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Blood Stasis – The Role of Blood Stasis in Diseases and Pain

By Shihan Mary Bolz
Licensed Acupuncturist
Master of Science Oriental Medicine

Before you agree to have surgery or think that surgery will be the answer to your problem, think about all aspects of your health problem by doing your own research, get opinions from three different medical doctors, and get the opinion of your holistic health care provider. This person may have a completely different angle to your health condition. You should try all modalities of natural healing before resorting to surgery. Sometimes surgery is the right answer and sometimes will be your best option. Unless it is an emergency where putting off surgery would result in death or permanent severe disability if not performed immediately, don’t do it too willingly without covering all the other bases first. Allopathic medicine, chiropractic, Eastern medicine, homeopathic medicine, naturopathic medicine; all of these can work side by side and one does not have to be excluded nor does one always have to take precedence.

When certain organs are removed from the body, such as the gallbladder, the uterus, the spleen, etc., do you think removing them gets rid of the problem? Absolutely not. If these organs are malfunctioning, there is a reason for it, there is an imbalance in the entire system. Getting rid of the gallbladder does not solve the problem. Where does the problem go if the gallbladder is not there? It can go to the liver, and to other nearby and related organs. That which caused the gallbladder to be upset or unbalanced in the first place has not been removed by the surgery. Also, just because the gallbladder is not there does not mean you don’t have the energy of the gallbladder still remaining in the body. It is there. Qi (pronounced chee), called “ki” (pronounced “key”) in Japanese, is the life-force energy that flows along certain meridians or pathways in the body. Each of the internal organs and muscle systems has its own pathway. So whether you have a gallbladder or not, you still have a gallbladder meridian system along which its energy flows and it still affects the rest of your organs and your entire system.

There are many causes of disease, neuromusculoskeletal pain, smooth muscle pain (this would apply to the internal organs of the body), and emotional pain. In Eastern medicine, one of the causes is blood stasis. Today’s topic will be only about blood stasis as a causative factor, even though there are many others. Blood stasis plays a major role.

As the term implies, blood stasis is just that: stagnant blood that is not moving. It is not circulating throughout the body properly. Blood stasis can be localized, such as occurs in trauma or in strains, sprains or bruises, or such as myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) or cerebrovascular accidents (strokes), or any thrombosis (blood clots). Blood stasis can be systemic, such as in emotional disorders, fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, varicose veins, spider veins, body pain throughout the entire body such as fibromyalgia, poor circulation causing very cold hands and feet, or causing poor digestion and poor bowel function. Blood stasis can be the cause of headaches.

The adhesions and scarring that must occur in surgery (which is a trauma to the skin, muscles, and all soft tissues) is a kind of blood stagnation. All functions of the body are compromised when this happens. Scar tissue does not allow the blood to flow properly where it needs to go. Therefore, before causing a very big trauma to your body by surgery, you should make sure it is absolutely a trauma that is worth the cost for what it does to your entire body’s function and health, or even if it will help alleviate the symptoms of your original problem or pain.

Let’s look at blood stagnation as one of the etiologies and pathogeneses of diseases and pain according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The following definition is taken from a common text entitled Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture authored by various doctors in China and published by Foreign Languages Press in Beijing, China:

“The clinical manifestations of stagnant blood vary according to the area affected. Stagnant blood in the heart, for example, may result in a suffocating sensation in the chest, cardiac pain and green purplish lips. Stagnant blood in the lung can cause chest pain and hemoptysis (coughing up blood). Stagnant blood in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to hematemesis (vomiting blood). Stagnant blood in the liver may cause hypochondriac (meaning below the ribs) pain and palpable masses in the abdomen. Stagnant blood in the uterus can cause dysmenorrhea, irregular menstruation, and a dark red menstrual flow with clots. Stagnant blood on the body surface may cause a purplish or green color of the skin and subcutaneous hematoma (bruising under the skin).

Diseases due to stagnant blood, although they can be varied, share certain common characteristics:
a) Pain which is worse with pressure and stabbing in nature.
b) Bleeding which is deep or dark purple in color containing clots.
c) Ecchymoses or petechiae, accompanied by pain in the affected parts, indicate stagnant blood retained in the superficial portion of the body. The tongue may be deep purple in color or show purple spots.
d) There may be fixed purplish masses accompanied by pain.”

Both acute and chronic musculoskeletal pain often displays blood stagnation as at least one of the etiologies. It may be only local blood stagnation. Where there is blood stagnation, there is many times another kind of stagnation in Eastern medicine; that is Qi stagnation. In other words, stagnation of the energy flow in that part of the body or throughout the entire body. Let’s take a look at lower back ache and sciatica as an example. Stagnation of Qi and blood is characterized by a severe, stabbing pain which becomes worse with rest and better with light exercise although it gets worse with overexertion. It is tender to the touch, does not respond to changes in the weather and is much worse standing or sitting. It is also unaffected by the application of heat. Application of cold will make it worse in the long run. The ice may temporarily seem to alleviate the pain by virtue of numbing the nerves in the area. But ice and cold compresses further slow down the movement of the blood causing further blood stagnation and worsening the problem. There is also marked rigidity and stiffness of the back muscles and inability to flex, extend, or turn the waist. Stagnation of Qi and blood in the back in an acute case is usually due to sprain. In chronic cases, repeated sprain causes recurrent attacks of backache, especially if there is a background of kidney deficiency in the person.

As previously mentioned, blood stagnation can be seen in the heart. In allopathic (Western) medicine, depending on the condition, certain anticoagulant medications are prescribed. Allopathic medicine is correct in recognizing that hyper viscosity (too much thickness( of the blood), can be one of the causative factors. An example medication that is prescribed by allopathic physicians is Coumadin. Coumadin does such a good job of being an anticoagulant that it thins the blood too much Many senior citizens are on Coumadin and they soon begin to realize that they bleed easily and also get the dark, purple spots on the skin that we previously described as being part of a blood stagnation problem. Indeed, the blood stagnates in the skin because it leaks out of the vessels where it normally should be held because the Coumadin has thinned the blood too much. So, while it thins the blood, it also causes another form of blood stasis. In other words, it is compounding the problem it was purported to fix.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), herbs can activate (move) the blood, but at the same time build and notify it, so that it is neither too thick nor too thin. Moving the blood does not have to sacrifice the correct viscosity of the blood. That is one of the great advantages of knowing how to use nature to its full potential.

In the liver, blood stasis is seen as a culprit in many diseases; hepatitis of all forms, especially seen in chronic Hepatitis C and liver fibrosis, which in a more advanced stage turns to cirrhosis.

In the uterus, many of the gynecological problems of dysmenorrhea (painful periods), metrorrhagia and menorrhagia (abnormal and excessive bleeding), and amenorrhea ( no menses at all) are a blood stasis problem.

What is the cause of this blood stasis and what can be done about it? If it is injury, we can understand the cause. If it is not due to an injury, where did it come from? It comes from the internal organs malfunctioning, hypo functioning, and even hyper functioning. If it is in the skin or neuro-musculoskeletal system, these organs are not operating properly either. Why? All imbalances are because we had something to do with that, actually we have much to do with that. Overeating, under eating, eating improper foods such as too much fat and sugar and not eating enough nutritious foods causes every cell in the human body to suffer. Without proper nutrients and with too much of certain things like fat, chemicals, and sugar, they can not function. When the cells start to suffer, the organs and tissues and eventually the entire system starts to suffer. Where the imbalance will show up first or the most will depend on which organs were weaker to start with. Neuro-musculoskeletal pain can depend on which internal organs are suffering. Weak muscles are related to the spleen. A problem with ligaments and tendons may be associated with the liver.

Another cause of the blood stasis is literally lack of movement. Many people are not getting enough physical exercise to move the blood and circulate it through the body. It becomes stagnant in certain areas. The muscles in these areas can become hard and tight and thus cause pain. Oppositely, blood stasis can be caused by too much of the same movement. Repetitive motion from certain professions such as computer work or warehouse work where llifting and performing the same motions over and over cause the blood stasis. Emotional stress can do the same thing by putting the muscles in a state of constant spasm or tightness . Once the muscles are tight, the blood movement slows down and a cycle of Qi and blood stagnation is created. A regular, routine exercise regimen is very important in the prevention of blood stagnation. Even when your work is very physical. The body (and mind) needs a variety of motions in multiples directions and of a different nature, such as some twisting, some flexing, some stretching, etc. Keep moving to keep the blood moving!

If a condition has become a real problem and is not being resolved by exercise and diet, then a person needs more help to get back in balance. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese herbology offer a very successful and lasting treatment for such conditions. Acupuncture works in many ways. A previous article by this author was dedicated to an understanding from the scientific point of view how acupuncture works, so we will not go into that this time. But let us be reminded that one of the ways acupuncture works is that it helps to break up blood and Qi stagnation. As soon as the needle is inserted into the areas affected, the body starts responding. It sends out certain chemicals that get everything moving; the blood, the fluid, the nutrients, etc. and the vital life-force energy, the Qi. When all the nutrients, blood and energy flow smoothly, then everything works. The muscles relax and are no longer tight. When the muscles are not excessively tight or rigid, the pain goes away. The needles, when inserted into specific acupoints that are connected to certain organs, such as Tai Chong on the foot for the liver, causes the energy and blood to circulate and redistribute to the liver organ itself. Needles may be placed in certain acupoints to regulate the entire Qi and blood flow and may also be inserted into the “ah shi” (ouch) points. The “ah shi” points are the areas where the patient actually feels the pain. Acupuncture practitioners may palpate the areas and find these areas themselves even if the patient has never said a word about where the pain is. When the stagnation is broken, the body will start to rebalance and heal itself. That is the power of wonderful nature!

Do not underestimate the importance of the smooth flow of blood and Qi to maintain health. Hyper viscosity and stagnated Qi play a role in all the chronic diseases including arteriosclerosis and cancer, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has also developed a very scientific and artful form of herbal pharmacology in the treatment of disease and pain. When your practitioner designs a personalized formula for you, it is well calculated. First, a TCM diagnosis is made by the practitioner (nothing to do with an allopathic medicine diagnosis in most cases, remember, an allopathic medicine diagnosis is more like a symptom or manifestation to an Oriental Medicine practitioner). The patient may have multiple TCM diagnoses, with one being at the forefront, or all being equal. At any rate, the herbal formula that will be prescribed to address the underlying imbalances as well as the symptoms is set up like an army. There are the chief (s) herb, deputies, assistants, envoy(s), mediator (s), and coordinator. For example, a formula that is made up for pain in the lower back will hane some herbs that act as blood movers or activators to deal with the blood stasis, some that move the Qi, some that keep inflammation in check, others that actually strengthen the quality of the blood, some that actually carry the ingredients of the formula to the lower back part of the body, and some that nourish the internal organs that may be playing a role in the back pain, such as the kidneys. Herbs can be ingested or applied as an external compress in certain cases of musculoskeletal pain or tumors. Many times, the patient will be instructed to do both the internal and external herbal formulas as well as acupuncture for optimal results in as timely a manner as possible to alleviate the pain.

Acupuncture and TCM can work beautifully post surgery to keep blood stasis and adhesions at a minimum. It will also enhance the healing process from the surgery and strengthen the body’s healing mechanisms internally and on the immune system level.

Acupuncture and TCM can also help to heal from the trauma and damage that surgery can cause long term. There are many people, who, after having surgery, wish they would not have done it. Sometimes, besides the pain and symptoms they had prior to surgery being just as bad as before or worse, in addition, they have to deal with pain from adhesions. Do not give up. Even worsecase scenarios can be helped if the body is treated right. The body (as all of nature) has an incredible will to be in balance and to maintain homeostasis. It is always working for that. With help from acupuncture and herbs, pain caused by surgery or multiple surgeries can be helped greatly. Even in areas where there is so much scar tissue that the person literally has no feeling there, i.e. it is numb, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can improve the condition. It can make the pain more manageable, improve the circulation, and even eliminate the pain, depending on the severity of the adhesions.

As always, prevention is the best cure. That is why, it is better to make surgery your very last resort after all other options have been exhausted. It is much easier for acupuncture and herbs to treat pre-surgery than post, with much more rapid healing time. You will find that many, many times, you will not even need the surgery. The problem can be resolved and not just gotten out of the way on a superficial level. To keep all of your body parts and get them functioning normally is the way nature intended and that is your best bet.

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