is where Blood flows chaotically from where it should. It can occur in trauma (bruise, accident, surgery) but also from Heat (eg excessive Summer Heat) or from a condition of 'Heat' caused emotionally.
For example, sudden extreme anger in someone usually quiet and courteous betrays not just an underlying tendency towards Qi stagnation but can lead to a form of 'Heat' that endangers Heart Qi, causing missed or irregular heartbeats, poor sleep and, in those who are unfit, possibly serious complications.
This isn't a physical haemorrhage but can lead to it, as for example in stroke.
Long-term Qi deficiency, which may occur after illness or ongoing
exhaustion from work and a lack of rest, works like low gravity on a
The lack of Qi fails to move Blood as it should.
In the West, our hectic lifestyles often mean we don't eat properly, so we lack enough nutrition to keep us well, and we don't rest enough after eating, so we don't digest our food properly.
Also if we eat while working, our ability to absorb nutrition from the food we've eaten may be reduced.
This, if combined with long hours at work and insufficient sleep, contributes to Qi deficiency.
This leads to a build up of Blood Stasis in the body's equivalent of lakes, eg our abdomen, or round joints which we don't move enough.
What happens? We stiffen up!
Besides Heat there are 6 possible climactic (or 'exogenous') causes of disease in Chinese medicine (the others are Cold - see below - Dryness, Wind, Damp and Summer Heat) any one of which can cause Blood Stasis, but this one - Heat - either dries out the Blood or causes it to overflow - to haemorrhage, which we mentioned above.
Cold slows Blood circulation. Blood moving slowly can't nourish the tissues so effectively.
Cold is a major cause of Blood stasis. In women it can appear as pelvic fibroids. The originating cause may often be traced back to getting cold at some earlier time of life.
Getting cold like this could have happened frequently over a period of time, but sometimes in susceptible individuals getting really cold even just once can do it.
How could this have happened? Well, if for example:-
Cold creeps up the legs and settles in the abdomen. Here it can cause Blood stasis which is felt as definable, fixed masses, such as fibroids. Of course, bare midriffs in winter, while attractive, don't help.
Men! It's not just women who wear too little or take too little exercise. You could be out on a cold day, but not moving much or wearing enough, and get really cold, so you find yourself shivering uncontrollably. If you're young you may recover quickly once you've warmed up, but at any age you can get seriously chilled.
Anyone not wearing enough on a cold day, even if exercising hard, is potentially susceptible to Blood Stasis from Cold.
The same occurs if, after exercise on a cold day, you hang around in the cold air before showering or bathing and changing to warm clothes. Worse still, says Chinese medical theory, if you were sweating from the exercise and allowed the cold air to cool you down.
A lack of Blood can also cause the condition, just as a lack of water in a river stops it flowing, leading to puddles.
Blood deficiency can occur when there has been an actual loss of blood (as in Haemorrhage - see above), or over time from a poor diet and poor eating habits. Blood deficiency occurs in a variety of situations, and can seriously affect our minds and thinking as well as our bodies.
For more on that, click Blood.
Besides the signs mentioned above, there are signs which an acupuncturist would look for.
For example of the face, or part of the face or the nose, which may be darker than it should be, and with a tendency to darken rapidly in cold weather.
Fingernails go purple too.
Where there is Stasis of the Blood, the colour of the body of the tongue is usually purple in whole or in part, depending on where the main stasis occurs.
The underside of the tongue will show two veins, one on either side of the frenulum (its correct name is frenulum linguae), engorged with purple blood.
One more engorged than the other suggests stasis on that side.
The pulse in people with Blood Stasis is usually wiry, and may be choppy, or knotted. These descriptions, 'wiry', 'choppy' and 'knotted' are technical terms learned by acupuncturists and take some time to learn to recognise.
In addition, there may be enlargement of some of the organs, again depending on the kind of Blood Stasis. For example, if the Liver has Blood Stasis, the liver organ may be enlarged.
The acupuncturist also looks for the underlying reasons behind the Blood Stasis. As mentioned, these may include a history of Qi stagnation, Trauma, Cold or Qi deficiency, for example.
Dealing with these may be difficult. A tendency to anger, causing Liver Qi stagnation, can with practice be gradually controlled, but years of exposure to Cold or Damp require treatment - see below.
Any single one of the above factors can lead to Blood Stasis.
But I would say that more often it is a combination of factors that does it.
For example, it may be that someone with mild Yang Deficiency symptoms - perhaps from over-exertion over a long period of time - then gets cold one day and is unable to warm up properly until some time afterwards.
That might be enough to precipitate much stronger signs of Blood Stasis - see the list above. Because the coldness occurred only once, and the symptoms didn't follow immediately after the over-exertion, the latter is discounted even though it was the primary cause.
Here the cold was the last straw ('that broke the camel's back'), but actually it was the long-term over-exertion that was the primary cause. (The camel's back would not have been broken by the last straw unless all the other straw had been there in the first place.)
Remember that when you are tired you are more susceptible to cold. Indeed, some people realise they are tired because they feel cold.
Returning to the analogy of the river, you may understand that Chinese medicine seeks both to increase the flow of the river and to pick up and carry away the silt. For this to work in a river, there must be enough water with enough force.
Similarly there must be enough Blood and enough Qi, and the Qi must be flowing smoothly.
Also, the environment must be neither too hot nor too cold.
Chinese medicine developed some interesting treatments for this. Let's start with the milder ones.
For example, wearing too little in cold conditions, or eating too much cold or raw food, or not taking exercise regularly enough (which for an office worker might mean getting up to walk around a bit every twenty minutes or so) as mentioned above.
Or allowing yourself to suffer from Qi stagnation! Or pushing yourself too hard physically!
If you don't exercise, your Blood will tend to Stasis. Exercise is beneficial in many ways now recognised and much researched in Western medicine. Chinese medicine absorbed the benefits of exercise at least 2000 years ago and gave us Qi Gong and Tai Qi.
What suits one person may not suit another. Find something you enjoy doing, either alone or with friends. NB If you are very unfit, take advice before you rush out to exercise!
Western science would probably suggest 'peak' or 'interval' training, where you exercise (eg run) flat-out for 30 seconds, then walk or jog for 90 seconds: then repeat 7 more times. This takes a while to achieve if you are unfit. Don't push too fast! Work up to it gradually. But this does have the effect of placing a short-term heavy load on your circulation which, people find, rises to the challenge.
However, that's not the Chinese way. Even so, for many it works. But if you have doubts about your ability, do get professional advice first.
If you sit still for long periods, say at your computer, or reading or watching television, or on a railway or air journey, you aren't taking exercise. You're on your way to having varicose veins!
Get an alarm clock, or set your cellphone to warn you to move every 20 minutes or so.
When it rings, get up, go for a short walk, stretch and bend. Move your legs!
This becomes more important as you grow older, because you have less Qi and you have more aches and pains - which discourage movement. So Blood easily stagnates for you. All the more important to move regularly.
If you don't eat the right food, and you do eat the wrong foods, you'll make your symptoms of Blood Stasis worse, or at least no better. Take advice or read up on
good nutrition. Foods with a Cold energy are best avoided, especially in cold weather or winter.
The benefits of hands-on stroking, rubbing, kneading, rolling and percussing flesh have been realised for millennia. Moving the flesh moves the Blood and stimulates the Qi.
Quite apart from that, massage makes you feel great!
Most acupuncturists are trained in massage.
What about Reflexology? - I hear you ask. Reflexology is great, and stimulates your body in many ways, but I believe that all-over body massage is, for the purpose of reducing Blood Stasis, better.
Guasha is a special way of scraping the surface of the body. It reveals the presence of Blood Stasis and by revealing it, allows it to move.
The only problem is the marks it leaves behind, though they do heal after a few days. A rule of thumb is that the longer the marks take to go, the deeper was the Blood Stasis.
In a way, Guasha produces a bruise, which your body them heals. That bruise indicates the accumulation of old blood, Blood Stasis, the memory of which your body has been retaining. Guasha forces the problem to the surface and makes your body do something about it.
Many acupuncturists are trained in Guasha.
If the condition was caused by Cold, then warmth may help.
For example, warm wraps, a hot water bottle, moxa, warm drinks and food, gentle exercise and breathing exercises can be employed to warm and move the Qi, so as to lead the Blood to move. However, this is mainly palliative.
Qi can also be stimulated by alternate warming and cooling. As this stimulates the Qi, Yang increases and Blood Stasis begins to move. Water therapy such as the Sitz bath work like this.
Many acupuncturists can tell you how to do this.
Read more about cupping here, Cupping is a great way to treat Blood Stasis. On its own, regular cupping can greatly benefit health in a number of ways. Alternate it with massage.
It can be combined with needling as explained below and to increase bleeding from points previously pricked to draw blood.
However, blood-letting (see below) doesn't always work so well where the stasis is deep, as in some cases of fibroids. In this case, cupping is applied over the skin area above the tumour as well as on on specific acupuncture points known to affect the channels and organs affected.
Cupping can be done at home, but please - if you're a patient and determined to do it yourself - read that page on Cupping carefully and perhaps let someone experienced teach you before you start.
Most acupuncturists are trained in cupping.
Acupuncture is used to stimulate the body's Qi to move and lead the Blood away from the area of Stasis. Also, of course, it helps you feel much better generally, and as your health improves, so will your ability to cope with, and potentially rid yourself of Blood Stasis.
Acupuncture works very well with other methods described here like massage, cupping, guasha, and Blood-letting:
This mild treatment uses a
specially shaped needle to allow drops of blood to escape. This is very
safe and the amount of blood involved is just a drop or two.
Is actual loss of blood necessary for successful Blood Stasis treatment? Not necessarily. But when carried out at specific acupuncture points it can be very effective.
For instance, there is a blood-letting treatment for acutely sore throats, where there is often a degree of Blood Stasis. I used needles at the point in question to alleviate the pain without much success until I started releasing a few drops of blood from the point: then the improvement was considerable.
Does it hurt? Well, yes - a tiny bit! But no more than pricking your finger with a needle - and think of the benefits!
Here's a tip for reducing any discomfort. Before this or any treatment that might cause you anxiety, take a deep breath then, as it begins, breathe out explosively in one long out-breath.
There is evidence that giving blood regularly reduces the frequency of heart attacks. (Click here to read the paper in question.)
Why might this be? Presumably because your body has to create more blood to replenish the space, and that new blood will be comparatively fresh and new, less full of garbage. (Garbage?: new technical term in Chinese medicine.)
However, if you wish to donate blood, please do it responsibly, using good hygiene, and properly monitored. Your local blood transfusion services will be delighted with your company and most grateful. They'll also ask questions and do tests to make sure you are healthy enough to give blood and that the blood you give is up to standard.
If you are too old to give blood (in Scotland the usual limits are 17 - 65) then you may find that the very small amount of blood let when performed by a trained acupuncturist helps your health in many ways, if done according to the practice and theory of Chinese medicine.
I don't claim that blood-letting with acupuncture is as effective as blood donation for transfusion purposes, but when done at places where blood flows only slowly, such as your extremities, you may be surprised how well it works.
Until two centuries ago in the West, drawing out blood was a recognised and valuable treatment, though much abused because doctors didn't understand when not to do it. Hence it got a bad, if not a barbaric, reputation.
In China, it wasn't used except where the Doctors diagnosed the need for it, that usually being Blood Stasis.
However, we are waking up, gradually, to some of the wisdom and experience of our forefathers...
A report in Family Practice News August 1, 2002 page 35 is quoted as saying that of 105 patients diagnosed by Western Medicine as having either Rheumatoid or Osteo-Arthritis in their joints, all of whom were diagnosed in Chinese medicine as suffering from Blood Stasis, on whom leeches were used, all noticed considerable improvement, with no significant side effects.
If you aren't used to the idea of using leeches, it will seem bizarre, to say the least. However, if you have understood the idea behind Blood Stasis, you may be able to see that the blood-thinning enzymes in leech saliva could often be suitable.
Chinese medicine has over 2000 years of Chinese herbal experience in invigorating the channels and moving Blood. Included in herbs can be the use of very small quantities of alcohol (for example for the elderly), alcohol having the property both to warm and release Qi stagnation when taken in small quantities ( - did we mention the word 'small'?)
Some Indian herbs like Turmeric also move Blood. But if you're pregnant, don't use too many Blood moving herbs. You don't want to move the baby on until it's ready.
For most people, what I've written here will probably be enough to give a pretty good idea about Blood Stasis. But some people need to know more! Much more! The book on the right is for people who want to know more.
However, be warned, it's a textbook, so it contains a lot of information - and it's not cheap.
But it is good. You'll be amazed how technical Blood Stasis can be, how well the book covers it in different parts of the body, and the range of Chinese herbal formulae that can help. There are also lots of pictures of tongues in various stages of Blood stasis.
Take advice from an acupuncturist! Acupuncturists are trained in many areas besides just acupuncture because the theory behind acupuncture is the theory behind Chinese Medicine. Knowing that, they can give good advice in many areas.
How has Blood Stasis affected you? Would you be willing to share it?
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
Alternatively, ring him on 07950 012501 or freephone (only free to telephone within the UK) 0800 298 7015.
Please note! The Kindle editions are less easy to read! Although the paper editions cost more, they are much easier to read and to refer back and forth to the contents and index. But ... there is no paper edition of Yang Deficiency as yet.
Here are some of the books Jonathan has written:
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