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Listening to the patient

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There is an old medical joke; the patient says “doc, it hurts when I do this.” Doctor says “Then don’t do that.” In many ways this simple line of reasoning is at the heart of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and many other forms of traditional medicines from cultures around the world. It is the simplest form of diagnosis and forms a foundation for more complicated forms of diagnosis and treatment. In many ways the simple act of determining what feels good, should be at the heart of evaluating medical advice in our modern age.

Our modern medicine has become arguably focused on tests and imaging and data. Often modern biomedical medicine is fast and simple- is there pain? If yes, then prescribe a pain killer. To the TCM practitioner, pain needs to be understood as an indicator of what is going wrong in the body. It makes a difference if the pain is sharp or dull, feels hot or cold, or is sensitive to the application of pressure to the area or changes in weather. How a pain feels is very important to diagnosis and treatment.

For the patient, it is also important to find what feels good. Many people have stopped listening to their bodies and instead follow the various bits of advice they get through media about how to be healthy. Doing something healthy for your body should make you feel better. In the case of pain, if the pain feels hot and the application of cold feels better, then apply cold. If the pain feels cold and heat feels better, don’t keep applying cold. TCM has a bias towards using heat in old injuries that feel cold and using cooling herbs rather than ice when acute injuries are red and inflamed.

In many ways the development of traditional forms of medicine and folk medicine were built around people recognizing what made someone feel better in various circumstances. Watermelon tastes great in the summer when it is hot and cinnamon tastes great when it is cold out. Echinacea and mint tend to cool a fever from a common cold, ginger warms the person who has a cold runny nose. Unfortunately not all medical treatments feel good all the time. Patients however, often have a sense of the difference between something that hurts and something that “hurts good”. There is often an innate sense that something that is not pleasant is what is needed.

People who are concerned about their health should look at the things they are doing to improve their health. They should evaluate the various things they do as to whether it is having a positive or a negative affect on their lives. If the efforts to improve health are not having a positive impact it is probably time to sit down with a medical provider like a TCM practitioner or health coach and get some advice. Health advice should be customized to the person and should be based on a diagnosis of that person and what they need rather than what is the current health trend. The goal is better health, and better health should come with feeling better, and that can be guided best by questioning how a person feels, and not doing what hurts.

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