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TCM approach to Stomach Pain

Patients often come to me with these questions: “Whenever I get stressed, my stomach hurts and sometimes I even regurgitate acid. I’ve had a gastroscopy and was diagnosed with mild ulcers. Can traditional Chinese medicine help me?” or “Whenever I eat cold food, I feel unbearable pain in my stomach area. Using a hot water bottle can ease the pain, but can traditional Chinese medicine get to the root of the problem?” and some say “Whenever I’m hungry, my stomach hurts, but it gets better after I eat. And after meals, my stomach hurts. What could be causing this?”

My usual response is that traditional Chinese medicine is very effective in treating stomach pain. From ancient times to the present day, Chinese medicine practitioners have accumulated rich experience in treating various types of stomach pain, and countless cases of treating stomach pain are recorded in medical books. Stomach pain is already mentioned in the classic Chinese medical text, the 黃帝內經 “Huangdi Neijing.” For example, in the 素聞 · 六元正紀大論篇 “Suwen Six Elements Principles and Regularities” chapter, it states: “When wood stagnates, people will have stomach pain.”

The main location of stomach pain is in the upper abdomen. The pain can radiate to the back and may be accompanied by symptoms such as chest and stomach discomfort, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, noisy stomach, belching, regurgitation of acid or clear fluids, loose or hard stools, and even vomiting or bloody stools.

Clinically, stomach pain can be classified into two categories: deficiency or excess. For example, if the stomach is invaded by cold, or if the diet is harmful to the stomach, or if the Liver meridian energy invades the stomach, or if there is blood stasis in the stomach, it is mostly an excess condition.

If the stomach Yin is deficient or the spleen-stomach Yang is weak, it is mostly a deficiency condition. If a chronic illness leads to Qi stagnation 氣滯 and blood stasis 血瘀 due to deficiency, it belongs to deficiency with excess pattern. Excess patterns are usually characterized by sudden and painful pressure, and treatment is relatively easy to take effect. Deficiency patterns are often characterized by slow pain and intermittent relief, and patients often feel better when pressure is applied, but the condition is difficult to cure.

Stomach pain can be treated by relieving the stagnation of energy and pain in the stomach. The specific treatment depends on the cause of the pain. For example, if the cause is a cold stomach, warming the stomach can help. If the cause is indigestion, promoting digestion can help. If the cause is stagnant energy, promoting circulation can help. Different herbal remedies and acupuncture can also be used to treat stomach pain.

Diet therapy is one of the important methods for treating stomach pain, with rich experience accumulated by medical experts throughout history. The stomach is like a warehouse for food and water, and any irregularities in eating or drinking, such as excessive consumption of spicy or greasy food or experiencing discomfort with temperature, can directly affect its function and cause or worsen illness. The stomach prefers moistness and dislikes dryness, so excessive consumption of alcohol, spicy and fatty foods can generate heat and dryness, leading to disease.

Therefore, a balanced diet is crucial for preventing and treating stomach pain. One should eat small meals and avoid alcohol and spicy foods. The saying “treat three parts, nourish seven parts” has significant guiding significance for the regulation of stomach pain.


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