For Pain Relief, Embrace the Heat

July 24, 2012  |  By Jessica Silver

There is an explanation in acupuncture theory behind pain that says, “Where there is pain, there is no free flow of energy.” In other words, pain comes from blocked or stagnant energy in the affected area. It follows logically that opening circulation will reduce pain.

Give Ice the Cold Shoulder
When it comes to relief for chronic pain sufferers, all temperatures are not created equal. Many people notice that painful conditions are worse during winter, or with direct exposure to cold. In fact, cold is an “evil” energy in TCM theory. Though it can provide some local numbing, it also freezes the very circulation needed for real relief. Cold halts normal blood circulation, contracts muscles, and can impede the normal healing process.

Heat is Helpful
Chinese Medicine theory believes that heat will benefit circulation by unblocking stuck energy. Warmth leads to increased blood flow, which sends healing nourishment to the sore, stiff, injured or painful area. Free flow of energy also reduces stiffness, spasms, and general tension.

Medically speaking, an increase in blood flow reduces pain by effectively supplying oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the damaged and inflamed tissue, while washing out the accumulated waste from injured cells.

Aside from the increase in circulation and blood flow, heat can induce whole-body relaxation, and reduce stress levels as such.

The options for using heat to treat pain include:
1. Heat patches, belts or stickers available at drug stores
2. Warm bath, shower, sauna, washcloth or soak
3. Microwaveable heat pack, such as the homemade one below

In my NYC Acupuncture practice, I use adjunctive therapies such as moxibustion, heated tables, and infrared heat lamps for pain relief, relaxation, and improved efficacy of treatment. I also recommend applying heat daily (or nightly) to the affected area.

Try this project at home for an easy and reusable moist heat pack:

Fill a long tube sock with uncooked rice, until it is slightly firmer than a beanbag, yet still flexible enough to bend and mold to your body. Tie the top tightly.

To use, microwave your heat pack for about 2 minutes. The heat will last 20-30 minutes. Depending on the size of your heat pack, it can be draped around the neck/shoulder area, or placed on the hip, knee, or lower back (between chair and back).

Please note, heat should not be used in the following cases:
1. Acute or fresh injury (less than 24 hrs)
2. Open wounds/broken or irritated skin
3. Local inflammation or infection with heat, redness and swelling

Related Articles:
Acupuncture, the Natural Pain Reliever
The Magic of Moxa

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