How Can I Manage My Pain With Eastern medicine?
By Rey Ximenes MD
Eastern medicine is simply a term the western world has coined. Still, it typically refers to traditional medicine practices that derive from the rest of the world that look at the totality of the body, mind, and spirit rather than focus on a particular aspect of the body that is ailing.
Even in Australia, the Indigenous population has their own form of traditional medicine they use, which is a combination of healing practices and herbs to heal the body.
The great part about Eastern medicine is its holistic view. Where Western medicine has a reductionist approach to healing, Eastern medicine looks at the overall picture. It is best used to deal with constitutional issues in the body to improve and maintain the overall healthiness and well-being of the individual.
However, both have their place in modern medicine. Suppose you were to get in a car accident and tear the aortic valve in your heart. In that case, Western medicine is necessary for immediate intervention with surgery and stabilization after the injury. But once you go through the initial intervention and are in the recovery phase, Eastern medicine practices such as acupuncture can help you improve your overall health and cardiovascular function, thus augmenting your recovery and improving your quality of life.
What is considered Eastern medicine treatments for pain?
Eastern medicine is so varied that they have several different treatments for pain that work well alongside Western medicine. One of the most important traditional medicine treatments is nutrition and diet. In Western medicine, this is also emphasized as an important source of healing.
Proper nutrition can enhance the function of several bodily systems, such as the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems, which all directly impact your pain. It can also reduce inflammation in your body, significantly reducing pain and soreness. Your diet can also affect your mental, emotional, and physical strength and health, which can also factor in how much pain you might be experiencing.
Eastern medicine also encourages movement in your daily life; exercises like Qi Gong and Tai Chi are popular in East Asia and originate from China. Yoga is also a popular exercise that derives from South Asia. All of these exercises tend to be slower movements that focus on breathing and the movement of Qi (Chee)/ Prana, words to denote life force energy flowing through your body to relieve stress, pain, disease, and discomfort, as well as being a great all-around exercise.
Since traditional medicine tends to focus on the totality of the body, the flow of energy is an important part of the healing process. According to traditional medicine, a balanced and harmonious flow of energy can unlock pain on all levels, mental, emotional, as well as physical, and spiritual. It can help empower you and unlock any feelings of helplessness and, improve your mood, self-esteem, and enable your body to heal and function better.
Traditional Tai Chi is done in a group and is typically associated with an expression of “play” or associated with the statement “Do you play Tai Chi” because it is an exercise to help you lighten up and take it easy, easing the body from discomfort of any kind. A lot of times, when you are experiencing pain, you also may experience sadness, depression, or anxiety along with it. These exercises are meant to relieve you of those symptoms so that the body can heal faster without blockages.
Traditional medicine also incorporates massages, cupping, and Gua Sha, or scraping. Both scraping and cupping are two forms of massage therapy. Gua Sha is a traditional Chinese practice where a practitioner takes a tool, often made from water buffalo horn, and scrapes it across your body to help reduce stiffness, soreness, and pain. Cupping is a traditional practice from China, the Middle East, and Egypt. A practitioner uses glass or bamboo cups that are placed on your skin and, with a suction pump, draws the tissue into the cup. Sometimes the inside of the cup is even swiped with fire to create the suction. This helps to release tension in that area.
Cupping and Gua Sha tend not to typically cause more pain or harm, though they leave significant bruising on your body. That bruising can be quite therapeutic and tends to ease after a few days.
These massage treatments can be and tend to be paired with acupuncture to support the individual’s health, often leading to significantly less pain. Acupuncture is when a practitioner applies fine needles to stimulate certain “channels” or points on the body, which can relieve pain, disease, and discomfort.
Are these Eastern medicine treatments dangerous?
Anything done without a licensed practitioner or done haphazardly in medicine can cause problems and can be dangerous. Just like you can have drastic side effects if a surgeon cuts an artery during surgery, you can have similar side effects if an acupuncturist places a needle in the wrong area, possibly creating a pneumothorax or collapsed lung.
However, the inherent risks with traditional medicine are less than that of Western medicine because Western medicine is more drastic and tends to have a more profound effect. Most practitioners who practice cupping know it isn’t appropriate to do it on someone whose blood is anticoagulated or prone to clots. Therefore, you need to seek out practitioners who are licensed and have an established practice to ensure you are going to people who know the functionality of the body and the side effects of the treatment.
Can I incorporate eastern and Western medicine to tackle my pain?
More and more over the last twenty or thirty years, Eastern and Western medicine have been integrated to create a more holistic treatment plan, particularly with pain. For example, you could receive surgery for back pain but also be encouraged to go to an acupuncturist or receive cupping or scraping once you have recovered from surgery and are in the healing process.
There are also new forms of healing that are not necessarily Eastern or Western medicine starting to formulate as doctors are considering new forms of regenerative medicine that harness the body’s own ability to heal itself. One of those treatments is called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy.
PRP is used for several treatments, joint and arthritic pain being one of them. This form of therapy works when blood is taken and the plasma and red blood cells have been separated. The platelet-rich fraction is taken out and separated from the platelet-poor fraction. Then, it’s a matter of the doctor injecting the platelet-rich fraction into the injured or ailing joint. This stimulates the body’s stem cells in that area to increase repair in order to heal that particular area in the body.
Typically, after 4-6 weeks, there tends to be a 30-40% improvement, and over time there may be some more. The process can then be repeated if necessary. This therapy varies in everyone’s body; some people have gotten 100% improvement, and others have a lower chance of improvement. Someone younger or with better health may have a higher likelihood of improvement. It simply depends on the “healability” of that person.
Overall, blending the two forms of medicine together increases the effectiveness of healing your pain. The blend looks at the whole patient, their mind, body, and spirit. Pain is often not simply a localized physical sensation; it can also derive from mental, emotional, and spiritual ailments, so being able to unlock all of the dilemmas affecting your body and heal it will have a much greater impact on the pain and your overall health.
Healing ultimately can be affected by three things, how you eat, how you move, and how you think. Blending both Eastern and Western medicine can impact all three of those aspects and increase your chances of prolonged health. It is not necessary to choose between the East and West. We can benefit by having the best of both worlds. If we just simply heal your pain with Western medicine, oftentimes, it is like putting a band-aid on the problem because it is just treating the localized area and the physical symptoms. The more we can work to understand the body on all levels and give it what it needs to heal itself, the more we can heal faster and more holistically.
Rey Ximenes is a consulting physician for Advanced Pain Care, a consulting physician for Medical Equations Inc., and the Medical Director of Driftwood Recovery. He specializes in addiction medicine, interventional pain procedures, medication management…View Profile