Understanding Pain

"I didn't realize how much pain I was in until I after I left your office and didn't feel any!"

Last week, a patient suffering from sciatica shared this testimonial. It made me think about the nature of pain and what our brain does to mask it or, conversely, heighten it. Sometimes, we get used to having a particular pain, so it's almost as if our minds become numb to the pain sensations. Other times, our mind focuses on pain, worries about pain, and gets frustrated with pain. These things can make pain worse.

In Chinese Medicine, an old saying “bu tong ze tong, tong ze bu tong” means “no free flow, pain; free flow, no pain.” In essence, if you do not have free flow of energy and blood in the body, this leads to the perception of pain. When you reestablish free flow, then there is no pain.

Lots of things can blocked free flow- stuck blood, cold, heat, too much fluid, stuck energy- and each cause has it's own treatment. Emotions can also cause blocked energy. Frustration and anger, in particular, affect the flow of Liver energy and cause it to get stuck. Since the Liver is in charge of free flow of energy in the whole body, this can mean big problems with circulation! The Liver is also the organ most affected by stress, or "unfulfilled desire." Any time you want something to be different, including pain, you are stressed and this causes your energy to get stuck.

One way to get Liver energy moving is to do some deep breathing. Three deep breaths, exhaling with sound, is sometimes all it takes to relieve the stuck Liver energy. The action of the diaphragm helps to relieve the stuck Liver energy. Deep breathing that you do in Yoga and with vigorous exercise is great for this reason. Meditation which combines breathing and awareness is a fantastic way to manage pain.

Acupuncture is a great therapy to get energy moving, and some recent fMRI studies show that it changes the way the brain experiences pain. Most people that come into my office are experiencing some type of pain, and most people get great results after 1-2 treatments. One patient always says "It's like the pain is lifted right out of me when I'm laying there in a treatment." Helping people become pain free is definitely one of the highlights of my job!