We all know that blood circulates in our bodies. But what you may not know is that aside from being a vital nutrient substance blood can also be a cause of pain in the body. One of the ways blood causes pain is when it becomes “stagnant.” That is, locations where blood becomes “static” (e.g., sluggish) in the organs and tissues.
The following list of common ailments related to the quality of blood, paints a picture of how many different issues are related to the quality of our blood.
- 25.1 million Americans live with heart disease
- 32% of Americans suffer hypertension
- 12% of females over age 20 are deficient in iron
- 16% of adults have high-cholesterol
- 1 in 6 Americans contract arthritis
- 26 million Americans, between ages 20-64, suffer back pain
Blood Formation and Circulation
Blood is formed by the essence of the food and beverages we consume. This essence is extracted by the energetic function of the spleen and stomach, which also produce qi or life force.
Once formed, blood circulates not only in the veins but throughout the body by way of the meridian complex. It is jointly controlled by the heart (which dominates blood and vessels and circulates it), the liver (which promotes the free-flow of qi, stores blood and regulates blood volume in circulation), and by the spleen (which controls the blood and prevents hemorrhaging).
Since traditional Chinese medicine views the entire body as a connected whole, it views the coordinated efforts and proper functioning of these three organs that ensures the continuous circulation of blood in the vessels. Dysfunction of the heart, spleen or liver may lead to abnormal circulation of blood, which causes pain, illness or disease.
Blood stagnation is both a symptom and a cause of ill-health. It is caused by poor circulation of blood that itself is caused by deficient or stagnation of qi or by an excess of cold or heat in the blood itself.
When the qi (vital energy) is deficient or stagnant, it is unable to properly propel the blood through the body.
When cold enters the body it constricts the channels and impedes blood circulation.
When heat enters the body and enters the channels it raises the blood temperature, thereby “rendering it down” (if you will) and obstructing the free flow of blood.
When there is internal hemorrhage as a result of a traumatic injury, blood may also stagnate, causing bruises or more serious internal bleeding.
Manifestations of Blood Stagnation
Depending on the area of the blood stagnation, and indeed the cause of it, various signs and symptoms may present themselves. Here are some examples.
- Blood stagnation in the heart may cause palpitations, what has been described as “a suffocating sensation” in the chest, cardiac pain and a purplish-color to the lips and nails. It may also cause mania.
- Blood stagnation in the lungs may cause chest pain and the expectoration of blood.
- Blood stagnation in the stomach and intestines may cause constipation or bloody stools.
- Blood stagnation in the liver may cause hypochondriac pain.
- Blood stagnation in the uterus may result in lower abdominal pain, scanty or irregular menstruation, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, and a dark menstrual flow with clotting.
- Blood stagnation in the limbs and body surface may cause gangrene, a local purplish or bluish skin color, localized swelling or pain.
Characteristics of Blood Stagnation
Although blood stagnation manifests differently depending on its cause and location, it does present a set of identifiable characteristics. These include: a fixed stabbing-type pain which is aggravated by pressure and gets worse at night; purplish clots (bruises) or serious internal hemorrhage; varicose veins; a dark complexion; scaly and dry skin; bluish or purplish lips and nails; and a purplish tongue.
There is an axiom of traditional Chinese medicine that sums this up nicely:
Tong ze be tong;
Bu tong ze tong.
If there is free flow, there is no pain;
If there is pain, there is no free flow.
So the next time you’re experiencing pain, make a check of the physical signs. Blood stagnation just might be the cause!
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