Pain Conditions and the Seasons
Can there a relationship between the seasons and pain conditions? An
acupuncturist would say “definitely”. Acupuncture is a treatment option within
the system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM ). TCM was developed as a
result of close observation of the human body, including the body’s interaction
with nature. Originating over 2,000 years ago, one might safely assume that the
founders of TCM had a very clear understanding of the effects of the seasons on
the body. In modern times, many of us have the option to limit our interaction
with the outdoors. We live in climate controlled homes. We commute to school,
work or errands in climate controlled vehicles. We can obtain our necessary
exercise at indoor gyms, possibly even in heated pools. One might believe that
because we control our micro-climate that we are not necessarily connected to
or affected by the greater climate. In my acupuncture practice, I find that
this is not necessarily true.
This winter (2006-7) we didn’t get our first significant snow and freezing
weather until late January. The morning after our first snow (which arrived
overnight) I received several calls from prospective patients asking about
treatment for sudden exacerbation of pain conditions. Even among my existing
pain patients, many came in that week complaining that they had experienced a
slight setback in their pain relief.
How does the acupuncturist/herbalist explain this? In TCM we work with “qi”.
Many people describe qi as a form of our “energy” or “vital life force”. Within
the notion of “qi” running in the meridians and organs of our body, there is
also the concept of “righteous qi” and “pathogenic qi”. Righteous qi is
our own healthy qi in its proper location. Liver qi should be in the liver
meridian. Kidney qi should be in the kidney meridian. In pain conditions there
often exists a situation where pathogenic qi has become trapped or stuck in the
meridian. This pathogenic qi is qi that is in an inappropriate place. In TCM,
we identify six kinds of pathogenic qi, and the have correlations with the
weather and the seasons. Wind correlates to the Springtime and is also
the carrier of other pathogens, for example, the cold draft that gives you a
stiff neck. Cold corresponds to winter, summer-heat and fire to
mid-summer, dampness to late summer and dryness to autumn. This
pathogenic qi can not only be contracted from the outside environment, but it
can also be internally generated from poor diet , stress, overwork or
emotional turmoil. Very often internally generated pathogenic qi and externally
generated pathogenic qi exist in the body at the same time. Existence of one,
often creates a propensity to attract the other.
So how might this relate to how we interact with the weather? Well let’s
imagine a person with a chronic low-grade osteoarthritis pain. This individual
may show signs of cold, or from another perpective, a lack of warming (“yang”)
energy. They may be the type of person who “runs cold”. They may prefer warm
drinks and food over cold drinks and raw foods. When their osteo-arthritic
joints are not actively and strongly hurting, those joints may feel cold
compared to the rest of the body. This is the type of person who will very
likely have a sharp increase in pain at the onset of cold weather. Because they
have a “cold” pathogen, when the climate becomes cold, it adds to the existing
cold pathogenic qi in the channel. This pathogen blocks the healthy flow of qi
and creates pain.
My existing “cold-pain” patients are already aware of what I do in this
situation. Not only do I treat with needles, but I add forms of heat therapy to
the painful joint and related meridians. I use infra-red heat lamps and
moxabustion (the burning of specially processed mugwort either on the head of a
needle or on or over the skin). Moxabustion (“moxa”) is especially effective at
not only drawing out cold pathogens but also improving the circulation of qi
and blood and thereby reducing pain.
So does this mean that you should plan on scheduling your acupuncture
treatments when the weather is calling for snow? Well, this isn’t a bad idea,
especially if you get an increase in your pain with the onset of cold weather.
But that’s not all. You should also plan for treatment for the rest of the
year, and in cases of cold, especially in the summer. TCM theory recognizes how
the body’s energy responds to the changes in season. In the winter, one’s
energy retreats deeper into the body. Acupuncturists see this in the typical
‘deep’ pulse of winter. In this state, it is harder to draw cold pathogens out
of the body. While treatment in winter can certainly provide pain relief, for
preventative care, you will also want to consider maintenance treatment even
through warmer weather.
Want more information on your health and how it can be affected by the changing
of the seasons? Check back here for more articles, or contact the
Feel Good Acupuncture office to discuss your particular health concern.