Abdominal pain is pain and discomfort experienced anywhere in your torso between your chest and your pelvis. Abdominal pain may appear as an accompanying symptom to many diseases such as abdominal masses, appendicitis, hernia, and many gynecological disturbances. Unless the pain is severe, abdominal pain is usually not considered a medical emergency. In many cases of abdominal pain, no definitive diagnosis can be made, and is considered benign. In this article we will be discussing uncomplicated abdominal pain which will not include the diseases just mentioned.
In Chinese medicine (TCM), abdominal pain can be caused by a problem with the actual organs contained in the abdomen as well as a disruption in the energetic meridian that passes through the abdomen. There are many factors that can cause these kind of disruptions such as the body retaining either excess heat or cold from our environment, excessive diet and drinking, emotional upset leading to stagnation of energy causing obstruction or lack of nourishment to the meridians, or yang energy deficiency causing again a lack of nourishment as well as obstruction, all of which can result in abdominal pain.
With Chinese medicine it is important to differentiate what type of abdominal pain is being experienced. To do this we look at the symptoms of the abdominal pain to see what they represent. It is important to first differentiate whether it the imbalance is due to heatt, cold, excess or deficiency. Abdominal pain that is aggravated by pressure and occurs after eating usually indicates excess, while abdominal pain relievable by pressure and occurring during hunger usually shows deficiency. If the pain is relieved by heat it means a cold syndrome, while if it were relieved by cold it indicates a heat syndrome. All of these are diagnostic descriptions that help an acupuncturist determine what aspect of the body is experiencing imbalance.
Differentiation also considers whether the pain is caused by qi-energy or blood disorders. A migrating and distending pain indicates stagnation of qi-energy, and a localized stabbing pain indicates blood stasis. In order to identify what organs are involved, we look at where the pain is located. If the abdominal pain radiates to the upper side abdominal region, it usually indicates a disorder of the liver and gallbladder. If it is located around the belly button it indicates a disorder of the spleen, stomach, intestine and bladder. If the pain radiates to the lower back it relates to the kidneys.
All of these indicators help an acupuncturist determine a treatment plan for treating abdominal pain and help identify the underlying cause. By doing so, we are able to address the problem in a way that allows us to resolve the problem, rather than simply relieve or mask symptoms.
Because abdominal pain is an example of a symptom that can have so many different causes depending on the individual, it is a good example of why acupuncture is so effective and how it can cater to each person’s individual health picture in order to best address health problems and improve all-round health.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.