Blood stasis is what Chinese Medicine labels a "secondary cause of disease". Something else must happen before it occurs. The easiest example: you drop the fry pan on your foot, it causes a bruise. Literally a bruise is blood stasis: a bunch of capillaries are broken by the injury, the blood leaks out. Your body uses inflammation to shut down any additional blood loss. Inflammation causing swelling and limits the oxygen to the area. The lack of O2 is what causes the distinct black and blue color of a bruise.
You trip while training for the Bolder Boulder and sprain your ankle. What happens? The area turns black and blue, it swells: blood stasis. Do a good job of staying off your ankle, getting acupuncture, letting it heal, and doing gentle PT, you'll clear out the blood stasis. If, for whatever reason, the ankle isn't able to heal like it should, you'll end up with one of those chronic injuries that becomes painful when it's overused or when a weather front comes in.
The Stream Analogy
I was talking to one of my patients about blood stasis. She asked me: "How can blood ever be stagnant? It's pumping all the time." It's a good point, but think about a creek: the same amount of water flows through it all the time, but there are some places where the water rushes quickly. There are many places that the water slows and pools deeper. In these places, you might smell the musty smell of algae growing. It's harder for water to flow as smoothly through these areas. The more the water slows down, the harder it is to clean out the gunk, so this is where the dried leaves, muck and garbage collect. It works the same way in your body. Where qi and blood aren't moving smoothly, pain results.
The Low Down on the Slow Down
It's a maxim of Chinese Medicine that "The Qi leads the Blood". When the qi slows down, we get qi stagnation. When the qi stagnates long enough, eventually the blood slows down, too. My first example is of my dear beloved aunt. We'll call her Auntie Katherine. Auntie Katherine has 'cankles', those kind of calf/ankles that flow over the tops of her shoes. She was never a very active sort and spends most of her time in a chair watching game shows. She rarely gets her heart rate up, so her Qi doesn't get moving much. Over time, the blood slowed down, too. Her lower legs became swollen and covered in a spidery network of painful-looking veins. Sure, her blood is still flowing, but not flowing very efficiently, hence the fat ankles and painful legs.
In a Mess with Stress
Another example: Joe, a businessman is 45. He works at the Acme widget factory as an executive. His work is very stressful; he spends a lot of his days shouting into his speakerphone at the incompetant nincompoops he's forced to work with. Let's look at his signs and symptoms: headaches, high blood pressure, red face, and he's angry most of the time. Any of us can easily diagnose him with "stress". What do we know about stress? It stagnates the qi, slows it down, makes it flow erratically. Stagnate the qi long enough, you end up with blood stasis. Blood stasis in Joe's case might very well end up manifesting as a blood clot that causes a stroke or a heart attack.
Stagnant qi is not the only reason for blood stasis. Cold can play a part, too. Marcy, 25, is a competitive runner. She has very painful menses, so painful in fact that she has to take a day off work to lay on the couch with a hot water bottle. When I asked her about her training regimen, she admitted that she ran outside winter and summer in shorts and a t-shirt. I asked her to either train inside when it was cold or to wear leg warmers to keep the acupuncture channels of the lower legs warm. I told her if she wanted things to change, she needed to stop wearing flip flops, crop tops and capri pants in the winter months. She followed my recommendations, and along with Chinese herbs to warm the uterus, her pain ceased.
Wait? Aren't you supposed to put ice on traumatic injuries? Well, there's been a lot of discussion about that recently in the news. Some MDs and PTs feel that limiting the amount of inflammation in the area, by using ice, will speed healing. Others counter that it's actually slowing the healing process and there's no benefit to it. I'm of the opinion that you should only ice an injury *if* it brings relief and only for the first 24 hours. Then, switch to warm compresses.
I'm Lookin' at You Jackie Chan
Martial artists are at a great risk for hidden blood stasis. They are active enough that their Qi flows nicely. However, they spend a lot of time falling and getting hit. Their pulse is likely to cover the telltale "choppy" pulse of someone with blood stasis. Looking at the underside of your tongue is a good indicator for blood stasis. Does it have bulging purple or blue veins? That's a good sign you have some blood stasis going on in your body. If you see them, don't panic. Come in for an assessment and we'll determine the right course of action for you.
The good news about blood stasis: it's reversible. There are lots of different ways to treat it including lifestyle, acupuncture and Chinese herbs. The bad news about blood stasis, it's not as easy to clear out as Qi stasis and leads to significant issues over time. As usual, approaching problems early leads to easier and more effective treatment in the long run.
**Note: these case histories, although based on real people, are completely fictional.**
issues including pain, stress, insomnia, arthritis, allergies, depression, headaches,
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