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Aging and Pain

Dec 16, 2010 | Acupuncture

An Acupuncturists’ View On Aging And Pain

Jill Ellen Smith L.Ac., M.Ac.
For the Howard County Women’s Journal

An 87 year old woman came to see me the other day. Her daughter drove her to my office. As the daughter exited her SUV, I waited to see what her mother looked like as she was assisted out of the vehicle. But that’s not what happened. The daughter simply walked up the sidewalk, leaving her mother to her own devices. (… now this was going to be interesting).

The passenger side door opened and out walked this elegant casually dressed woman. Her step was agile and smooth, her posture erect, her eyes sparkled in the afternoon sun. I greeted her and we proceeded inside.

Joan’s chief complaint was numbness, burning and tingling down her legs (below her knees), that radiated into her feet. She complained that she didn’t “feel so healthy anymore”. I had to remind her that ‘health’ is a relative conversation. One’s state of health has so much to do with a person’s unique life picture. At 87, Joan was vibrant, mobile, independent, socially active, and enjoyed her widowed life living alone and visiting with friends and her children.

Some of the questions to ask yourself regarding your own health are:

  • Are you in any sort of chronic pain?
  • How do you do the ‘dance’ of life? How to you respond to the fluctuations of life around you? Are your responses to life brittle and edgy or smooth and easy (…like water off a duck’s back).
  • Do you feel ‘rich’ in your life? (this is not a financial question).
  • Do you have a sense of awe or wonder at the world?
  • Do you experience passion in regards to life?
  • All the other ‘stuff’, the aches and pains, the constipation, the insomnia’s etc., these can all easily be addressed through acupuncture.

Getting back to Joan. Joan also has Rheumatoid Arthritis which has mostly affected her knees and hands. Her knuckles are enlarged 2-3 times normal, her fingers stiff and a bit twisted. What shocked me is that Joan has no pain in her hands. She does not ‘flair’ up in pain due to weather changes. Cold and damp weather don’t cause her any noticeable suffering at all! Even her neuropathy in her legs and feet, while bothersome to her… do not cause her suffering.

What I learned, as practitioner, in Joan’s presence, is that our suffering has as much to do with our spirits and emotions as our underlying physical condition.

What do I mean by this? Every single person’s body is unique. We each have a unique set of factors that determine how we show up in life. Our genetics, our life experiences, our nutritional status; our physical injuries, our ‘TARGET organs’ (i.e., where we are most vulnerable… for example, some people tend toward stomach issues, some skeletal muscular issues, intestinal issues, skin issues etc.); our social and cultural experiences that have shaped us; our relationship experiences that have shaped us; and the habitual patterns of behaviors we’ve developed to cope with all of it (some of which serve us and some which don’t). The ‘target’ places in our bodies really do become what I call ‘REPOSITORIES OF PAIN’. These are the places where we deposit the emotional upsets and sorrows… the unresolved angers and bitterness’s… the emotional wounds… the stress.

You see, Joan, at 87 has been blessed with a very easy-going personality… and maybe a fairly smooth sailing life of experiences. Just because the joints of her hands look like they must be extremely painful, they are not. The neuropathy is a fairly new onset for her in her mid-80. What does this mean to me personally and as an acupuncturist? It means that my intention for myself and my patients is to strive for a release of the deposits of pain and unresolved sufferings that cause us physical suffering now.

How do I do this? By understanding that it is so… and that releasing our sufferings is as much a possibility as the sun rising in the morning. While treating the symptoms, I can also address the realm of emotion and spirit. That is the power of Five Element acupuncture. In a non-judgmental safe space, I can support and guide a patient into a place of realizing a bigger possibility for themselves. There are acupuncture points and treatments geared towards opening ‘Gates’ as we call them. With that momentum, it is possible to release the emotional sufferings that contribute to our physical sufferings. In partnership we can discuss and explore these possibilities. Just knowing this creates hope. And hope creates movement. And as I’ve always said, Chinese Medicine is always and foremost about movement of qi (Chi… our life energy).

I hope you have a moving summer.

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