Pain and my aching back

Pain is one of the most common complaints in medicine. Pain might even be the most common; I don't know I would have to check the numbers. Pain is so common that we not only have a myriad of drugs and ideas about how to treat it, but we also have scammers trying to get you to pay for drugs and braces to "help" you with your pain.

So what exactly is pain? Is it just discomfort? Does it let you know your alive? How much pain is too much? It depends on who you ask. During my martial arts days, pain was not a big deal unless it meant that I couldn't fight back. Now that I practice acupuncture and herbal medicine and I actually know how to treat pain, I see it completely differently.

Pain according to Chinese medicine is stagnation. All stagnation is pain and all pain is stagnation. Pain and stagnation are the exact same thing. So, just get stuff moving right and the pain will go away. Not so fast. Just like everything else you have to know what the cause of the pain is. All forms of pain fall into one of two kinds: excess and deficient.

But I thought that all pain is excess? I don't want pain, get rid of it. Well, excess pain is defined as something is in an area and it shouldn't be. This could be a foreign object like splinter in your finger, or a big lump on your head that you got because you bonked it. The pain could also be caused dead blood at the sight of an injury, or some kind of growth like a tumor pushing normal things out of the way. In any case, excess pain is relieved once whatever it is that is causing the pain is removed.

Deficient pain however is a bit different. The most common kind is the extreme soreness you get after a super-hard workout where you probably over did it. Deficient pain is the injury you get from bending over a picking something up. The important thing here is that deficient pain no matter the cause is improved with pressure.

The pain scale

Interestingly pain is something that can't exactly be accurately quantified. Pain is itself very subjective that is why we have a pain scale. Numbers 1 to 10 give about as accurate a reading of pain as anything else. One is basically meh I don't really care, and ten is something to the effect of I will tell you anything just make it stop. Also people tend to pass out at level 10 and potentially die. It's at 7 or 8 when people start really getting uncomfortable and asking for drugs.

The point of the pain drugs is if you are not already in a place where you can by helped by competent personnel, then the drugs are to help you have the presence of mind to actually get to where you can get that help. If you are however in a place where you can get help, say a hospital or your neighborhood acupuncture clinic for that matter, then the drugs are there to help you get through the procedure to get you out of the condition that is causing the pain.

And as an aside, if your doctor or nurse is giving you opioids or narcotics for pain for a long term say a few weeks, I would advise asking about something else. These drugs are habit forming, meaning you can and will get addicted. My recommendation is to get the right help and not to just cover stuff up.

When to ice and when to warm

So growing up I was always told that inflammation is bad and if I ever get injured that ice the injury for the next eleventy billion years. They were unbelievably wrong. When I was 15 I sprained my ankle, so I did what I had always been told and iced the injury. After only 2 minutes the pain was unbearable. So, I got rid of the ice and dunked my foot in warm water. Amazingly the pain went away.

The reason why we are told to ice things is because cold chases away inflammation. This is not necessarily a good thing. The inflammation could actually be stabilizing the area to prevent further injury. Therefore by shutting down the inflammation only because were in pain we are actually prolonging the healing process.

Let me explain. Imagine that you're in a city and something horrible has just happened. A building has been damaged. There is rubble and debris everywhere and there are even dead and injured people on the street. So what do we do? Do we just go on as if nothing had happened? A guy with a broken leg asks for help and you just step over him? Of course not. The road gets blocked off. Police, fire, and emergency rescue arrive and take care of the situation. That is what inflammation is, it is your body's emergency response to a problem. Pain is there to let you know that there is a problem. When you take drugs prescribed or otherwise just because you're in pain it is no different from seeing a disaster area and going about your day.

But I digress. If you are not sure if you should ice or warm an injured area, pick one. If the pain gets worse or doesn't go away switch. If neither work get some help, say perhaps from me.

Long term pain

So, what do you do when you have been in pain for a while, say months or years? Probably you have been taking some sort of medication and it works for a few hours but then the pain is back. In that case, you should talk with your doctor about actually treating the cause of the pain. If the doctor won't listen or is only interested in giving you more drugs, then maybe you should try acupuncture and hopefully you can stop taking the drugs and get on with your life with no pain.

So how can acupuncture help? What it is going to do is tell the body that for the next 20 minutes the only thing that it is going to do is fix the problem that is causing the pain. Typically we say that for every month of the condition of disease it will take one week of steady treatment. Commonly, that's about 2 treatments a week. So if money is the issue ask yourself how much is the pain medication and the subsequent addiction to it costing you? What would you give up if it meant that you could do all the things that the pain is stopping you from doing and not have to take the medication? What would you give for that?

Myself, I was in constant pain for 10 years with a knee injury from a car accident. Acupuncture fixed it. Sure if I do too much, my knee still hurts, but it is not debilitating and I don't need to take any pain killers.

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