TCM’s View of Disease Part II: Signs and Symptoms


In a recent post I talked about the Traditional Chinese Medicine conception of disease as something that arises when the body’s constitutional environment creates the correct conditions for it. But the question still remains how the same constitutional environment can create different signs and symptoms in different people. Or even why the signs and symptoms may manifest in one part of the patient’s body and not another. I had one patient with the underlying constitutional environment of blood stagnation ask me, “If this is a problem with my blood, why does one of my arms hurt worse than the other? The same blood flows through both.”

The River Tyne Flooding by Lisa Jarvis

© Copyright Lisa Jarvis and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Imagine that the constitutional environment we’re examining is a river that’s flooding. The waters are tumbling and churning and far higher than usual. This environment can exist without causing any noticeable problems, any symptoms, until the water bursts its banks and that will happen wherever those banks are the weakest and lowest. If you shore up that one weak spot with a sandbag levee or dam then you create another lowest point and the flooding happens there instead.

This is very similar to the situation in the human body. If there is a constitutional environment such as chronic stress, then the weakest or most over-taxed system will suffer first. Some people with chronic stress have weaker immune systems and so when they’re over-stressed they tend to fall ill easily. Other people hold their tension in their neck and shoulders creating headaches and muscular-skeletal dysfunction. Others develop ulcers. It all depends on what that person’s weakest link is.

And again, if you shore up the first place to go with medications that simply mask the symptoms you pass the buck down the line to the second weakest spot and let it take the strain instead. The far better solution from the perspective of Chinese Medicine is to calm the waters.

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