Is Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM a Better Choice to Manage Pain Than Prescription Drugs?
In the United States there has been an alarming increase in tragic drug deaths recently reported by the mainstream media. Fatal drug overdose figures have reached an all-time high mainly from heroin, but also from abuse of prescribed opioid pain reliever medication. According to recent statistics from JAMA (Journal of The American Medical Association) published in February 2016, the CDC’s mortality data analysis found that the total of 47,055 deaths by drug overdose, 61% were caused by opioid abuse, an increase of 14% over the previous year. In sharp comparison, deaths by use of natural compounds such as herbs and Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2014 was nil.
TCM an Effective Alternative to Opioids
Aside from potential death from overdose, a major problem with opiate use is the risk of addiction. Ideally opiates should only be used in trauma centers and hospitals as a very last resort for severe cases of psychic or physical pain. Unfortunately this is not the case in the U.S., or Canada, as well as many other countries in the world.
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Although scientific concepts and protocols governing traditional Chinese medicine and western medicine vary greatly, western medicine has slowly come to realize the very real interaction that exists between the mind and the body.
TCM as a system has been practiced for thousands of years in Asia and in the last decade has gathered increased acclaim in the West. The TCM system of medicine includes the following modalities:
– Medical Massage or Tui Na
– Herbal medication
– Moxabustion – a technique involving the burning of mugwort sticks (moxa) which is held over acupuncture points to facilitate healing.
– Nutritional Therapy
– Qi Gong or breathing therapy.
The theory of TCM involves a scientific and logical system that is not easily explained by using western medical logic. The successful treatment of disease via TCM requires a mind shift. Both systems should be seen as valid in their own right while accepting the differences and similarities within the two.
How Does TCM Work?
The Chinese theory of Yin and Yang describes the elements that exist in nature as well as all functions and parts of the human body. When the constant dynamic state of balance in Yin and Yang is disturbed, the body may be threatened by disease. Although each one has an individual expression in the body they require the other in order to exist. For example, Yin represents calmness, blood and form, whereas Yang represents Qi, activity and function. Qi needs blood for nourishment and blood needs Qi for movement.
Qi is described as energy, electromagnetic current, material or vital force, matter, ether and life force. It travels in channels (meridians) throughout the body understood to be separate from the nervous, lymph and vascular pathways known in Western medicine. Qi originates in the organ system of the kidneys, is distributed throughout the glands and organs and channeled in a very systematic way.
Each organ system contains certain representations of Qi and blood functions as well as Yin and Yang and hormone balance – each connected via channels or meridians with other organ systems that render an entire holistic body system. It is therefore impossible in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a body part or organ as an isolated problem, but rather to consider the entire body system. Where there is free flow of Qi there is no pain, when the free flow is obstructed pain occurs.
An example of this is evident in lower back pain. In Western medicine this problem is often treated with pain medication, whereas in TCM the Kidney System will be treated as the lower back is seen as the mansion of the Kidneys. The lower back is closely related to the health of the kidney system, but not limited to it. If Qi and blood stagnates in the channels in the region of the lower back, pain is felt. The basic concept of acupuncture is to re-open the channels and create normal flow and circulation of the blood.
Impeded Qi and blood flow can cause pain, disease, a weak immune system and a number of other issues. Instead of treating these conditions with opioids, TCM treats the root of the problem and the pain disappears, whereas Western medicine treats the symptoms.