Leg pain can occur anywhere from the hip down to the heel, and can come in many forms, such as pain that is constant versus intermittent, pain that develops suddenly versus gradually, or pain that affects the entire leg versus a certain area such as the knee or shin. The quality of the pain can also range, from dull and aching to tingling or sharp and stabbing. Because we rely on our legs to get us around, leg pain can interfere with our daily lives by affecting our ability to walk, put weight on the leg or feel stable standing on our own two feet.
Most often leg pain is caused by damage to a bone, muscle, ligament or tendon. However, leg pain doesn’t always originate in your leg, spinal problems or injuries can cause pain to radiate into the leg from the lower back, such as with sciatica. Other conditions can also cause leg pain such as infections; vascular disorders including blood clots or varicose veins; and narrowed arteries that can reduce blood flow to the legs and cause pain with exercise.
In Chinese medicine pain is typically due to an obstruction of the flow of qi (energy) and blood throughout the body’s meridians or channels. Often the reason for this is an invasion of the body by “external evils”: wind, cold, dampness and heat. External evils are basically terms for the various ways that our environment affects our health- a good example of this is during the winter season when we are more prone to catching “cold”. In the case of pain, an external invasion will affect the muscles, bones, tendons and joints, and will present symptoms of either aching pain, heaviness, numbness, lack of mobility, or swelling and redness.
Each type of invasion presents symptoms according to the characteristics of its nature. A wind-pattern will cause leg pain which moves throughout various locations in the leg for short periods of time. Cold-pattern will have symptoms of severe pain in the leg or leg joints in a fixed location, as well as a cold sensation, pain decreasing with application of heat and increasing with exposure to cold, and a lack of mobility in the leg. Dampness-pattern pain will have symptoms of heaviness and aching in the leg or the leg joints, swelling, numbness, pain in a fixed location, and an increase in the pain during rainy or overcast weather. Heat-pattern pain will also have severe pain as with cold-pattern, but will show symptoms of heat, redness and swelling in the area of pain, lack of mobility in the leg and general body symptoms of feverishness, thirst, and irritability.
Because qi-energy and blood circulate through the body to allow it to function properly and to heal when injured, any time the flow is blocked (such as with external invasions), problems inevitably develop. This is especially true when the blockage occurs in an area of the body that we constantly rely on, such as our legs. If we continue to make our regular demands on our legs, over time these demands will deplete and weaken the area, leading to pain, weakness, or injury.
With acupuncture we can remove these blockages to allow full circulation of qi-energy and blood to the legs. By determining the cause of the pain, we can cater treatment to the specific problem of each individual. A person may also have internal imbalances or weaknesses that make him or her particularly prone to a leg injury of some sort. By looking at each person’s individual health, we can not only resolve the pain and weakness that is being experienced, but we can also strengthen the body so that it is functioning in better health and less prone to a repeat injury or pain problem in the future.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.