In Traditional Chinese Medicine a practitioner typically looks at the person as an ecosystem. A Chinese Medicine practitioner will determine which systems of the body are most out of balance. Pain is part of a bigger picture. The same root problem may manifest in different places and in different ways throughout the body, creating a syndrome.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine examine a group of symptoms that, when looked at together, form a diagnosis. It is rare to treat any symptom as though it is the only part of the body needing attention. With a diagnosis of this type, a treatment plan can be made that will help not only the acute symptoms of pain, but also the root cause of the problem. Addressing the root cause prevents additional manifestations of the problems. The tissues can be repaired more quickly, made stronger, more flexible, and will be less likely to sustain damage in the future. Typically, treatment would consist of clearing the channel of blockages, releasing the muscles, realigning the joints, or addressing the organ or injury with acupuncture, heat treatments and sometimes bodywork and herbal remedies.
A person with back pain may think that because he/she bent over too far to pick up something heavy, they strained their back, and therefore have pain. An examination would reveal whether there is weakness in the back muscles or ligaments; whether there is an issue in the organs that is leading to a weakness; or possibly why the person bent over to pick up something too heavy instead of asking for help. What else is going on- is there insomnia, digestive disturbance, pain in other areas, is there dampness or cold involved? In other words, all of the person’s symptoms will be looked at, not just the ones that pertain directly to the back.
Western Medicine may approach a person from a symptomatic relief perspective or optimally as a physical, psychological, social and spiritual being. A practitioner’s approach depends on their training, beliefs, treatment setting and preferences. Western Medicine utilizes a method to rule out severe or life threatening problems and to determine the likely or certain cause of the problem. This diagnostic process involves getting general and specific information from the patient. The information provided by the patient, family or other support systems is key to the diagnostic process. After or while obtaining a medical history, a Western practitioner will conduct a physical exam and order any tests deemed necessary.
For instance, if a person with back pain had a recent fall or other risk of bone injury, an X-ray may be ordered. A urine test can evaluate if bladder or kidney problems may be causing the pain. Treatment may involve medication, lifestyle recommendations, and referrals. A person with muscular related back pain may have exercises or physical therapy recommended to strengthen the muscles and relieve spasm. Medications may prescribed to address problems of pain, spasm, inflammation and/or infection.
Persons seeking an integrative approach may utilize traditional Western therapies and Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as other alternative treatments such as herbal remedies and nutritional therapies, yoga, massage, or chiropractic care. A person suffering with back pain could take medication, get acupuncture, get a massage and/or get chiropractic care for immediate symptom relief. Long term treatment could incorporate physical therapy, yoga, as well as continuing acupuncture, massage and/or chiropractic. When seeking treatment for a health issue, be sure to inform your provider of treatments you are receiving from various practitioners. Eastern and Western therapies can work together successfully to provide excellent results.
Margaret Boswell is a licensed acupuncturist with a Master of Science of Oriental Medicine from Texas College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Charlotte Widick is nurse practitioner with a Master of Science in Nursing from UT Houston Health Science Center.