Most of the stagnation-types of pain involve traumatic injury such as fractures, sprains, infection of tissue and acute pain, which can be efficiently and gently treated with Chinese medicine! After an acute injury has been assessed by urgent or primary care, go to your acupuncturist for a complete plan of care for immediate physical recovery, when other modalities such as physical therapy are not yet indicated.
1) Starting from the most superficial type of stagnation, Qi stagnation involves a type of movement that becomes stuck. Most often it manifests as shoulder and neck pain due to stress which can go away with relaxation exercises. In this case, the muscle tissue itself has not yet been affected. The most common treatments for Qi stagnation involve stress-relieving acupuncture, trigger-point and motor point acupuncture, massage and exercises. Qi stagnation is a component of all the other types of stagnation as well.
2) The next level of stagnation involves the blood. A common example of blood stagnation is a muscle that has been tense and tight, then forms knots in the tissue, disallowing the full relaxation of the muscle, often times presenting in low back and shoulder muscles. Blood stagnation is treated with strong local acupuncture, cupping and gua sha to physically move the blood. It often presents in combination with heat, cold, damp and phlegm stagnation.
3) Heat is part of the inflammatory process, along with redness, swelling and pain. Heat stagnation can be a secondary effect of lingering blood stagnation that starts to become inflamed, or it can be a rapid onset inflammation or infection. Heat stagnation is treated with cooling techniques, using acupuncture distally to relieve heat and inflammation while applying cooling herbal poultices and/or liniments topically. Internal herbs can be used to treat infection and inflammation concurrently. Heat is often combined with damp and blood stagnation.
4) Cold stagnation can either have a fast or a slow origin of onset, with acute onset of a physical exposure to cold causing the muscle tissue tense and the local cellular metabolism to slow down. This causes sharp stabbing pains similar to muscle cramps, accompanied by a deep ache. This can be seen with low back pain after a long bike ride- if the low back is improperly covered, or riding through a cold and rainy environment. Cold stagnation can also affect the knee joints, especially if there is an underlying arthritic condition. Cold stagnation is treated with warming topical liniments and poultices as well as heat packs and moxibustion combined with acupuncture to relax and warm the area. Cold stagnation is often combined with blood or phlegm stagnation.
5) Damp stagnation involves swelling that is still soft, such as puffiness after a sprain or around a repetitive-motion injury. This can be found around the shoulder blades from overuse of the arms or across the entire low back after intense physical labor. Dampness is treated with cupping, heat poultices, local acupuncture and constitutional body points for eliminating dampness.
6) The most bizarre and deep-seated type is phlegm stagnation: a type of hard nodule or mass at the center of a deep bruise, a fatty lipoma, or the swelling of vertebrae involved in arthritis. Blood and Qi stagnation must both exist prior to the formation of phlegm stagnation. This potentially takes the longest to resolve due to the need to diminish the tissue accumulation. Strong local acupuncture, plum-blossom acupuncture, cupping, gua sha, moxibustion and topical plasters and soaks are all used to treat this more difficult type of stagnation.
These six types of stagnation interact with each other and change over the course of an injury or illness. Come see us today to see how we can help your stagnation pain feel better!