Chronic Pain Syndrome and Dampness

One day, a woman in her mid-forties came to see me complaining of various pains, especially in her right knee and hip. She said that her doctor had diagnosed her with fibromyalgia, or possibly degenerative arthritis, but she was having difficulty fully recovering from it. She looked slightly overweight and had been suffering from digestive problems for a long time – bloating after meals, loose bowel movements, lowered energy, excessive sleeping, and a heavy feeling in the body. I noticed that the cause of her pain was dampness and gave her 10 acupuncture treatments (once or twice a week) and prescribed herbs for 4 weeks. After2 months of treatment she was very happy because her body felt lighter, her energy was higher, and the pains were gone as well. She was especially thankful to have lost some weight.

In Eastern medicine, the elements of wind, cold, damp (and sometimes heat) within the body are regarded as the main cause of pain in the musculoskeletal system. Those elements work individually or cooperatively to provoke pain. However, dampness is so heavy and turbid that it easily combines with wind, cold and heat which otherwise are easy to eliminate on their own. Dampness has the tendency to be chronic once it settles in the shoulders, lower back, knees or feet, making it similar in nature to chronic pain. Both are persistent and difficult to remove. Dampness causes the cervical or lumbar vertebrae to swell and disintegrate once it settles into them, and makes joints like the knees heavy and achy.

How can we know if our body is being attacked by dampness? The first symptom is a persistent tired, heavy feeling especially in the morning, which may be easier to understand if we imagine the body as a sponge which is full of water. The second symptom is edema, which initially causes swelling around the eyes, in the hands, and/or in the painful area. The third is weight gain, and people may find this happens easily even without any increase or decrease in food consumption. And the fourth is abnormality in the digestive and eliminative system. This symptom may occur often in people who overeat or whose constitutions are less capable of dealing with dampness in the digestive system. It may be experienced as frequent bloating, lack of appetite, frequent urination with little output, and loose stools. Other symptoms of excessive dampness include susceptibility to weather (such as feeling heavier and achier in cloudy or cold weather), and increased heat generation in the afternoon.

So what causes dampness? Lack of exercise, overeating, and stress. Proper flexion and extension during exercise can dispel dampness from the joints and muscles. A rolling stone gathers no moss. Eating more than the body can easily digest and absorb creates dampness. And stress makes the flow of energy in the body stagnant. So we need to increase ventilation by opening windows in our mind. Mold doesn’t grow in a well-ventilated room.

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