What is Acute Pain?
Acute pain is pain which comes on quickly and lasts three to six months or less. It it often caused by injuries such as strains, sprains and pulled muscles.
When we are injured, our bodies produce inflammation as part of the natural healing process. This results in symptoms such as redness, swelling, stiffness, tenderness and pain. This is a normal and important function as it reminds you to take extra care to protect that part of your body and avoid further injury. However, the results are not pleasant, and if inflammation goes on for more than a few days, you will likely want to do something to relieve it as soon as possible.
Depending on the cause of your acute pain, it might be more of a dull ache or a sharp, stabbing pain. It might be relieved or aggravated by different factors such as heat, cold, pressure or movement. Correctly diagnosing the cause of your acute pain is the key to successful treatment.
Acute Pain in Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acute pain is most often caused by the stagnation of qi and/or blood. These are two of the vital substances of TCM which, together, are responsible for keeping your body healthy, mobile and free from disease.
A state of good health relies on the free flow of qi and blood through the vessels. If they are obstructed for some reason, they become stuck and accumulate in one area. This leads to symptoms which can be compared to that of inflammation; swelling, stiffness and discomfort.
The exact type of pain you experience will depend on whether qi or blood is primarily being affected. This is because although qi and blood are closely related to one another, they also have very different characteristics and functions within the body.
Qi Stagnation and Acute Pain
Qi is light and insubstantial. It moves quickly around our bodies in channels called meridians. There are twelve main meridians which correspond to each of the internal organs, and eight ???extra??? meridians which affect different areas of the body.
Qi has the functions of nourishing, warming and protecting our bodies. It transports nutrients between different areas and holds our organs and tissues in place. When qi is flowing freely, our bodies feel strong, vital and free from pain.
When qi gets stuck, problems start to occur. This can happen suddenly due to physical trauma, or more gradually over time due to inactivity, illness or emotional stress.
The pain caused by qi stagnation can be identified as:
- Dull or aching in nature
- Mobile, moving from place to place within the body
- Relieved by heat, pressure or movement
One common example of acute pain due to qi stagnation is waking up with a stiff neck. If you sleep in an awkward position, this can block the flow of qi overnight, meaning that you wake up in pain. This type of pain is usually short-lived and can be relieved over the course of the day by stretching and massaging the area.
Blood Stagnation and Acute Pain
Blood is the more physical counterpart to qi. We are all familiar with blood from a western medical viewpoint. It is responsible for transporting oxygen and nutrients around our bodies. But in TCM, it has many more functions. It is responsible for nourishing and moistening the body and also houses what is known as the shen, or spirit.
Compared with qi, blood is dense and heavy. It actually relies on qi to help it to circulate freely within the body. Therefore, if qi stops flowing freely for any reason, blood can quickly follow suit.
Acute pain due to blood stagnation differs from acute pain due to qi stagnation in several ways. It is:
- Sharp, stabbing or throbbing in nature
- Fixed in one part of the body
- Aggravated by heat, pressure or movement
One example of blood stagnation which everybody has experienced at some point is bruising. When the blood vessels are broken by an injury, blood is allowed to escape and pool in one area. However, blood stagnation can also happen on a deeper level, in which case you may not see any bruising on the skin. You will, however, recognize that feeling of tenderness and pain which results from blood not flowing as it should.
Traditional Chinese Medicine for Acute Pain Relief
Traditional Chinese medicine offers a safe and natural alternative to opioids and NSAIDs. TCM has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of conditions including acute pain.
When you come for your first consultation, your licensed acupuncturist will ask you in detail about past and present symptoms, family history, diet and lifestyle. This will then enable them to make a unique diagnosis and tailor make your treatment plan to suit your needs.
For acute pain relief, we usually recommend two extended sessions and three acupuncture sessions. The extended sessions allow twice as much one-on-one time with your provider. They include a full acupuncture session plus extra time for trigger point release, cupping, herbal formula, multiple sets of needles, nutritional advice, stretch instruction, extra talking time, etc. - whatever is needed at the time.
Acupuncture in particular is a therapy which is well known for its ability to relieve pain. From a western, scientific viewpoint, it has been shown to:
- Influence the central nervous system to block pain signals
- Release endorphins, the body's natural painkillers
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve circulation
From a TCM perspective, acupuncture is an effective way to move qi and blood, dispersing stagnation and relieving pain.
Your acupuncture point prescription will depend on your constitution, the primary cause of your pain and which meridians are being affected. It is likely that your provider will select some points in the local area and some further away. This increases the effectiveness of the therapy by treating on a more holistic level.
By combining this with the other methods provided in your extended sessions, you can be sure that every measure is being taken to relieve your symptoms as quickly as possible.