PAIN is defined as a subjective uncomfortable sensation in the body which is usually associated with tissue damage or injury. The nervous system is involved with transmitting pain signals to the brain which indicates that there is a potential problem that needs addressing. Pain varies in its nature. It can be described as dull, aching, throbbing, sharp, stinging, burning, pinching, constant or intermittent. As it is highly subjective, pain can range from mildly annoying or irritating to completely debilitating. Personal tolerance of pain can vary between patients for the same level of tissue injury. Pain can also be acute or chronic depending on how long it has been present and also localised or general depending on where it is felt in the body. Common types of pain include traumatic injury (major or minor), headaches, muscle cramps, overuse injuries (muscle, tendon, ligament), joint pain, bone fracture or breaks, stomach or digestive pain, arthritis or any local inflammation. Many systemic and/or chronic conditions also feature pain as an ongoing symptom. These include viral and bacterial infections, gynaecological issues, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia and other local or global pain syndromes. Oftentimes in some systemic conditions the pain is very poorly understood.
Occasionally, certain key types of pain are classed as ‘Red Flags’ that are potential indicators of more serious conditions which require emergency intervention.
Treatment of pain
Acute pain will often resolve as tissue healing progresses but chronic or systemic pain is less well understood, and there are many factors that affect how problematic patients feel it is. Treatments should ideally seek to remove or treat the cause of the pain, but oftentimes pain relief will be simply symptomic rather than addressing the causitive factors.
When treatment is required the following are often suggested:
Surgery (major and minor)
Over the counter pain blocking (analgesic) drugs
Stronger prescribed pain killers such as opiates (Morphine)
Physical therapy such as physiotherapy, acupuncture, massage etc.
Relieving or relaxing exercises
Cold and/or heat therapy
Mindfulness and biofeedback
Many of the drugs used in today's healthcare have side effects that are problematic, especially if pain medications are used long-term. There is, for instance, increasing concern about the use of habit-forming opiate pain relieving drugs such as Codeine and Orimorph and similar strong analgesics such as Tramadol. With increasing addiction and deaths attributed to their use, we find ourselves in what has recently been described as an 'opiate crisis'.
Even Asprin, which was discovered after Salicin was isolated from Willow Bark, can cause stomach ulcers if overused. Similarly, many of the more recent anti-inflammatory drugs can also do damage to the digestive system.
There is, therefore, an urgent need to turn to alternative forms of pain relief that have less devastating side effects.
The treatment of PAIN using Chinese Medicine
Traditional medicine has been used in the treatment of pain for thousands of years and one could argue that historically, humans have always sought answers for pain in the natural world since to a large extent our survival depended on it.
Many of us will still reach for a Dock leaf after getting a Nettle sting or for the Aloe Vera plant to ease a burn so there are plenty of pain-relieving plants that are common knowledge to us. Similarly, when we bang our elbow or have a sore shoulder the natural inclination is to rub the area to relive the pain and get better circulation to the injury.
Modalities such as acupuncture, moxibustion, tui na (massage), gua sha (scraping) and cupping were in part developed due to their impressive ability to help with pain and injury recovery. Causing micro-trauma to an area has long been used to speed healing and provide pain relief, however, the use of herbal medicine was also exploited for the treatment of traumatic injury by martial arts groups such as the Shaolin Monks who sought to take advantage of nature's ability to speed healing.
Oftentimes the use of herbal poultices, soaks, linaments and creams are the first line of treatment for traumatic injury and many herbs used in this way have anti-inflammatory and analgaesic properties to help with pain. However the internal use of herbs also seeks to speed healing, ease pain and treat the causative factors of ongoing chronic pain.