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Acupuncture and pain: Treating the whole person

Acupuncture and pain: Treating the whole person

by Grace Ganel

“When there is no flow, there is pain. When there is flow, there is no pain.” This saying is the heart of pain management with acupuncture. Acupuncture diagnosis and treatment is centered around the flow of “Qi” (energy) in the Meridians (the regions of the body where the acupuncture points are found). Pain can result from a number of different diagnostic roots according to Chinese medical theory, but the root question with a new patient experiencing pain is, always, “why isn’t the Qi flowing?”

The meridians are rivers of energy in the body. Consider all the ways a river can become sick and stop flowing. Maybe there is too little water, or there is a buildup of trash and sediment in the way. Either way, the flow has stopped, but in each case the “treatment” is different.

A number of things can cause a block to the flow of Qi. These are the causes of illness in Chinese medical theory, and they include climatic factors, internal factors, and miscellaneous factors. Climatic factors, like cold (think “frozen shoulder”), can become trapped in the meridians (like an accumulation of sediment in the river) and cause interruptions to Qi flow. Internal factors are imbalances of emotion. Each of the emotions is a movement of Qi in the body, and when it is experienced chronically and without being expressed, the movement becomes pathological. For example, grief consumes Qi and leads to a deficiency of Qi. When Qi is chronically deficient, there is too little “water” in the river, and the flow stops. Miscellaneous factors include traumatic injuries, toxins, and other such conditions which are not otherwise explained by climatic or emotional causes.

When an acupuncturist treats pain, she looks at the whole person, and at all of their rivers. The sediment may be getting in “upstream” from the site of the blockage. The water may be supplied by a far-away river elsewhere in the body. The water may be running dry because of a leak somewhere along the way. This is why acupuncture’s approach to pain treatment is so unique. Sometimes, I may treat ankle pain by putting needles in my patient’s back, knowing that the “river” has no “water” in it because of an issue “upstream.”

If you're experiencing some blockages in your energy - feeling tired, sore, or overwhelmed - consider getting a tune-up in my acupuncture office. Together, we're sure to get all of your rivers flowing on happily. Schedule an appointment by emailing me at

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