So everybody complains of being tired. Life is busy, and we are pulled in so many directions these days. But where do we draw the line between feeling tired and actual fatigue?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we speak of Qi Deficiency. Qi is the vital life force, or energy of the body and mind, and of course deficiency means that there is not enough.
The general symptoms of Qi Deficiency are Tiredness, Fatigue, Weakness, etc. In particular, it is the fact that these symptoms are worse with exertion, and there may even be Shortness of Breath (which I lovingly abbreviate as SOB). The person looks pale and may have a pale tongue and a weak pulse.
Qi Deficiency is so common, in fact, that it is likely the most common syndrome that TCM practitioners (Acupuncturists and Herbalists) diagnose. But when we look more closely at a person’s type of fatigue, and other symptoms that may be occurring, we begin to differentiate into the basic types of Qi deficiency.
Internal Organ Energy Systems
Each internal organ exists within an energetic system that includes the physical tissues, the chemical and endocrine components that drive the organ, and also a mental or emotional aspect that we usually experience as arising from the mind (or the heart) but that is associated with the function (or dysfunction) of the main Internal organs.
Lung Qi Deficiency
For the Lung organ, the tissues may have been damaged due to genetics or lifestyle factors, and/or there may be an endocrine disruption in the body, which negatively affects the breathing.
Shortness of breath is the main symptom for Lung Qi deficiency, but it can also manifest as propensity to catch a cold, or a person who easily breaks into a sweat. Of course, a patient with chronic cough or asthma is said to have Lung Qi deficiency.
Heart Qi Deficiency
In the Heart organ system, palpitations occur as a natural result of a lack of Qi, or vital energy circulating within the Heart system.
Spleen Qi Deficiency
The Spleen-Pancreas system is responsible to assist the digestive function to uptake nutrients in order to form blood.
The main symptoms of Spleen Qi deficiency may include one or more of the following: poor appetite, loose stool, abdominal bloating, dizziness, bleeding dis-orders (such as easy bruising) and perhaps even the prolapse of internal organs.
TCM Diagnosis: Abdominal Bloating with Normal (increased) appetite
The difficulty for TCM diagnosis is that each patient may have not only one of the aforementioned organ deficiencies, but there is likely another pattern (or two!) going on at the same time.
A recent patient complained of Fatigue, Abdominal Bloating after eating, but definitely not poor appetite, and instead of loose stools, she tended towards constipation. She likely has the Spleen Qi Deficiency syndrome (Fatigue and Abdominal Bloating) but then also some internal heat which is causing an increased appetite and also drying out the stools and causing constipation.
In this case, as with many cases of Spleen Qi Deficiency, the Masters say that we need to treat both the Spleen and Stomach organ systems. Herbal formulas to Tonify the Spleen need to be balanced with herbs that gently cool and clear the internal heat, and promote digestion and bowel movement.
Kidney Qi Deficiency
For the Kidney system, it is understood that Qi deficiency can manifest in 3 main ways:
The first situation is that the Kidney fails to grasp the lung Qi, and this results in the type of asthma where the inhalation is not quite as deep as it should be, with the typical panting breath of the asthmatic.
The second way in which Kidney Qi deficiency manifests is that the Kidney fails to consolidate. The Kidney system is responsible for controlling the 2 lower orifices. If there is not enough energy in the Kidney system (as naturally happens as we get older) there can be dribbling or leaking of urine, or a need to urinate frequently and throughout the night. The other (posterior) lower orifice needs to have enough energy to hold in the Bowel movements and discharge them at the correct time. If the Kidney energy is not strong enough, this may result in failure to control when the BM happens, or even incontinent diarrhea.
Other difficulties with the lower orifices may be a result of a Kidney Qi deficiency, such as excessive vaginal discharge, pre-mature ejaculation, and even some types of mis-carriage.
For children who have difficulty with bedwetting, TCM modalities such as Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine have been helpful to strengthen the Kidney Qi in order to stop the bedwetting.
The third type of Kidney Qi deficiency is more severe, and we sometimes call it Kidney Essence Deficiency. This is when genetic dis-orders result in slow development or lower than normal intelligence or other types of functioning. These cases are hard to treat.
In summary, everybody feels tired some (most) of the time. It is important to have your symptoms evaluated by a medical professional to get an insight into why you are feeling that way. The strength of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is that you can gain insight into your condition even if it is not severe enough to show up on any of the standard medical tests. Also, if you have been diagnosed with something, your TCM Professional can help you to understand ways to naturally strengthen your body’s Qi (Vital Energy).
Why is this Acupuncturist asking me so many questions?… I am only here because I have read that Acupuncture is effective to treat low back pain. Why does she want to look at my tongue, and can she really tell anything about me by feeling my radial (wrist) pulse?
Yes, we will get to treating your back pain, but first we must make a full TCM diagnosis and establish a treatment plan. The whole point is to treat you as a whole person, and we may as well include some points to calm your mind and treat your insomnia or digestion or whatever else is bothering you while we sort out that nagging low back pain problem.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) evolved through centuries of observing the whole of a person’s symptoms and eventually TCM doctors established Syndromes, called Zheng, which can be thought of as “patterns of dysfunction”, or symptoms that often combine together, that give the TCM doctor clues about what is really going on at the root (ben) of your condition. That way, he/she can treat the whole pattern, and bring improvement to many aspects of your functioning, rather that just sticking a needle in your Quadratus Lumborum (low back muscle) to release the muscular tension there (although he/she may do that, too!)
Perhaps your overactive anxiety is diverting energy up to your head and away from where it should be nourishing your low back (We call this Shen Xu Yin Xu Re Zheng). Or maybe you are getting older, and also have some urinary incontinence, or sexual power is becoming diminished (we call this Shen Qi Bu Gu).
The point is, your TCM doctor can assess your overall pattern, and will treat that low back pain accordingly. For older, deficient-type patients, it is probably necessary to take a herbal formula to strengthen the body instead of just releasing the tight low back muscles.
So, be prepared to answer a lot of questions, but one of the great things about seeing an Acupuncturist is the opportunity to learn more about your patterns and things that you can do to improve your overall health and happiness.