Many women take it as a given that periods are painful. Chinese medicine takes a different view.
Put simply, pain is a signal that things are not flowing as they should.
There is a saying in Chinese medicine:
No free flow – there is pain.
Free flow – no pain.
(It sort of rhymes in Chinese!)
The power of this simple statement leads us to look for areas of restriction when we are dealing with any type of pain.
Unblocking, releasing or resolving the causes of restriction may lead not only to positive changes in symptoms, but also a subjective experience of increased wellbeing. A feeling of subjective wellbeing is an important aim in Chinese medicine – often just as important as listening to symptoms.
At the basic level, period pain is assessed in Chinese medicine the same way as other pain – it is the consciousness of the person being alerted to lack of flow. Lack of flow means that the vital intelligence is not arriving at the right place at the right time – nor are the resources that move with this intelligence.
Period pain is always a sign that something is not quite right, not quite harmonious. The more severe the pain (or other signs such as heavy bleeding), then the more important it is to address that issue as a priority.
Of course, all symptoms such as pain should be assessed by your medical practitioner. Pain can sometimes be an indication of serious health problems.
In Chinese medicine, period pain speaks to the whole system struggling to adapt, and so helping the whole system to regain its adaptive functions has an impact on other areas of the body. Chinese medicine takes a wholistic stance – one part is never taken in isolation. All signs and symptoms are clues and signals about how the whole body is adapting to the internal and external environment, in a dynamic and fluid way.
Period signs give your Chinese medicine practitioner a wealth of information about your body as a whole. For example, if you are coming for treatment for your migraines, then period signs can give crucial clues about how to manage the migraine treatment. If your periods are light, then the migraine treatment strategy might include “nourishing Blood”. If the periods are heavy, painful and clotty, then the strategy might include “resolving Blood stagnation”.
When it comes to causes of period pain, blockages and weaknesses are the two main issues that we explore. (In clinic, it is quite common for a person to have a mix of both.)
The first kind of impediment to free flow is blockage, obstruction, restriction or stagnation. Some of the main reasons of blockage include:
A rough analogy here is to think of a garden hose. If you want to water your garden, you don’t want the tap turned on full blast – that will wash away the precious soil. On the other hand, if the tap is too low, then not enough water will arrive to the garden and the plants won’t be able to thrive. The sweet spot is the middle ground between these two – enough flow so that the soil is moistened right down to the roots, neither dry nor swamped.
In a similar way, your body’s flow of energy, warmth, nutrients and other resources relies on just the right degree of bountiful movement. If there’s weakness or lack, then the flow can’t arrive on time. If the consciousness receives a signal that resources aren’t arriving as they should, then a person experiences this as discomfort or pain, according to Chinese medicine.
In general, pain due to deficiency will feel better with heat, because the energy from the heat-pack enters the body and pushes resources along their pathways of travel, so they arrive on time. It is very common to experience a combination of blockage and deficiency.
The ample flow of vital intelligence, warmth and resources are assessed according to Chinese medicine when we talk about Qi (“chee”), Yang, Blood and other related factors.
Some reasons that these factors can become weakened include:
Most women who experience period pain will already have a few strategies to help them cope, such as hot water bottles or heat packs, and getting adequate rest. Of course, with any symptom or pain issue please make sure that you’ve consulted your doctor and followed through with any recommended tests.
The information above might give you some clues on where you can start to make some positive changes for your wellbeing. Each person is different, and Chinese medicine may or may not be right for your health issue at this time.