Injuries to our tendons, ligaments and joints are both painful and immensely frustrating. Suddenly the everyday and sporting activities that we take for granted become very difficult. These injuries can be sudden, or can come on slowly. Either way, the pain and restriction can really get us down. In this situation, acupuncture is used by a number of different therapists. When acupuncture is used by someone trained in Chinese medicine you can hope to both relieve the pain and get to the root of the problem. That way the problem is less likely to recur and as a bonus you may feel better is other ways too.
I often treat people who have injured their shoulders, wrists, knees or ankles. Shoulder tendons, for example, are easily injured in sport or are strained by over-use and the pain can be especially troublesome in bed at night. If it is not treated early, the shoulder can stiffen up – so called frozen shoulder. Wrist injuries interfere with nearly everything we do and knee problems spoil our taken-for-granted ability to walk.
In Chinese medicine, pain is due to a blockage in the free flow of Qi. Qi, translated as energy or life-force, is the basis of health and illness. To be healthy, in mind, body and spirit, we need our Qi to be plentiful and strong, to be flowing freely around the body, and to be balanced across the different body systems. A sudden injury to a tendon or muscle blocks Qi and Blood, and gives rise to pain. Acupuncture is used to re-open the channels or meridians that Qi flows through, so that Qi can flow smoothly again. I may place needles near to the injury and also at points far away from it – these are near the end of the blocked meridian. When pain comes on more gradually it is often due to over-use of the joint or muscles. This weakens the Qi in the affected area. Like a stream that gets easily blocked because it has slowed down to a trickle, Qi also gets easily blocked when its flow is weak. In that situation acupuncture is used not only to clear the channel, but also to strengthen the Qi.
For example, I am treating a keen sportsman who has injured his shoulder tendons several times over the years. The shoulder is stiff so he cannot raise his arm fully or twist it behind his back and the advice from Western medicine is to have an operation. His experience of previous operations is that it is a long slow recovery, so he is trying acupuncture while he is waiting. I am treating him weekly, with needles around the shoulder and down the arm where he feels the pain. The details of his pain and tenderness suggest that two Qi meridians are partially blocked, so I am adding in needles in his hands near the end of these two channels. In addition, I am treating the underlying weakness of Qi in these channels by warming and nourishing Qi with a Moxa stick. Moxa is a herb and the stick is like a cigar – I light it and move it over the channels that need strengthening. And lastly, I am using other acupuncture points to treat his constitution. He has good general health but his tendons and ligaments appear to be his weak spot. In terms of the Five Elements, my assessment suggests his constitutional element is Wood. Wood is the element associated with Spring – the energy is strong, upward and direct, like the new growth of Spring. Plenty of physical and mental activity is important to Wood types and they enjoy competition. However Wood is also connected to tendons and ligaments, so when the body is pushed a bit too hard it is often the tendons that give way. By strengthening the Wood element and keeping it in balance with the other systems, I aim to stop these tendon problems recurring.
He has had three treatments and his shoulder is already more mobile, but we will need quite a few more to get that Qi strong, balanced and freely flowing.