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After Wind, Cold is the second most common of what are called the 'external' causes of disease - at least in 'Northern' Climates.
It is called an 'external pathogenic factor'. That means that it is said to invade from the outside, and that the body tries to keep it at a distance from the essential Energy Organs of the body, the 'zang-fu'.
It does this by putting or keeping the symptoms in the acupuncture channels - usually the limbs and joints - away from the vital organs in the torso.
Cold can, however, penetrate those vital inner organs when the body's defence system is damaged, perhaps by accident, ill-advised treatment, medication or ignorance: OR when your body is too weak to 'contain' the pathogenic factor in a 'safe' place - ie on the outside, or as far from the centre as possible.
If the body cannot defend itself, Cold may attack the surface areas of the body, its muscles and sinews, commonly the shoulders and neck.
It can also invade, depending where there is weakness, directly into some of the body's organ energies: for example, the Stomach (causing stomach pain and vomiting); the womb, (causing acutely painful periods); or the Intestines (diarrhoea and abdominal pain).
Of course, once it's reached inside like this, it has become Internal Cold, about which read more below.
If you think about what it is like to get suddenly intensely cold, you'll recognize some of the symptoms in the list.
Often you don't want to move much - except to shiver - and you like or crave warmth.
Mentally, it often makes you fearful and tense.
If you also have Qi stagnation, the Cold and Qi stagnation will reinforce one another.
Depending on other factors you could also have sneezing or shivering, for instance if Wind invades at the same time.
People with strong constitutions can become intensely restless and terrified that they are about to die.
Both Wind and Cold can invade quickly where your defensive-qi (this is roughly the equivalent of your immune system from the Western medical perspective) cannot prevent it.
Their penetration into the body can be stopped if caught early on.
Do not overlook it as a cause of disease: it can arrive unexpectedly, such as
If appropriate action is taken immediately, such as covering up, or wrapping up well or taking a hot bath, the body may expel or overcome it.
If it lingers, however, it can lead to a long-term invasion and increasing bouts of severe pain for many years, culminating in the diagnosis perhaps of arthritis and the prescription of anti-inflammatory medications, steroids and painkillers.
By then, it will have become internal cold.
It might even turn to Heat! ...
By then the body may have even changed it into 'Heat' symptoms, (masking the original cause) in a desperate attempt to contain or combat it. You might recognize this in the 'burning' skin around an arthritic joint.
With the correct treatment, if that Heat can be expelled, it is possible that the patient will then experience a period of coldness again, at which time treatment appropriate would be needed, the opposite of the treatment for symptoms of Heat.
Read about the other external causes of disease:
Internal cold has two forms, Full and Empty. Full cold occurs when a strong invading force, the External Cold, meets a strong immune system. Symptoms are intense but short-lived.
The reason Full Cold is short-lived is that it is exhausting but, if your body can repel it, it does.
If not, it becomes Empty Cold, meaning that your body's energies were insufficient to repel it, so it lingers.
How it lingers depends on various factors. In energetic young people, they might find they just wear more clothes than their friends, they always have cold hands and/or feet, they like a scarf to keep their necks warm, and their noses easily run in cold air or wind.
You may dismiss these symptoms as being unimportant. In themselves they are, but they are signs that your body has never quite got itself better, and must now live in a lower energy-state.
From now on, you may find that you can't risk exposing your limbs for too long out of bed on a warm night in case they cramp.
Women with Empty Cold may find that their periods are painful, with stabbing pains often in one particular place, with cramps and bleeding that contains clots.
Where Empty Cold remains, there is often lumbar pain, worse in or when cold, of course.
For instance, if your Lung Yang energy is deficient because of Empty Cold, you will catch more colds than others, and those colds will tend to go to your chest.
If your Spleen Yang is weak, then you will tend to get runny stools and often get mild pain in your abdomen. You may also have a tendency to catarrh or sinus problems.
Underlying both of these will be a weakness in your Kidney Yang Qi.
Your body tries to keep Cold out. The strength of your symptoms is a sign of the strength of your constitutional defence force - your immunity we might say from the Western perspective.
Cold contracts, slows and tightens. If your body can turn it into a fever and burn it out, you may emerge stronger than before.
Often, however, people prevent the body from acting to push the Cold out - often by taking medicines that prevent or reduce acute fever, or by refusing to rest when the body is throwing everything into the battle.
If Cold lingers on, then eventually your pulse will become slower and weaker, you'll be more susceptible to cold environments and you'll produce signs of Cold that worsen over the years.
What if you already have internal cold and find yourself subject to another attack of external cold?
Supposing your body reacts to it eventually with a process culminating in fever, or what seems like heat, be grateful! Don't suppress it with medications or painkillers or you'll just push it further in.
As you recover, don't overstrain yourself by rushing back to full exercise and work regimes. Why? Because you'll use up your yang energy before it has reasserted itself and recovered its strength.
Of course, especially, don't get cold!
As internal cold lingers on it has a knock-on effect on other parts of your life, including your personality. You may become more fearful, or timid, less certain of yourself, and more prone to anxiety. That makes you more susceptible to Qi stagnation.
So one thing leads to another. Better catch it early if you can!
If you can't shift it, you need treatment. People trained in Chinese medicine theory know how to help. But one treatment or course of herbs won't be enough - be warned!
Cold isn't all bad. Why do so many people take a cold bath in the morning, or a cold shower after a hot shower? Or what about those who roll about in snow after a sauna?
I remember reading research - conducted I think in Sweden - in which they measured the immune system of thousands of people who regularly took cold baths against the immune systems of those who didn't. Those who took cold baths had better immune systems.
However, when you're ill - when cold has already invaded, as described above - don't take a cold bath or shower, let alone roll in the snow! That's not the appropriate treatment protocol!
When you're ill, different rules apply to when you're well.
Did you know?
There's a right and a wrong way to take a cold shower! It's not difficult when you know how, and it's very invigorating. Your body will like it, even if when you start doing it, your mind rebels!
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.
Please note! The Kindle editions are less easy to read!
I'm gradually improving this, but 'Qi Stagnation' and 'Yin Deficiency' still remain to be re-edited.
Although the paper editions cost more, they are much easier to read and to refer back and forth to the contents and index.
Here are some of the books Jonathan has written:
Still only one comment, though personally I think this is my best book so far.
Published 1986 and, amazingly, still selling. Was apparently used back then by at least one acupuncture college to help students understand Chinese medicine!
No comments yet: just published. (Despite the lurid cover, it explains the five main types of phlegm and what works best for each type. I hope it's easy to read and will be much more useful than all the websites on the subject.)
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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