(By ‘stomach’ we mean the area above your belly-button and below the central arch of your ribs. If you normally call the whole of your abdomen your ‘stomach’ then we mean upper stomach pain.)
Even if it doesn’t hurt it may cramp, flutter, make noises, or bloat.
Chinese medicine has 10 basic ways of explaining what goes wrong in your abdomen. Once you understand them, you’ll see what can be done, and what you can do to help. But first, what about that WHY?
By the way, where is your Stomach?
Your stomach organ lies at the front of your body partly under your lower ribs and partly in the area of your upper abdomen.
Of course some people say ‘why does my stomach hurt’ when they actually mean elsewhere in their abdomen.
On this page we sticking to your upper abdomen, the part above your belly-button in the arch formed by your ribs. Behind that lies your stomach organ. This is your ‘upper stomach pain’.
What upsets your Stomach
As in Western medicine, in Chinese medicine there are many possible reasons, but here’s a summary of the thingsyou may be able to do something about. So, ‘Why does my stomach hurt’?
Strong emotions, particularly worry or over-thinking. This could be more important than you realise. It’s the cause in many people. Read on to understand.
Very cold or iced food or drink
Food that is too different to what you’re used to, for example too spicy or too rich, too sour or too sweet
Eating irregularly or too fast
So read on for some answers to ‘why does my stomach hurt’!
I know someone who, the more she worries, the less she eats
I know someone else who, the more he worries, the more he eats
Then there’s the worrier whose stomach starts fluttering
And the worrier who has irritable bowel syndrome
It needn’t be just worry. Strong emotions of any kind, can greatly upset how our stomachs work and can make them hurt
What do I mean by strong emotions? Well, they could be:
Shock: shock has many effects, and how we react depends on our individual makeup, but it often affects our appetite and can give us indigestion, nausea, diarrhoea, and so on. These could occur immediately after the shocking event or, more often, sometime later. In Chinese medicine, shock tends to disperse Qi, meaning that we run out of energy and can’t keep things in place – hence the diarrhoea. People ‘go to pieces’.
Terror and fear: often make us pee or shit. The adrenalin surge makes some us want to scream, to run, to shout. Usually it tightens up our stomachs making us less hungry for a while. In Chinese medicine, great fear tends in most people to send energy down, making us pee and shit. Energy going down also makes us unable to think as Yang energy can’t rise to our brains. Also, many of us get cold when Yang is weak.
Sudden joy. You might think this a bit strange! But suppose someone tells you you’ve won the lottery, or your prodigal son has returned, or you’re going to live, not die? I think your stomach might be feeling lots of things, but not necessarily great hunger. And if you then dump lots of celebratory food or drink on it, it might not cope!
What about other feelings?
Over-excitement or enthusiasm sends Qi upwards. You see it in actors after a performance, when they’re on a ‘high’ and it can take several hours before they calm down sufficiently to get to sleep. Meantime they often find alcohol useful to relax. For many, a fast walk might be better. For some people, however, high spirits and enthusiasm can make them eat more, faster. Later on, they find their digestion suffers, because energy – Qi – pushes up, and until they calm down they may not find it easy to digest what they’ve eaten. Over-excitement is often why people say ‘Why does my stomach hurt?’
Anticipation: all keyed up, and tense, keeps Qi in the upper part of the body, with tight shoulders, throat (a ‘lump’ in your throat for instance), chewing muscles, furrowed brow: again here, Qi pushes upwards without release, and in most people this reduces their appetite.
Sorrow and grief dissipate Qi – energy. Often you see people need to sit down or they may even faint. With no energy, they can’t face much food.
Anger and Resentment
Anger sends Qi upwards and outwards. People usually get hot and tense. They can be thirsty too. But eating isn’t usually a priority for them and if they do eat, the anger prevents digestion. In Chinese medicine this is because the Liver energy ‘invades’ the Stomach and Spleen. Read about it under Liver Qi stagnation. Also read up on Qi Stagnation and Stress.
Resentment makes you bitter and twisted, almost literally binding up your digestive tract. Often you get ‘bile’ in your throat and your digestion suffers.
Too much empathy with someone else. This produces whichever emotion the other person feels, so you get their problems vicariously.
To manage strong emotions you may need help, or to talk to someone.
Or you may find meditation helpful. But you need to do it for a while before you find yourself in a situation of strong emotions. There’s not much point trying to learn it the day you are waiting for your exam results!
Why does my stomach hurt?
It’s hard not to think, isn’t it? While you’re awake, your brain goes all the time, with thoughts and emotions that swill around, changing your equilibrium from minute to minute.
Over-thinking is a big problem nowadays. Even if not actually worrying about something, intellectual work for too long exhausts your Stomach Qi and may upset our Spleen Qi too.
That leads to changes in appetite and digestion, but also poor bowel action and eventually poor circulation, sometimes with the beginning of varicose veins.
People who sit at desks or computers to work are very prone to this. Their job requires them to stare at a computer all day, not moving much except arms.
That’s not what our genes evolved at all for our physical behaviour! We have inherited bodies that need physical activity to function. We NEED to walk and run, to stand and sit, to lift and stretch. Then we get tired and our Stomachs ‘know’ exactly what to do.
If you frequently sit at work for hours, your …
eyesight will suffer – the Stomach channel starts at an important point underneath your eye
respiration will suffer – your Stomach channel passes up over and within your chest, and your Lung channel starts from your stomach organ
heart will suffer – a branch of the Stomach channel penetrates the Heart
digestion will suffer – the Stomach channel has many branches that perfuse your abdomen
thigh muscles will waste – your Stomach channel passes down over and through the hugely important quadricep muscles at the front of your thighs, the ones that make going upstairs and running for buses easy. (Western medicine and science now know why using your legs is important. When active, your leg muscles produce an enzyme – lipoprotein – that breaks down triglycerides in your blood. Without exercise, the triglycerides build up affecting your circulation and potentially leading on to heart attacks. For more see “How to Sit” New Scientist 18th July 2020 p28. So – walk!)
you’ll get varicose veins because of where your Stomach and Spleen channels run along your legs. Of course, not moving affect other acupuncture channels too. Sitting all the time reduces your health in many ways.)
When you are young, learning and studying, you should also be taking vigorous exercise regularly to counteract all this sitting and its consequences.
As you grow older, exercise can become harder to maintain as responsibilities and worries weigh us down.
Please Take Some Exercise regularly through the day!
But we should make at least some exercise, even if just regular walking for 30 minutes, a priority. Otherwise, you’ll still be wondering why does my stomach hurt!
If you work at a desk, get up every half-hour for a short walk. Set an alarm for this!
Visit the loo, walk round your desk, stretch, bend and flex your body; spring up and down on your toes.
Don’t just sit there and eat something! That makes it worse! Then you’ll definitely say Why does my stomach hurt?
Why Does My Stomach Hurt? Worry!
Why does my stomach hurt?
Worry is like over-thinking, but worse. It brings tension as well. So you get many of the problems of over-thinking, even when physically active because Chinese medicine recognised thousands of years ago that worry ‘binds’ the Stomach.
The word they used is actually ‘stagnates’ and it’s the Qi in your Stomach that stagnates.
As such, it can’t digest properly and it prevents Qi moving smoothly along the many pathways of your Stomach channel, straining your appetite, lowering your energy and weakening your legs.
That means you get problems like those mentioned above under ‘over-thinking’, but worse.
Worry comes in many forms.
Anxiety about having enough food
Fretting about having enough money
Agonizing about your health
Angst about your family
Apprehension about your exams
Unease about an interview
Nervousness about performing properly
Concern about the future of your business
Troubled about your country
Disquiet about politics
… what’s your worry? …
Of course, everyone has the occasional worries, just like our ancestors: leaky caves, no woolly mammoths, too many woolly mammoths, no clothing, sodden clothing, rapacious neighbours, toothache, cold, flood, heat and famine.
So our bodies are designed to cope. But they were also designed to move around, to work physically. Not just to sit.
And not just to sit and worry.
In a bigger sense, if we don’t like what we’ve got, we can move on. People leave jobs and move to new areas. The moving involves worry but it brings solutions too.
In the past, our forbears could always move on if something worried them too much. Mass migration happened in the past, is happening now and will always happen.
Probably it should keep happening for continued health, so our genes mix and our descendants are blessed with better adaptability…
… otherwise they too will say Why does my stomach hurt?
Until recently, many doctors believed that medication would solve all health problems. They thought food important but nothing like as important for health as their medicinal drugs.
Recently the dean of an important medical college admitted that in some seven (7) years of education they devoted no more than one day to teaching their student doctors anything about nutrition. And that was probably spent teaching how to recognise someone with poisoning caused by eating only carrots. (Yes, it happens.)
Unless proven to the contrary, until recently they thought micro-nutrients such as the mineral Selenium were unnecessary.
Many doctors still believe that a ‘good’ diet is all that is necessary. Even now, many don’t see the importance of eating unrefined foods, of avoiding foods from which much of the nutritive value has been removed.
Many scientists and probably many doctors still think organic food is a fad, not really necessary. (And yes, for some it probably is a bit of a fad. It would certainly be difficult to feed us all if only organic food were grown – there wouldn’t be enough of it. Also, food grown in fertilised, nutrient rich soil might provide more nutrients, but there might be a price to pay in residues of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and if it’s meat, antibiotics.)
Recent advances in understanding
Until recently they believed that antibiotics were essential in many diseases in regaining health. So they couldn’t or wouldn’t quarrel with systematic and regular antibiotic use in animals to prevent disease.
Many scientists and doctors believe that health supplements such as vitamins and minerals are really just placebos.
Only comparatively recently have scientists begun to question whether the quality of the earth on which crops are grown for animals and for us might be important for health.
In all the talk about food nutrient quality, something the ancient Chinese noticed has been overlooked.
What you eat
“Why does my stomach hurt after eating those foods?”
They thought that what you swallowed could make or break you! But almost as important …
They noticed that the temperature of the food you ate could make a huge difference to your health.
Many of us live in houses with roofs that keep the water out and the warmth in. We enjoy fast food and the ability to prepare food fast.
We also enjoy frozen foods and drinks. When the temperature around you is warm, the warmth of the food you eat doesn’t seem important.
The ancient Chinese must also have asked ‘Why does my stomach hurt?’ They lived in a climate that could be very warm in the summer, and very cold in the winter, with no central heating in their houses – just a warm fire if they were fortunate.
The Chinese noticed that people often got sick if they ate cold or iced food or drink. Of course, if you were healthy, fit and in good energy this didn’t arise. But if you were sick or tired, it might.
And the food’s temperature made a huge difference if you were cold.
The General Rule on Cold Food
So as a general rule, they said don’t eat food that is cold or iced or chilled, especially if YOU are tired, cold or ill.
Why? Because, your Stomach is a warm, damp environment for a good reason. That’s exactly the right environment to digest food.
If you eat something too cold, (or dry), your Stomach has to work harder. That’s fine if you are in good health; probably not a problem. But if not … ‘Why does my stomach hurt?!’
Cold must have been a major cause of illness, because they spent a great deal of time thinking about it, and classifying foods so that they knew which foods were appropriate for every condition – and also which were inappropriate.
They noticed other things about food too.
If it was too spicy for you, that could be a problem; likewise
Again, if you were in excellent health, you could tolerate it.
But if your health was fragile, take care!
That means, make sure it is properly prepared and cooked, and eaten while the food is warm. (Again, if you’re fit and healthy, you can break these rules occasionally!)
For foods that, even if cooked and eaten warm, tend to be coolingread Cold Foods.
For foods that, even if eaten cold, tend to be warming, read Hot Foods.
How you Eat!
“Why Does My Stomach Hurt on these days?”
Well it may be because, too often, I eat food the wrong way!
eating while driving
working while eating
eating in a rush
snatching food when time allows
gobbling it too fast: people often don’t realise what a difference this makes, and why their stomachs hurt!
swallowing it too quickly
not chewing it
eating while worried
eating while tired: this is OFTEN why stomachs hurt! Especially if you eat too much.
forcing it down even though feeling upset
eating huge meals just before bed
not eating enough
over-eating often makes stomachs hurt. That could also be eating small snacks one after the other all the time, never leaving time for your stomach to recover. See Food Retention for more on this. (That’s a frequent cause of Why Does my Stomach Hurt!)
not eating regularly
eating food that is not cooked or prepared properly
not resting, or at least not going slow, after eating.
If you’ve ever watched cows eating, you’ll know they like a calm, unhurried life. They eat grass then chew the cud. They take their time. If you make dairy cows run, their milk production suffers.
I don’t know what happens if you make beef cattle run all the time, but I’m inclined to believe that they get thin and scraggy: not suitable for the chef!
Treat your Stomach like a big strong cow. It likes proper food, regularly, with time to digest. Then it will pass on to you its huge strength and endurance.
Otherwise you’ll know ‘why does my stomach hurt?’.
Where you eat
“Why does my stomach hurt?”
In Chinese medicine, the environment you inhabit can make a big difference to your health. In a way, we’re gradually realising this.
We know that warm, humid conditions like in
packed buses and trains
… can all be breeding grounds for germs and viruses.
One sneeze, and everyone breathes your bugs!
Mostly, such poorly ventilated atmospheres affect our lungs first. But the condition of our lungs has a huge effect on our stomachs. (As you may have read above, your Lung channel starts in your stomach! Because of this, the condition of your Stomach energy has a very direct energy on your Lungs, and vice versa.)
You need air to digest food: not at the first stage but later, as your blood picks up oxygen on its last stop in the lungs before your heart sends it hurtling round the system to revitalise your body – including your stomach.
Eventually, poor air gives poor digestive powers.
Eat in a well-ventilated area and sit upright when and after you eat, so you don’t compress your chest or upper abdomen.
And where you eat also makes a difference to how hygienically your food is prepared, as we now know from all the E Coli problems we have now.
Probably in the past healthy people’s stomachs were more able to cope with E Coli and the like. We eat food that is too clean sometimes and so we lose the ability to cope with a bit of dirt.
So make sure you eat in a clean place.
Otherwise you’ll say ‘Why does my stomach hurt?’
But, more: your stomach can hurt because of the weather!
Why does my stomach hurt today?
Especially in cold or very dry weather.
Cold weather can upset it because it makes you cold, diverting energy from your stomach to keep you warm.
Worse, if you are cold and you’re eating cold food, your stomach is going to have to really labour properly to digest what you eat.
Too much dry food can also upset your stomach. It needs moisture and warm, humid conditions to work efficiently.
Similarly, dry weather, especially warm dry weather, depletes your body’s fluids, in time reducing the humidity in your stomach. (Of course, a day or two of dry weather doesn’t matter much, unless you are ill or over-tired!)
Fortunately, nearly everyone feels thirsty in warm dry conditions, so the situation rights itself quickly. But if you’re stuck in a desert, hot and dry, you need your water and, tempting though it may be to drink it ice-cold, your stomach would probably prefer it if you sipped slightly warm water.
Other kinds of weather can affect your digestion too, but less obviously, or more indirectly. For instance:
windy, stormy weather often makes children excited or nervous, affecting their tempers and their appetites
in very hot weather you need all your energy to keep you cool: like keeping the air-conditioning on in hot weather, it uses a lot of fuel… so not much left for digestion. Usually, you don’t feel like eating much, but of course you must drink, or preferably sip, slightly warm water.
if you suffer from a syndrome described in Chinese medicine as damp, very damp conditions will probably make you feel worse. This may not be a problem for your Stomach which likes humidity, but its partner organ the Spleen dislikes too much humidity, so this could affect how well the food you eat is turned into Blood and Qi.
There’s much more than this to Chinese medicine and Your Health!
Seeking help from acupuncturists people don’t all just say Why does my stomach hurt?!
People visit us for a variety of problems. If we can diagnose which syndromes they have, we may be able to help.
Many conditions can be explained by Chinese medicine. Have a look round this site! But if you’re not sure where to start, why not throw yourself in the deep end and try acupuncture-theory?
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