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According to Physician Lin Jia Yi of Eu Yan Sang, a provider of TCM products and services for more than a century in Asia, mitigating pain involves the “clearing excess, resolving stagnation, and nourishing deficiency,” especially in the blood and qi. Besides acupuncture, there are other options such as tuina, cupping, and herbal prescriptions. In some cases, one method is sufficient; in other cases, a combination may be required.
Having options is good because some treatments are inappropriate for people with certain conditions. For example, pregnant women should avoid acupuncture and some herbs. “Acupuncture is the principal treatment modality most physicians would adopt as it is believed to be a more effective solution for pain.”
When needles are inserted into acupuncture points on the body, the nerves in the underlying tissues are stimulated and send a signal to the spinal cord, midbrain and hypothalamus-pituitary centre to release chemicals that provide an analgesic effect while blocking pain signals from reaching the brain.
ACUPUNCTURE AS ANAESTHETIC
The first case in which acupuncture effectively replaced conventional anaesthesia occurred in 1958, when a Dr Yin Hui Zhu removed the tonsils of a patient after applying needles to the He Gu acupoints. The surgery took place in Shanghai No. 1 People’s Hospital .
However, Physician Lin stresses, “It is impossible for acupuncture anaesthesia to fully cut off sensation. It is seldom used solely, but is still practised in cases when patients are required to be kept conscious for the assessment of sensing capabilities, such as thyroid gland surgery.”
Besides its pain-blocking ability, acupuncture complements all approaches to pain management in Western medicine, even psychological ones. “Acupuncture is also known to combat problems such as insomnia, anxiety disorder, and depression,” explains Physician Lin.
TUI NA & CUPPING
Tui na is a massage technique that focuses on acupressure points to promote blood and qi flow. Physician Lin does not recommend it for frail people, especially if they have osteoporosis.
In cupping, cups are placed on parts of the body. A vacuum is created, usually by burning alcohol or paper, or having the air pumped out. The skin rises and reddens because the blood vessels become engorged. Pain is reduced due to the increased flow of blood and qi. This was why Michael Phelps and other elite athletes at the Rio Olympics had circular bruises on their bodies. Sounds weird, but this method reduced chronic neck pain by about 45% among people in a 2011 study conducted by the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
UNIQUE BODY CONSTITUTION
TCM views everyone as unique, and the treatment method for two persons with the same illness may not be exactly the same. For example, they could be living in different climates, or one could be stocky and flushed and the other frail and pale. These factors have to be taken into account when prescribing treatment.
Physician Lin lists combinations of different herbs used to alleviate five sorts of pain:
• abdominal pain due to indigestion: Perilla Stem, Cyperus, Tangerine Peel, Fresh Ginger
• headache due to influenza: Peppermint, Chrysanthemum, Patchouli
• rheumatic condition or joint pain: Doubleteeth Pubescent Angelica Root, Chinese Clemantis Root
• menstrual pain: Ginger, Angelica Root, Argy Wormwood Leaf
• back pain: Cibot Rhizome, Desert-living Cistanche, Eucommia
FOOD AS MEDICINE
Besides TCM herbs, everyday foods contain chemicals that can help you feel less pain. Here are three:
Physician Lin advises that you should consult a licensed TCM practitioner “to diagnose the underlying causes of the pain so that appropriate treatment can be administered according to the body’s constitution and the root cause targeted.” The above formulations can be adjusted accordingly, then prepared and consumed only as advised. If you are on medication, you must inform the physician to avoid drug-herb interactions.
LIMITATIONS OF TCM
People often think of TCM for long-term, chronic problems, and that it is not effective for acute pains. However, Physician Lin says otherwise. “Conditions such as menstrual cramp, stiff neck, and back sprain can be effectively treated by TCM,” she lists. However, she concedes that conditions such as “fractures, acute appendicitis, and intestinal obstruction will require immediate Western treatment.”
Now that you have been enlightened about TCM methods to alleviate pain, check out Part 1 to understand how pain is defined as well as other approaches to treating it.
Besides being beneficial for athletes, cupping and other drug-free methods such as acupuncture and tuina can complement conventional pain-relief