Clearing the Joints & Opening Consciousness: Detoxing Lurking Hip Pain with Acupuncture
I explained to a patient today that acupuncture treatment can be like cleaning out a clogged drain. It takes time, with periods of relief in the process.
This patient was coming to me for chronic hip and leg pain. I explained to him that his body had been accumulating inflammation and filth (“Damp Heat”) for a long time. The problem was in his joints, which meant the body was keeping the problem “latent” or hidden. Yet it was now overflowing, causing pain, stiffness, numbness and immobility.
To treat this patient I’d use acupuncture channels that energetically penetrated into the joints, draining the dampness and clearing the heat/inflammation. He’d feel remarkably better after each treatment. The relief would last anywhere from 3-5 days before returning.
I explained the process he was undergoing. I’d clear that which was overflowing from his joints (the damp heat inflammation) which would give him relief. His body would then prepare to start releasing more of what was hidden and latent, causing more pain and symptoms, which we’d need to continue clearing. This we should expect to go on for several weeks until his pain relief lasted. I suggested we meet twice a week for the first few weeks, slowly tapering off as his symptoms reduced and his relief lasted.
After a few months he’d return monthly to keep his system strong so he wouldn’t create more inflammation. We’d also continue to clear any residual damp heat from his joints.
There are several strategies for treating chronic pain with acupuncture. The first is to alleviate the pain resulting from unresolved issues “overflowing” into/out of the muscles, joints, skin etc. The second is to clear the issues from their latent hiding places, usually deep in the bones, joints or blood vessels, maybe even the organs themselves. The third is to strengthen the body’s physiological function (metabolism – respiration, digestion and elimination) so further issues won’t develop.
The major acupuncture “channel system” that treats latent lurking issues, especially those affecting the joints are called “the Divergent Channels,” named after their ability to “divert” unresolved issues from the organs into hiding places like the joints.
The joints are bony structures that are usually able to hide unresolved issues for a long time. However after months or years of the body depositing into these areas, the joints can “overflow” or “empty” causing what was hidden to emerge, causing problems such as pain.
In acupuncture diagnostic theory, we assess if a condition is one of “fullness” or “emptiness.” What this means is determining how well the body is maintaining latency or keep a condition hidden or quiet. Fullness means there is latent, unresolved issues within the area, which is being kept under control, causing it to be either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. Emptiness means the body is no longer keeping the condition hidden or quiet, causing more severe symptoms.
The art of acupuncture diagnosis is determining “fullness” or “emptiness” based on symptoms as well as diagnostic tools like findings in the pulse and tongue. Both the pulse and tongue can show where issues are being held in the body, and how strong the physiology of the body is its management.
In my patient’s case, his hip joint was failing to maintain longterm Damp Heat being deposited there. The Damp Heat was the result of years of lifestyle excess and emotional stress that his body failed to detox. My first strategy was to clear the overflowing or flooding of Damp Heat that was occurring, causing the extreme pain in his hips, legs and feet.
Once the condition has been returned to a state of “fullness” or relative control, we start gently detoxing the “lurking” Damp Heat from the deeper aspects of the body, as well as looking into the deeper cause or “root” of the problem.
Healing is a process. It takes time, and focus and commitment.
Upon first meeting my patient, he complained of severe “stabbing,” burning pain in his hip and legs that was worse upon walking. He also had some neuropathy in his feet. Mentally, he said he was nearing a hopeless state.
His pulses were slippery and rapid that were also very tight, suggesting accumulation of damp heat Qi-energy and blood stagnation, I determined I’d use the Stomach’s Divergent Channel to try and clear the overflowing Damp Heat and smooth the stagnation of blood and Qi-energy from his Stomach and Gallbladder channels traveling into the hip, pelvis, legs and feet.
After the first treatment, the patient was able to get off the treatment table without difficulty, expressing great emotion due to how good he felt. He actually cried, saying he didn’t believe he’d ever feel better. Yet he finally felt relief, when nothing else had worked for him. I told him to return in 3 days to continue the process.
When I saw him for the second session he was still much improved. We continued the same treatment. He’d had an epidural that his medical doctor insisted upon, so we had to work with that too. He told me the following week that he had a lot of pain following the epidural, which he decided was not effective. Yet the treatment he had with me gave him much relief.
On treatment #3 I started working on the deeper energetic layers of his body, through another acupuncture “channel system” called the Extraordinary Vessels. These channels reach deep into the joints like the Divergent Channels, but also work on the deepest physiological function of the body. They are sometimes called the body’s “matrix” channels because they effect the constitution, or deepest functionality.
The particular Extraordinary Vessels I used were Chong Mai (considered the “Sea” or “reservoir” of Blood and also of Food and Drink) and Dai Mai (the belt vessel). The Extraordinary Vessels are called “reservoirs” and “ditches.” They hold onto precious body resources, as well as deep unresolved pathogenic junk.
Dai Mai, the “belt” vessel travels around the waist. It is seen as the depository for that which we are unable to resolve in life – the big things that overwhelm us. This can be overindulgence in food and behavior, as well as diseases or emotional material we haven’t fully digested or eliminated. This material gets stored around the waist, causing problems of the gut, uro-genital systems, low back and hip areas. Dai Mai is a depository for damp heat.
Philosophically damp heat is seen as desires that have not been met or resolved. It is physically seen as undigested metabolites, but emotionally or spiritually as psychic material that has a lingering, haunting or unsatisfied flavor to it.
It’s not yet clear as to what is lingering in the Dai Mai of my patient, but he is beginning to allude to it. Without even needing to ask a patient what they are holding onto, simply doing the treatment via acupuncture starts a patient thinking and talking. They start to become aware of what they’ve been holding onto: what feels unresolved or what needs and wants are unmet. They come in contact with their “victimization” and sentimentalities.
There is an acupuncture point on the hip, along the Gallbladder’s acupuncture channel called “Continuous Jumping.” Another point along this channel is called the “five pivots.” The inference of these points imply a person who has lost both the ability to “jump” and “leap” as well as the ability to change direction, pivot or even hold themselves together. Another name for the “five pivots” is the “five ancestral sinews” which are muscles that hold the bony cavities of the skeleton together. An acupuncture point lower on the leg of the Gallbladder channel is called “Illuminating Brightness,” suggesting a person’s ability to see. The classical symptom of this point when diseased is the inability to rise from a seated position.
The Gallbladder channel is described as the bridge into the level of the Extraordinary Vessels, and also the “curious organs” which include the brain, bones, spine, blood vessels and uterus/prostate/genitals. When damp heat stagnates in the curious organs or extraordinary vessels via the Gallbladder many issues can arise. The problems with my patient’s hips can be considered a damp heat problem affecting the curious organs, in his case the joints. There is arguably a perception aspect to this problem. But we are still exploring this through the Gallbladder channel and the Extraordinary Vessels.
Dai Mai shares several acupuncture points with the Gallbladder channel, having much in common pathologically. Both influence the bones and joints and deal with the accumulation of damp heat as well as resentment.
Chong Mai in contrast is the major reservoir of the body. It is seen almost like the stem cells of the body, holding the original code of form and function of a person’s constitution. It is called the “Sea” of Blood, Food and Drink due to its role in holding onto deep reserves of energy and blood, but also the capacity for the body to regain its best functioning.
Chong Mai as the “sea” of blood has the capacity to both nourish the blood as well as move the blood. It also addresses a person’s metabolism and ability to transform damp heat for elimination. Diagnostically “stabbing” pain is associated with stasis of blood, which requires moving the blood therapeutically. This is a necessary addition to this patient’s treatment.
Blood in Chinese medical thinking is a bit more expansive than in the West. Blood is seen as consciousness, where the mind and emotions circulate. Thereby to move the blood means also moving the consciousness. Breaking up blood stasis means breaking through the “bruised” emotional body. If damp heat is seen as unresolved desires, blood stasis is trauma and the resultant stuck-ness of mind that can result.
The strength of acupuncture is the ability to treat not only the physical body but also the mind and spirit. In my practice I always give my patients the opportunity to explore and express their mental and emotional difficulties. There is often a link between physical ailments and the spiritual self. The body, mind and spirit are in a constant state of evolution. My job as an acupuncturist is to assist my patients in this process. To find out where they are getting stuck, or where they lack the energy to move forward in their lives.
To treat the physical treats the mental and spiritual, and vice versa. To free the body often frees the mind and releases stuck emotions.