Caring for Winter Aches & Pains

February 5, 2008 at 4:25 pm Leave a comment

If you have any kind of body aches and pains – from severe arthritis to that annoying stiffness when you get out of bed in the morning – chances are it feels a little worse in the winter. In Chinese medicine, pain is said to come from stagnation of qi in the channels: when things aren’t flowing smoothly, the blocked energy starts causing trouble.

In the winter, cold damp weather can invade the channels, causing obstruction and pain; and most of us are less active this time of year, which can add to the problem. The knees and lower back, associated with the Kidney system, are especially vulnerable in winter.

If you have body pain that affects your activities, sleep, or ability to concentrate, or makes you feel unhappy or tired, please consider getting it treated. Many of us tend to push through pain, compensate for it, and try not to complain. We may have been told there’s nothing that can be done, or we may consider it an inevitable part of aging. The truth is, pain is a serious quality of life issue, and it reflects complex happenings in the body that can always be worked with, at least to some degree.

Chinese medicine provides a different approach to pain management. A good treatment always takes the dual strategy of relieving the pain symptoms as quickly as possible, while also addressing the underlying patterns in the body that contribute to and reinforce the pain. (This is called treating the branches and the root.) Even when there are structural issues involved, the body can often be trained to function more smoothly around them.

In addition to acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicines have been shown to be extremely effective for pain relief. For example, Corydalis (yan hu suo), an herb frequently used in pain formulations, has been shown to have 40% of the painkilling strength of morphine. Chinese herbal formulas are usually composed of 5-15 different ingredients. This allows your prescription to be individually tailored to your pain, its location and causes. Formulas are also balanced to be gentle on your body and prevent side effects.

Taking care of your own qi flow can also make a big difference in your pain level. The following are some simple things you can do to help yourself.

Self-Care for Body Pain

  1. Tai Chi and Yoga are ancient forms of exercise designed to gently balance and move energy in the body. Try tai chi classes in Brookline at, or in Somerville at If you’d like yoga recommendations, give me a call!
  2. Make sure you’re dressed warmly enough, indoors and outdoors. The subtle muscle tension that happens when we’re just a little too cold can shut down qi flow and add to pain and stiffness.
  3. Take a hot bath. I especially recommend a salt and soda bath, a simple and inexpensive recipe for a mineral soak. It’s relaxing, energizing, and extremely soothing to sore muscles and joints:
    Pour 1 cup of baking soda and 1 cup of salt into a warm bath.
    (If you’re breaking a sweat, it’s too hot), and soak for about 20 minutes.
  4. Eat warming, stimulating foods. Soup and tea are great for everyone. Warming spices and flavors tend to help energy flow: these include cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, any kind of pepper. If you tend to run hot, or have night sweats, skip the spicy stuff and go for peppermint and eggplant, which are both moving and cooling.
  5. Get a massage or acupuncture treatment.
  6. Do anything that makes you happy! Stress, depression, crankiness, etc. create qi stagnation. Laughter and love keep things moving. Taking care of your heart takes care of your body!

Entry filed under: Musculoskeletal. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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