by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.
We all have some experience with pain. While pain can be helpful in pointing out problems in our life, it can also limit us from being present and productive in our daily activities. Whether it is a headache, muscle strain or indigestion, many patients seek medical advice when pain or discomfort appear. Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, is very effective at treating most causes of body pain. TCM’s approach to pain is similar in some ways to western medicine, but there are many differences as well. In this article I will explain the similar and different views of pain according to both TCM and western medicine, as well as discuss different treatment options.
Western medicine views pain as an action of the nervous system. It describes pain as the stimulation of specific nerve receptors known as nociceptors. These are present in many different tissues, and are stimulated by tissue damage. When these nociceptors are stimulated, they send a message to the brain that something needs to be done to address the underlying cause of the pain. For example, if you are working in the yard and you lift something that is too heavy and it causes damage in a shoulder muscle, the nociceptors in your shoulder sense that your muscle is damaged and create the sensation of pain to encourage you to stop doing the activity that created the pain. This is a very helpful response to a damaging situation. After the initial cause of the pain is removed, the continuing pain reminds us to be aware of the damaged area and protect it so it can properly heal. This can be helpful in the healing process, but it can also overly limit our movement which can lead to increased muscle tension which serves to slow down the healing process.