Uh oh, my back is so sore... is a very common words heard in my practice and particularly so during the cold months of winter. It can be very debilitating to say the least. In this article I focus on the main concepts from the point of view of Chinese Medicine which is one of the diagnostic and treatment models in Shiatsu therapy*. Shiatsu frees your joints, tendons, muscles & organs to move and function freely and smoothly. It balances the circulation of energy (Qi) and blood in your body thus controlling the effects of deficiencies, blockages and other pathologies resulting in deep sleep, clear thought, balanced digestion and many other benefits. It is incredibly tonifying** and calming for the body and it's nervous system.
Pain or ache at the lower back can be either one side or both sides as well as hips, knees and many other joints. Pain in these areas is often associated with the Kidney organs because these are located just above the hips and in the case of knees the kidney channels run through them. Chinese medicine associates the yin kidney organs to the yang urinary bladder. It's channels run centrally down the back of the torso and can be thought in western terminology as the body's core strength. In the 5 element model of Chinese Medicine, kidneys and bladder control this deep Yin*** bones and joints aspect of the body. Amongst their functions is the important and delicate task of controlling fluids - absorbing, distributing, filtering and excreting. Our bodies are said to be made up of 60%**** water and this balance is quite sensitive. On top of dehydration an imbalance can also exist in regard to temperature and Qi flows. A small variation can easily bring on intense symptoms. Kidneys administer calming, lubricating and cooling elements in the body thus they can easily get too cold. Kidneys are thought to be our energetic catalyst and last storehouse of energy. The catalyst part is like a spark that is used to ignite the metabolic processes. If your metabolism is sluggish it could be that, as the saying goes, your "spark is missing". This can be a type of Chronic fatigue syndrome*****.
More than any other part of the body Kidneys suffer when exposed to excessive cold. This aspect seems to clash with prevailing fashion when it prescribes short tops and jackets combined with low-rise jeans that leave the lower back exposed to the cold weather. A number of very important acupressure points reside in the lower back region and the other are at the base of our feet. This is the other problematic area when combined with barefoot walking on cold floors. Thongs in winter are thus a big no no. Exposed backs and feet leave these parts vulnerable to entry of external damaging forces such as cold and damp.
Kidneys are our last resort storehouse of energy.This is the type of energy that is liberated with the consumption of coffee (tea and other stimulants) which contain very little in terms of caloric content ie energy. It causes Qi flows drawn from this storehouse. When we work long hours, a demanding job and an overly active life with many late nights they make up the shortfall in our energy stores. Stress is particularly draining on the kidney stores. In ongoing situations this becomes problematic and can manifest as chronic lower back pain.
Physical, mental or emotional stress is particularly draining on these stores and it is quite common to experience pain post a traumatic event such as a relationship breakdown. It is a feedback mechanism that really needs to be preempted by active consideration to our rest needs. Research is now also reframing its theories on rest requirements according to the load on our brains. So if you have had a mentally challenging day perhaps instead of a heavy workout at the gym do a yin yoga or a Tai Chi session.
1) Wear tops, jumpers and jackets that cover the lower back well and keep it as warm as possible. This is especially true on cold wintery days.
2) Keep your feet warm and dry as much as possible.
3) Make time to replenish your stores by balancing work with adequate rest and fun. Get some early nights in.
4) Coffee is best when consumed as a desert - sparingly and relished because of it.
5) A stressful day needs to factor proportionally increased down time. Yoga a good read and an early night is the ticket.
Points 1 and 2 are mainly applicable to the cool and colder months and point three, well, any time.
Running down our kidneys drops our defences and permits easy entry of pathogens such as cold and damp which can lead to complications and deeper systemic problems later in life.
Whilst this article focusses on the pain associated with kidney disharmonies in real life knees and other joints have many other meridian channels running through them and imbalances in any of these can and does cause painful problems to present. If your lower back, knees and other joints are experiencing difficulties Shiatsu with a comprehensive treatment plan is well placed to bring balance to your body be it the kidneys, joints or other organ systems. The rule of thumb to consider is that the longer a condition persists the more entrenched the pathology becomes and a more treatments are necessary to support your recovery.
* Shiatsu is a deep body of work originating from Japan, a synthesis of deep energetic methods in alignment with the theory and practice of Chinese Medicine (TCM). Using extensive tools such as finger or palm pressure, acupressure, stretching, moxa-heat, cupping-vacuum and lineaments on acupoints (Tsubo's) and channels. Diet therapy is also an integral part of Shiatsu and is often discussed post treatment.
** Tonifying - a Chinese Medicine term to indicate reinforcing and strengthening. It is generally used in the context of organ function but also other tissues eg Quadratu Lamborum (lower back muscle). It refers to a tone of the area where an acupoint/acupuncture point or Tsubo may reside.
*** Yin. This term is used within the context of Chinese medicine in conjunction with the term Yang. Yin representing the polar opposite of Yang which is the moving, hot, dynamic, motivating, work, insubstantial energy right up to the etheric mind and spirit. Yin is thus the opposite. It represents dense, solid parts of the body, such as the bones, blood, cool, liquids, muscles and other tissues. The substantial parts you can see and touch. It is a continuum and in a body and everything else both are present.
**** Water content of human body is approximately 60% for a 70kg average male with 55% for a typical female. (http://www.anaesthesiamcq.com/FluidBook/fl2_1.php)
***** Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a debilitating and drawn out lack of energy, enthusiasm and deep exhaustion. This is achronic condition often experienced by students after many years of intensive and demanding university courses. High stress corporate careers are the other in danger professions.