How Does The Weather Affect Chronic Pain Patients?
At 80, my grandmother was a better forecaster than the Weather Channel. If there was even a hint of barometric pressure change, as occurs before a rainstorm, her neck would sound the alarm. Once humidity rose, her arthritic fingers would become swollen, stiff and sore. Cold, damp December days tightened her back up.
What I Know As An Acupuncturist
In acupuncture terms, we call this rheumatological pain that is exacerbated by the weather and affects mostly joints, tendons, and muscles, bi syndrome, translated as obstruction syndrome. Basically, this means that there’s something blocking our body’s smooth flow of energy. Like a kinked garden hose or clogged pipe. The resulting pain is often dull like a toothache, nagging, heavy, stiff, tight, or pulling, and worse at certain times of the year.
How Does The Weather Cause Pain?
Our energy flows in channels, called meridians, which are like the network of electrical power lines that transmit energy into our homes and keep everything running smoothly. If there are weak or frayed wires or faulty insulation, the energy leaks out and the channels become vulnerable to changes in temperature and moisture. Same with us.
When our health is robust, we are less affected by climatic influences. However, with age, compromised health, chronic stress, or old injuries, we are more permeable, so to speak.
What I Can Do To Alleviate The Pain
When someone comes in with pain aggravated by seasonal shifts, my job is often two-fold:
- Get the energy moving correctly
- Help fortify the person’s vitality so they can better endure changes in temperature, humidity, and pressure.
If it’s damp that aggravates, we work on helping their body process fluids better. If it’s cold, we warm the area and promote circulation. If it’s pressure changes, we focus on releasing constraint. I often treat people the season before and into the season when the pain tends to be worst.
My Approach When The Pain Is Really Severe
Repetitive or chronic stress, trauma, and accidents — even when they happened years ago — can cause energy to become stuck in an area. It’s like a bruise that hasn’t healed completely.
Some things to know:
- Qi and blood flow are not only obstructed, they have become stagnant.
- Obstruction is like being in sluggish, or stop-and-go traffic.
- Stagnation is like being in a four-car pile up with lanes jammed for miles behind you and car horns blaring.
- Untreated, obstruction can lead to more severe forms of stagnation.
Patient Case In My Practice:
I treated a patient for sharp, stabbing headaches and intense pain in his face where he had been hit during an assault that happened over a decade ago. His bruise had long cleared, however, the injured area had become vulnerable. As he got older and experienced more stress in his life, he developed debilitating headaches in the same spot where he had been struck. Nothing showed up on an MRI but he could point directly to where the pain was and it had become chronic as well as intense and sharp– hallmark signs of stagnant blood and qi.
For him, and patients like him, my aim is to help release the stagnant energy in an area and re-establish smooth flow. I am also generally helping them manage the effects of stress, often a factor leading to and exacerbating chronic pain. In these cases, I treat points along the meridians known to relieve pain, ease congestion and promote circulation. Cupping and herbal formulas are other valuable tools I use.
I know it seems counterintuitive and even incomprehensible that inserting thread-thin sterile needles into points on the body can be relaxing and healing. Theories about how acupuncture works speculate that it blocks pain signals, or that it stimulates endorphins to relieve pain. However, there’s more to it than just analgesia. It’s also about restoring proper movement within the channels. Consider how you feel after having a good cry or releasing pent-up frustration. Once you unblock your energy, it starts flowing freely again and you feel better.
You can learn more about my friend and colleague Becky Thoroughgood and her acupuncture practice by visiting her website Wellpoint Acupuncture, or her Facebook page.
Becky Thoroughgood, Licensed Acupuncturist
2837 N. Front St, Suite 101
Harrisburg, PA 17110