You know when it's coming...
The rain, the next cold-front, or maybe the hot and humid weather bother you more instead. When the aches and pains first started, you suspected the weather might have a role to play, but by this point the connection is clear—and it’s not enough to blame the barometric pressure. The good news is, Chinese Medicine has understood and validated the relationship between how the environment affects our bodies and health for centuries.
If your pain is worse with certain weather patterns, this is an important diagnostic clue. Understanding the types of weather that impact your pain is one of the many ways Traditional Chinese Medicine looks beyond your symptoms and conventional diagnosis to treat the root cause(s) to your pain.
So what can it mean when your pain flares up with windy, damp, cold, or hot weather? From a Chinese Medicine perspective, this can point to a "Painful Obstruction (Bi) Syndrome."
Painful Obstruction Syndrome
In Chinese Medicine there is a saying: “where there is free flow, there is no pain; where there is a lack of free flow, there is pain.” Painful Obstruction or Bi Syndrome refers to acute or chronic pain and stiffness in the musculo-skeletal system (bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles) due to the obstructed flow (stagnation) of Qi and blood.
With Bi Syndrome, there can be varying qualities of pain, numbness, tingling, heaviness, swelling, sensations of heat or coolness, and decreased mobility. However, a defining quality is pain that is worse with the presence of natural elements: wind, damp, cold, and heat.
The Root Causes of Bi Syndrome
Our bodies are reflections of our external environment, and they are always adapting to keep up with day-to-day and seasonal changes. Just like how viruses, bacteria, and allergens are key culprits for externally-contracted illness conventional medicine, in Chinese Medicine, our environment, and the elements that define it, can become pathogenic as well. These elements are more likely to “invade” and become generated internally from:
- Prolonged exposure from living, working, or exercising in a certain climate
- Acute exposure from dressing inadequately for the weather
- Weak digestion, poor appetite, dietary influences
- Overuse of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory (“pain-killers”), Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI), etc.
- Genetic predisposition; lowered immune resistance
- Overwork (physically + mentally) as well as insufficient exercise; poor ergonomics
- Direct Injury (creates blood stasis) or Post-Surgical Pain (build-up of scar tissue and/or use of metal internally)
In summary, Painful Obstruction can affect individuals who are both chronically stressed and suffer from Qi and "Blood Stagnation" as well as those with a Qi + "Blood Deficiency", each of which creates an environment for pathogens to invade and become lodged in the body.
Convention Conditions that are Related to Bi Syndrome
From a biomedical perspective, Bi Syndrome can correspond with the below (and to be sure, this list is not exhaustive:
- Injury due to bio-mechanical strain
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Degenerative Joint Disease
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Rheumatoid + psoriatic arthritis
Different Types of Bi Syndrome
Chinese Medicine requires careful differential diagnosis to specify the underlying causes and pathogens causing the painful obstruction in the first place. As mentioned above, there are both internal and external causes that can contribute to Bi Syndrome, as well as different patterns based on the location and nature of the painful obstruction. What follows is a generalized pattern differentiation according to the most common Bi Syndromes due to external pathogens in Chinese Medicine.
- Wind Bi: Pain comes and goes, rapidly moving to different parts of the body; creates stiffness with limited range of motion. The location is not-fixed. Wind makes the pain worse. Because this type moves of Bi from area to area, it is also known as "Wandering Bi."
- Cold Bi: Pain is constant, severe, tight, or sharp in nature; it is fixed in location. Cold temperatures worsen the condition, and warmth improves it. You might have an aversion to cold. Because this type of Bi usually results in severe pain, it is also known as "Painful Bi.
- Damp Bi: Pain is characterized as soreness, dull, achy, and throbbing. Dampness tends to linger and sink in nature: there might be swelling in the skin, muscles, and joints, especially in the knees and ankles. Pain can also be accompanied by sensations of heaviness or numbness. The pain tends to remain fixed. Dampness worsens the condition and you usually have an aversion to rainy, humid weather because of it.
- Heat Bi: Heat predominates when a Wind-Cold-Damp pathogen becomes entrapped over time, creating a move severe form of Qi stagnation— Qi constraint. When constraint forms it festers, and unable to “vent” or be released, it generates heat internally. Heat Bi is characterized by inflamed, red, swollen joints. You might have an aversion to heat since that makes the pain worse.
Bi Syndromes can develop as combinations, such as Wind-Cold, Cold-Damp, Damp-Heat, Wind-Heat, etc. Only a Licensed Acupuncturist can accurately diagnose Painful Obstruction Syndrome and differentiate which type of Bi you have, if any shared above.
Acupuncture for Holistic Pain Relief
There is a dire need to manage pain more holistically in our healthcare system. Between the Opioid Crisis, emerging evidence on the dangers of steroid injections, and a culture where popping pills is a reflex at the first sign of discomfort, the status quo is problematic because it promotes superficial symptom support—not healing.
I am grateful to be able to share this medicine with others, because it can be a transformative experience when you allow yourself to tune into what your body is telling you through our symptoms. It is with this awareness that we can begin to address the root of the issues you are experiencing instead of settling for “quick-fixes” with potentially harmful side effects.
Whether you are considering Acupuncture as your first-choice or last-resort, at our practice we will help you navigate your health with personalized care—giving you the resources and tools to improve your pain beyond your treatments and time working together. That is how we strive to give you a foundation for long-term wellness and sustainable pain relief.