Addressing pain with the five pillars of Chinese Medicine

Pain is usually an unwelcome visitor. Whether pain is a short- or long-term guest in your life, by addressing your health issues with the five pillars of Chinese medicine, you can make lifestyle adjustments that encourage your body’s ability to heal and cope.

First of all, keep in mind that pain is not the problem; it’s merely a signal that something in your body needs attention. We would be in trouble if we had no way to sense or respond to pain. It’s a survival mechanism. But that’s not much comfort when you have a sprained ankle or chronic back pain. That’s why it’s never a good idea to ignore your body’s pain signals; if your symptoms are severe with quick onset or do not improve within a reasonable amount of time, then it’s important to seek medical advice and help.

Chinese medicine addresses all health issues, including pain, according to the five pillars of diet, exercise, bodywork, herbal medicine and acupuncture. Each pillar has a contribution to make in strengthening the body’s ability to heal or deal with pain.

Diet
With every bite of food you eat, you are making a choice to either fight disease, or fuel it. So when it comes to eating to reduce pain, think inflammation.

A basic anti-inflammatory diet reduces intake of dairy, red meat, sugar, coffee, alcohol and soda and increases water intake and healthy, unprocessed foods. You don’t have to switch from carnivore to vegan overnight, but making smarter food choices that reduce inflammation helps your body heal faster and better.
Remember that everything you consume will end up being the building blocks of new cells and tissue, so build wisely by eating wisely. Your health care team can help you design an eating plan that fits your specialized needs.

Exercise
Most people who are in pain limit their motion, and, most of the time, this is a smart idea. But if you are dealing with chronic pain, you may need to slowly increase your range of motion and activity level under the supervision of your health care team.

Tai chi or qi gong are gentle forms of exercise that can be adapted to any activity level and can be good places to start increasing your activity level.
Yoga is also easily adapted to different levels of activity.

The main goals of exercise are to improve a person’s strength, overall conditioning, range of motion and flexibility.

It’s not a contest. Go slow, go smart and keep going. Inactivity can compound pain issues over the long term.

Bodywork
In Chinese medicine, bodywork, or tui na, is a combination of massage and chiropractic techniques. 
Here in the U.S., we leave chiropractic work to licensed DCs, but still use a variety of massage techniques to help relieve pain. This can include tui na, gua sha (a type of scraping of the skin), cupping or even Western-style energy or massage techniques for those of us who hold dual licensure.


Healthy, therapeutic touch has great potential to relieve emotional and physical discomfort and is an important tool in pain management.

Herbal medicine
When it comes to pain relief, there are more options than just aspirin. Your acupuncture physician may prescribe a Chinese herbal formula to help relieve pain, reduce inflammation and promote healing after doing a thorough intake of your current medications and supplements.

When it comes to using Chinese herbs, it’s important not to self-diagnose and buy off the Internet. For one, it may not be an appropriate choice for your individual needs.

Acupuncture physicians prescribe based on the individual’s pattern of expressing illness, not the illness itself. Second, some medications are not appropriate to combine with Chinese herbs. The quick no-go list of meds includes Warfarin, lithium and seizure-controlling medications or generic counterparts.

Acupuncture
Because acupuncture works with the nervous system, it can be an effective way to mitigate pain and retrain your brain how to deal with it. Acupuncture is used as an anesthetic in China in emergency situations or surgeries, but is more commonly used for non-emergency acute or chronic pain management here in the States.

Sometimes relief comes quickly with acupuncture. More often than not, it takes a series of sessions to make progress with pain management.

Acupuncture is not designed like a pill to be a quick fix; it’s more like going to the gym the way it stimulates the body to heal more efficiently over the long term.

If pain has overstayed its welcome in your body, Chinese medicine may give you some new tools to help.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist in Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.

Chinese Medicine is more than just needles

Say the word acupuncture, and immediately many people conjure up an image of pincushion patients with needles sticking out of them from every direction. And don’t forget the pain. Acupuncture is supposed to be really painful, right?

Not so.

The reality is that acupuncture is just one branch of the Chinese Medicine umbrella, and it’s not even the most important branch. Needling a patient is the most visible form of Chinese Medicine, but there is much more going on behind the scenes. An acupuncture physician not only treats patients with acupuncture, but educates patients on the five pillars of Chinese Medicine in order of importance: Diet, exercise, bodywork, herbal medicine and acupuncture.

Diet: Your acupuncturist knows that food is medicine; that’s why it is top of the list of the five pillars. With every bite of food, a person is either fighting disease or fueling it. And people eat way more than they get acupuncture! Just because diet is the top pillar doesn’t mean a person has to convert to veganism or give up their favorite food to be healthy. If Chinese Medicine had one keyword, it would be balance. When it comes to diet, that means creating meals that look like a rainbow, with a variety of color and flavor, including meat as a garnish, not a main dish. That also means not feeling guilty about eating “sinful” foods once in while, either, because being healthy shouldn’t be a painful sacrifice. Hydration is also a part of the first pillar. It’s a rare person who couldn’t improve their intake of water. As part of your office visit, your acupuncture physician will sit down with you and offer nutritional suggestions, but not a diet, tailored to your health goals.

Exercise: The goal of Chinese Medicine is to keep “qi” moving. The basic definition of qi is energy and oxygen. You need both to stay healthy. Gentle movement improves energy and circulation, keeps the muscles toned and the joints well-lubricated. Your acupuncturist will need to know what your daily activity levels are, and may suggest incorporating more movement into your day. Tai chi and yoga are excellent ways to care for the whole body in low-impact ways, but your acupuncturist will make suggestions based on what’s best for you. It’s up to you to also talk with your other health care providers and develop an activity routine best suited for your needs. Remember, qi equals energy, movement and life. The more you move, the more you can maintain good health.

Bodywork: The third pillar of Chinese Medicine is bodywork, and that’s no surprise, because brains are hardwired to respond to touch. People thrive on healthy touch. Regular therapeutic massage and chiropractic helps the body respond to stress more efficiently and keeps the joints mobile. In America, acupuncturists do not practice the chiropractic aspects of Chinese bodywork unless they are dual licensed. However, other forms of bodywork are included in their scope, and that could be tui na (Chinese massage), cupping, acupressure, etc. Many acupuncturists are also dual licensed in massage as well.

Herbal Medicine: Here’s where people’s perception of Chinese Medicine starts meshing with the reality of the five pillars. Herbal medicine is a big part of Chinese Medicine, and it’s considered to be a less invasive form of treatment than acupuncture. Your acupuncture physician is trained to provide guidance on what herbs and supplements are appropriate for a patient’s needs, but it’s important that a patient be honest about everything they take, from pharmaceutical medicines, to herbs, supplements and over-the-counter-medications. All of these play a big part in creating the chemical landscape in a patient’s body, and not everyone should be taking herbs or extra supplements. Just because Dr. Oz thinks something is awesome does not mean it’s awesome for you. Seek guidance from your team of medical professionals, including your acupuncturist, before you try something new.

Acupuncture: Finally — the needles! This is what people envision when they think of Chinese Medicine. It’s not voodoo, you don’t have to change religions, or even believe the needles will work in order to have a good treatment. Acupuncture works on what are called channels, or meridians, which are lines of energy that are connected to specific physiological functions. These physiological functions are not grouped or named in western medical terms, but they do conform to specific patterns that your acupuncturist is trained to look for. These meridians cover the entire body, usually starting or ending in the face, hands or feet. After 5,000 years, we can finally see them by injecting radioactive dye or using ultrasound. These meridians travel in the spaces between fascia, or the connective tissue that covers all muscles and organs in a three-dimensional web. Nothing is wasted in the human body, not even the “spaces.” Acupuncture physicians use their knowledge of these channels to give specific instructions to a patient’s nervous system by placing hair-thin, solid and sterile needles in specific locations. Each time a patient gets an acupuncture treatment, they are getting an individually written “computer” health program written just for them. The brain picks up the instructions and then begins to “run” the program. Sometimes results show quickly; sometimes it takes several sessions, depending on how much “malware” a patient has. Acupuncture is a lot like going to the gym. A patient can’t work out once, lose 20 lbs. and never have to exercise again. Acupuncture is just one tool to help patients re-balance their physiological functions.

The bottom line is that there is no “magic cure” or one solution that fixes everything. It takes a good balance of the five pillars to create a solid foundation for good health. Like work and taxes, health is an investment that everyone spends time on sooner or later. Chinese Medicine is a proven map to good health, no matter what pillar a patient finds themselves on at any given time.

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist at Vitalichi Acupuncture in Port Charlotte, Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture. For more information, call 941-979-9793.