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An Integrative TCM Approach To Relieving Your Chronic Pain

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

Male Fertility

Are you suffering from chronic pain?

Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts or recurs for more than three months. It has been reported that chronic pain affects around 20% of people worldwide. While most people think chronic pain is something that only exists in elderly people as one ages, there is a rising trend of our younger population complaining of aches and pain that is persistent and recurrent. These aches and pain are commonly seen in our clinic with patients as young as 21 years old, some in the prime of their life (thirties to forties), and many who are our seniors of the Merdeka and Pioneer generation. Chronic pain is not gender specific and non-biased.

As the saying goes: Knowing is half the battle won. Knowing how chronic pain comes about and mitigating the aggravating factors goes a long way in the management of chronic pain. Depending on the age and type of condition, some can even rid themselves of their pain baggage with proper treatment and care.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been backed by much research to be effective in pain management. For example, a National Institutes of Health study on chronic fascial pain suggests that Traditional Chinese Medicine is safe and frequently efficacious alone or subsequent to standard psycho-social interventions. [1] TCM is widely available and provide patients with an alternative to other forms of therapy.

The following list includes some medical conditions (not exhaustive) commonly associated with chronic pain:

  • Sprains

  • Headaches

  • Neck pain

  • Back pain and sciatica

  • Arthritis

  • Tennis elbow (Epicondylitis): Tightness and pain at elbow and forearm which can result in weakness when gripping

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Numbness/pain at palm and first three and half fingers, with possible tightness and ache at forearm or muscle wastage in the palm if severe

  • Mechanical back syndrome, Rotator cuff tendonitis: Pain and ache at the neck, back and shoulders which can vary among different individuals in area and severity

  • Trigger finger, DeQuervain’s syndrome/Mother’s thumb: Pain with difficulty when flexing or extending the finger joints; feeling as though fingers are ‘locked’

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Post-operative pain

  • Cancer pain

Common causes of chronic pain and pain relief methods

Below are some common causes and methods to relieve chronic musculoskeletal pain from both biomedical and TCM perspectives.

(Please Note: All words in Italics refer to the TCM organ-system and not the anatomical organ referenced in western medicine.)

1) Repetitive strain

This usually occurs due to repetitive movements and over-usage of muscles. You can sustain repetitive strain injury when at work, during exercise, doing housework (such as washing dishes, cooking or cleaning the floor), or even at rest (when bending your head down to look at your phone or play mobile games on your tablet). Some of the specific common pains due to repetitive strain include tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger and ‘Mother’s thumb’.

Besides taking pain killers, anti-inflammatory medicine and applying pain relief plasters, those who prefer the conservative approach rather than steroid injections or surgeries achieve good results in their pain management with a combination of TCM treatments that will be mentioned further in the article.

2) Poor posture and lack of exercise

Due to many city dwellers’ sedentary and stressful lifestyle, we are often not just in a bad posture, but we are in it for prolonged periods because we are focused on other tasks at hand. When we move and exercise less, the disuse of our bodies leads to a deterioration of many bodily functions. Disuse syndrome has received much attention in relation to back pain problems, chronic pain disorders, and other illnesses. It has been generalized beyond chronic pain problems and some feel it is related to “the base of much human ill-being.”

At work, office workers should always ensure that their sitting postures do not strain their neck, back and wrists. They should take short breaks at roughly 1-hour intervals to prevent stagnation in Qi and