Blood Stasis & Complex, Long-Standing and Multi-System Disease

A recent article in a medical journal, presented as an amusing tidbit on the strange practices of medicine in other countries, detailed a study of joint pain treated by applying leeches around joints during one to five sessions. The study of 105 patients was presented at the European Congress of Rheumatology in Stockholm*.

Not surprising to anyone trained in Oriental medicine, this treatment was found to have benefited every one of the 105 patients. As reported, "All patients had benefits, including reduced muscle pain, less early morning stiffness, and better range of motion." Patients were diagnosed with either rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

The report goes on to state, "There were no significant side effects."

Blood Stasis is a Common Factor in Many Syndromes and Diseases

It is a very unusual treatment which benefits everyone and has no side effects, so this phenomenon is certainly worth investigating further. But in fact, this study affirms one of the fundamental truths of classical Chinese medicine, that chronic and enduring diseases are associated with blood stasis.

You don't have to have seen The African Queen to know that leeches activate blood circulation, and prevent clotting. Only slight modern medical use of the compounds responsible for this effect are being used in the West, though they hold considerable promise in surgery and internal medicine.

Chinese Medicine Understands the Leech

Both traditional Chinese medicine and some Japanese acupuncture lineages emphasize the value of the physician's ability to diagnose blood stasis, and adequately treat it. Blood stasis is one mechanism which is involved in most chronic disorders, especially when there is chronic severe pain, fixed in locations, with moderately severe to severe intensity. (5 and above on those zero to ten scales)

Blood stasis is also a result of trauma, whether accidental or surgical, and especially trauma to the head and vertebral column. Certain chronic disorders of the qi can lead to blood stasis also, and so as time goes on, most chronic physical as well as body-mind imbalances can create blood stasis.

Blood stasis is a specialized concept in Oriental medicine, and an experienced physician will know the symptoms and signs associated with this diagnosis. It is not merely bruising in the tissues, though this is also a form of blood stasis.

Japanese Medicine Understands the Leech

Known within the Japanese lineage which I have been studying for some 10 years as "oketsu", there are several specialized acupuncture techniques to treat blood stasis as it manifests in various areas of the body. Ordinary acupuncture techniques are far less effective than the Japanese methods, in my experience.

Another type of "needling" is a type of bloodletting done by special needles or through puncture and cupping to activate a system known as the network vessels. No doubt the leech has a better technique than most acupuncturists, as most of us are not trained to perform this type of treatment.

Modern concerns about blood borne diseases also make cupping and bleeding a medical procedure for which most acupuncturists or physicians are unprepared.

Chinese Medicinals are Usually Needed to Address Blood Stasis

Finally, acupuncture and moxibustion in themselves are not enough to treat the chronic stasis which is increasingly seen with complex and enduring modern diseases.

In addition, people who have had multiple surgeries or bleeding into tissues, including blood clots and hemorrhage into the lungs, kidneys, skin, intestines, heart or brain, will probably need to use the medicinals of Chinese medicine to resolve blood stasis.

Certain ingredients from animals, such as the leech, some other insects and worms, as well as unique medicinals which treat blood stasis and disorders of the network vessels will be necessary.

Some plant resins can also be used, as can a variety of roots well known to Chinese herbalists. The best results are generally possible when your physician or acupuncturist is also capable of prescribing Chinese medicinals, so that your treatment proceeds in an organized and coherent manner.

As always, there is a chance for interactions between traditional medicines and modern pharmaceuticals so you should make certain that your physician has the background to balance risk and benefit.

* Family Practice News August 1, 2002 page 35