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Pain Management

Pain management is central to any practice of medicine. Pain is often incommunicable – that is to say that while a professional can ask you about the quality, type, duration, location, and intensity of pain, the subjective actual experience of it is wholly beyond easy adjectives. Pain spans along gradients of urgency and omnipresence, where at even low-to-moderate degrees of both, our functional capacity to really live our life fully can be markedly impaired. Constant pain can limit mobility, it can drastically impact social life, it can inhibit sleep, and it can of course exacerbate or simply generate on its own depression, fear, and deep anger.

Pain Management: Stagnation and Obstruction

It is an old axiom in traditional medicine, but it holds true – pain always comes from obstruction. What should be moving, is not, or is impeded from doing so in its proper course – whether this stagnation is from physical trauma, the aftermath of an illness or as part of its progression, or from simple changes in range of motion and ability with age. Acupuncture, herbal medicine, and bodywork all have a place in treating pain, and especially chronic pain. There are three strategies at work when treating pain, though one of traditional medicine’s profound benefits is that it has the capacity to make use of each of these strategies simultaneously. The first strategy is to bring down the subjective experience of pain, right then and there, while you are being treated, and work to ensure that it stays down for some time after, for increasing durations with repeated treatments. The second strategy is work with you to discover or to clearly elucidate what functional aspects of your life in terms of mobility, sleep, and the like are most affected by the pain, and to ease the negative impact. Finally, and perhaps in some ways most importantly, acupuncture has the potential to help shift one’s relationship to the pain itself, both bodily and psychologically. Chronic pain generates fear, and a deep tension of resistance in the body to further experience of that pain. And while during some acute phase of injury it is healthy for the body to clench and recoil at the reintroduction of pain, after some fairly short time, this tension serves no purpose but to actually increase the experience of pain, and lessen the likelihood of its cessation. There are emotional and psychological aspects to this certainly, but when tension is too great, stress tightens capillary beds in a sympathetic nervous system response, and circulation to all but vital areas is inhibited. Muscles and whole limbs, and ultimately much of the whole body in long-term pain, can be undernourished and chronically clenched, producing a self-reinforcing cycle of tension, impaired circulation, and immobility.

Pain Management: Loss and Heartbreak

Pain does not ever exist only in the body. Heartbreak and deep loss are pain, and we experience them as pain. And many of the same mechanisms, albeit with their own nuances and permutations, are at work in our bodily and psycho-spiritual experience of pain. Traditional medicine, while recognizing the uniqueness of each aspect of mind, body, and spirit, does not limit itself to acting on only one of these at a time, because in the end there is no separation. And so acupuncture and herbal medicine have a powerful place in treating emotional pain every bit as much as physical.

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