Is TCM an effective pain remedy?
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a broad term that covers a range of complementary therapies that have been practiced in China for thousands of years.
TCM can refer to therapies like massage, herbal medicines and acupuncture, and many people who are in pain have tried TCM, especially in Asian countries like China, Singapore and Indonesia. But it’s also gaining fans outside of Asia, like in Australia and in the United Kingdom, as people become more open-minded about complementary therapies.
While the main TCM philosophy of restoring the right balance of yin and yang in the body isn’t backed by Western science, is there any scientific evidence that says TCM can help people in pain? And what are the risks you should be aware of if you’re considering TCM?
Researchers from the University of California looked into TCM, and the chemical components of the common herbs used by practitioners. They found that a compound called dehydrocorybulbine (found in the roots of the Corydalis yanhusuo plant) acts much like morphine does, and could help relieve different types of pain, such as acute, inflammatory, neuropathic and chronic pain.
Still, they didn’t go as far as encouraging people to take Corydalis. The plant still has to go through rigorous toxicity testing before it can be deemed safe for the public.
Acupuncture for pain relief?
As we’ve explored in our article about the potential benefits of acupuncture , there is a lot of evidence to suggest that acupuncture can provide relief for people suffering from conditions like arthritis, lower back pain and other types of chronic pain.
Lots of people have experienced benefits after trying acupuncture, and it’s a complementary therapy – as long as you consult your doctor and book your session with a licensed practitioner.
Making changes to your diet
TCM therapists often take a holistic approach to a patient’s health, which is great if you want to improve your diet and learn more about your body and how your lifestyle is affecting your pain.
But unless your TCM practitioner is also a registered dietitian, be cautious about cutting out whole food groups or upping your intake of another type of food. If you think you might be intolerant to something, ask your doctor if he or she can suggest a test to rule things out.
Massage away your aches
Massage – when done correctly – can be a great way of reducing tension in sore joints, improving your circulation and helping you to relax (all of which could help relieve your pain).
TCM: Understand the risks
- Know what you’re buying
If you’re considering trying a herbal remedy, it’s really important that you buy the herbs from a reputable supplier. There are lots of websites selling unsafe versions of these herbs that aren’t being regulated appropriately, and they could be dangerous.
Some could contain traces of steroids, which can cause unwelcome side effects. Researchers at Murdoch University in Australia studying samples of TCM found that some contained aristolochic acid, which has been linked to cancer of the upper urinary tract.
- Potential side effects
Some medical practitioners claim that the side effects of TCM herbal remedies aren’t being reported and studied enough, and that people should approach TCM herbal preparations cautiously until the medical community has been able to properly study the broad range of herbs involved.
Trying TCM for the first time
Because it’s getting so popular, TCM is starting to be scrutinized more by the medical community, and TCM therapists increasingly have to follow many of the same regulations as mainstream healthcare professionals. But there are still a lot of people calling themselves ‘TCM specialists’ who don’t have much formal training in either TCM or Western medicine.
If you’d like to try TCM, speak to your doctor about how it could interact with your medication first. He or she may also be able to tell you about how to find a reputable TCM practitioner and check in with you as you start your sessions to check on your progress.
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