Archive for October 2009

Pain and the Brain

Last weekend I was in Phoenix for an Integrative Medicine conference on Pain Management.

One of the biggest lessons for me, however, came the day after I returned home. I spent the holiday Monday out with my husband and my dogs. I noticed that my right knee was a bit limited and I had trouble bending it, but it wasn’t painful and I still chased the dogs and ran around.

It wasn’t until that night when I finally happened to look at my knee that I realized it was hugely swollen. And a funny thing happened. I then started to limp and it started to bug me more.

I laughed at myself and told myself that it was partly in my head, but visually seeing that I had cause to be limited made me more limited!

Pain is physical, but there is so much more to it than that, so when I use acupuncture, herbs, and supplements to treat pain, I keep that in mind.

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Words Taken Out Of My Mouth

This is exactly what I say to my patients. Well, maybe not word for word, but certainly exactly this idea, from Frank Lipman, MD:

“Creating balance rather than just treating symptoms

When you are driving your car and the oil light goes on, you don’t cover the oil light and drive on. You take the car to the garage and see why the oil light has come on. Or when the fire alarm in your house goes off, you don’t (or you shouldn’t) take the battery out so you won’t hear the alarm anymore, you look for what triggered the alarm, where the smoke is coming from.

Similarly, when you have a symptom, for instance heartburn or a headache, it is your body’s alarm going off, it is a cry for help. It is telling you something is off, something needs to change, something needs to be done to see why your body is crying out for help. Unfortunately in Western Medicine, what we do is put a band aid over the oil light or we take out the battery to stop hearing the alarm. We suppress the symptom with a drug. For instance, if we have heartburn, we take Nexium or an antacid, if we have a headache, we take Tylenol, for depression, Prozac. When we do that, we think of heartburn as a Nexium deficiency, a headache as a Tylenol deficiency and depression as a Prozac deficiency.

We usually do not look to see why we have that symptom, what is the cause, what are the underlying imbalances. I learnt in Chinese Medicine that a symptom is a pointer to some imbalance in the system, it is telling us that something needs to be done to create balance again. Instead of suppressing the symptom, we try to create balance. Sometimes you do need to suppress symptoms, for instance if you are in a lot of pain, but it is essential to see symptoms as pointers to some underlying imbalance and try to see why your oil light is on.

In this new model of Medicine, we look for the underlying imbalance or dysfunctions and look for the root causes and address those to treat dis-ease rather than automatically resorting to drugs to suppress the symptoms.

One Love,
Frank”

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