Introduction to the disharmony
- numbness of the joints or muscles
- pain in the joints or muscles
- swelling of the joints or muscles
- wind-predominant - moving pain from one joint to another
- cold-predominant - sever localized joint pain
- damp-predominant - lasting fixed heavy joint pain, swelling and numbness
- heat predominant - pain, redness, swelling and feeling of heat in the joints
Wind, damp and cold are three out of six external climatic factors that invade our body and affect our health (the other three are heat, summerheat, and dryness). Under normal conditions the climatic factors do not cause disease and are known as nature’s “six types of Qi”. They are natural manifestations of the different seasons and nature’s constantly varying climate. Only when these climatic changes become sudden, extreme or when the body’s immune system is low, they become pathological for human health, and are then referred to as "the six evils”.
When wind, cold and dampness invade the body they obstruct the channels and interfere with the blood and Qi circulation. Whenever there is lack of circulation there is blockage; whenever there is blockage – there is pain.
Wind has highly penetrating quality. Wind is also the evil that likes to combine with other evils (1) It acts like a courier conducting other evils (such as damp and cold) to enter the body.
Wind-damp-cold invasion causes painful obstruction which manifests predominantly in the joints and muscles with symptoms such as numbness, pain or swelling. There are four main types of painful obstruction:
Wind-predominant, characterized by moving pain from one joint to another (one of wind’s qualities is to constatnly move).
Cold-predominant, characterized with sever localized joint pain (cold has the quality to constrict; constriction causes sharp pain). The pain is aggravated by exposure to cold and lack of motion.
Damp-predominant, characterized with lasting fixed heavy pain, swelling and numbness (damp has the quality to be heavy, linger, expand and obstruct). The pain is aggravated by exposure to damp environment (2)
Heat-predominant, characterized by pain, redness, swelling and feeling of heat in the joints; the joints also feel hot when touched. This condition originates from the previous three when the “evils” turn into Heat (1) – a common transformation of external pathogenic factors.
Most herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine for painful obstruction are warm and drying in nature and address the damp and cold evils. Often the Liver and the Kidney are tonified (the Liver governs the sinews and the Kidneys govern the bones) (2), as well as Qi and blood. Yet tonification is best done when there is no external pathogenic invasion (no symptoms of painful obstruction) as the tonifying herbs may also tonify the “evils”.
Major Chinese herbs
Two powerful remedies used in traditional Chinese medicine to unblock the channels and expel wind-damp painful obstruction are “white patterned snake” – Bai Hua She (Agkistrodon acutus) and “black striped snake” – Wu Shao She (Zaocys dhumnades). They both dispel wind from the skin, treat tinea and any kind of rashes, and dispel wind from the sinews benefiting spasms, tremors and seizures. Snake skin slough – She Tui (Elaphe taeniurus) benefits skin lesions due to wind and removes visual obstruction like disorders of the cornea.
A common herb to treat wind-cold-damp obstruction is an herb with the beautiful name “self-reliant existence” – Du Huo (Angelica pubescens). It is used for both acute and chronic conditions and specifically benefits the lower back and legs. Qin Jiao (Gentiana macrophylla) treats painful obstruction especially in the extremities. It also can be used for acute and chronic conditions, as well as for hot and cold types painful obstruction. Another herb with an elegant name is Wei Ling Xian (Clematis chinesis) – “awesome spiritual immortal”. It is especially beneficial for wind type painful obstruction as it releases wind from the skin and muscles. (2)
Wu Jia Pi (Acanthopanax gracilistylus) is an herb acknowledged by one of the most respectful herbalists in China Shih Chen Li. According to his story half a dozen Chinese politicians and scholars prior to his time lived over 300 years as a result of consuming Wu Jia Pi soaked in rice wine. (4). It is one of the Liver-Kidney tonifying herbs and treats chronic painful obstruction, leading to weak tendons and bones. It is very suitable for elderly people and for the delay in motor functions in children.
Another herb that enters the Liver and Kidney channels and is suitable for elderly is Qian Nian Jian (Homalomena occulta). It is used as an external wash and internally. It benefits pain due to trauma.
As the root of painful obstruction is not one but three pathogenic factors (wind, cold, damp), and one additional, which originates from the previous three (heat), the foods that address painful obstruction should be a combination of either “warm” or “cold” foods (depending on whether the painful obstruction is “hot” or “cold” type), foods that expel wind, and foods that drain dampness.
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(1) Maciocia, Giovanni (1989). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Nanjing: Harcourt Publishers Limited
(2) Benski, Dan & Gamble, Andrew (1993). Materia Medica, Revised Edition. Seatle: Eastland Press, Incorporated
(3) Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books
(4) Lu, Henry (2005). Chinese Natural Cures. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
(5) Holmes, Peter (1998). The Energetics of Western Herbs. Boulder: Snow Lotus Press, Inc.
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