What is pain?

Pain Is Just Stagnation


When dealing with chronic, debilitating pain, it’s easy to become wrapped up in the emotions and feelings that long-lasting pain can create in the body. We can become entrenched in our stories behind the pain, the “what ifs,” and the possible self-victimization tied up with it. 


But what if I told you that the root cause of pain was simply stagnation? 


Beneath the fears, worries, and stories bound up in your personal pain, qi and blood stagnation lie at the core.  If you can think of pain in terms of stagnation or blockages, then dealing with pain becomes more manageable. Why? 


Because qi and blood stagnation CAN be moved, regardless of the story hidden behind the pain itself.


So let’s unpack this idea of stagnation a bit. What exactly do qi stagnation and blood stagnation mean? 


It’s easiest to think of qi as the energy force that moves us and holds us together. When qi circulates, blood circulates. If qi is stagnant, blood becomes stagnant because there is no energy to move it around (Sun, 2007).


800 years ago, Li Dong Yuan, a famous Chinese physician wrote:  


“Tong zhi bu tong. Bu tong zhi tong.“  If there is free flow, there is no pain. 


How does this play into our experience of pain in the body? 


Qi stagnation is characterized by dull pain and pain that moves around (including pain that is referred to other places). Some of you have experienced this in the clinic when we’ve chased the pain from one area of your neck to another by using distal needles in your legs. 


Blood stagnation is characterized by pain that gets worse with pressure and doesn’t move around. Since qi stagnation often provokes blood stagnation, both pain pictures can exist at the same time, explaining why pain can sometimes feel localized, and at other times refer to other places (Yajuan, 2009). 


To illustrate, let’s use a scenario we see all the time in the clinic:  You’ve had a really stressful month at work and you’ve stopped your daily exercise routine, spending most of your time sitting at your office desk. Your body starts feeling tight and tense. Frustration and agitation start to appear, as well as a dull, gnawing pain in your shoulders and neck, where you hold the tension.  The longer this goes on, the worse it gets. Now imagine this happening for years of your life!


What We Can Do About It + Western Medicine’s Take


Acupuncture is a powerful tool that can help MOVE stagnation.  It promotes the movement of qi in a direct, subtle, and impactful way. 


Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine have been around for more than 8,000 years.  This ancient practice continues to be used and is recognized today as a viable tool for addressing pain at its “root” as well as its symptomatic “branches.” 


At Boulder East West Acupuncture we still sometimes get asked, “Does acupuncture really work?” or “Is acupuncture even recognized as a legitimate health option in the U.S.?” 


Although acupuncture is one of the most ancient health therapeutics on the planet, Western Medicine has only recently begun to recognize its virtues. 


And it happens to be particularly good at dealing with the reduction of pain, both acute and chronic. Acupuncture has been shown in numerous scientific studies to be a safe and effective modality for managing many different types of pain conditions.  It is being accepted by more and more insurance companies who see it as a cost saving measure that can keep people from becoming dependent on pharmaceutical pain killers.


Plus its methodology is fully recognizable from biomedical and physiologic perspectives (Fan et al., 2017). Acupuncture has been medically recognized to promote blood flow (which affects pretty much everything from hormones to nutrients we absorb from our food and beyond), stimulate neurotransmitters (aka helping to “rewire your brain”), relax muscles and tendons, and even promote the release of oxytocin and endorphins (our “feel-good” hormones).


So even though the root of acupuncture might discuss difficult to measure things like “qi” and “energy,” there are actual physiologic changes happening that Western medicine is beginning to understand and acknowledge.


Contact the Boulder East West Acupuncture & Wellness Center for more information on how you can take care of your pain with acupuncture.


Any other topics you’d like me to cover in future newsletters?  Reach out to me at dr.aQui@bouldereastwestacu.com




Fan, A.Y., Miller, D.W., Bolash, B., Bauer, M., McDonald, J., Faggert, S., … & Pang, J. (2017). Acupuncture’s role in solving the opioid epidemic: Evidence, cost-effectiveness, and care availability for acupuncture as a primary, non-pharmacologic method for pain relief and management-white paper 2017. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 15(6), 411-425. http://doi.org/10.1016/S2095-4964(17)60378-9 


Scheid, V. (2013). Depression, constraint, and the liver: (Dis)assembling the treatment of emotion-related disorders in Chinese medicine. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 37(1), 30-58. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-012-9290-y 


Sun, P. (2007). Management of postoperative pain with acupuncture. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Limited.


Yajuan, W. (2009). Micro-acupuncture therapeutics. Micro-acupuncture in practice. http://doi.org/10.1016/B978-044306732-7.50026-X