Chinese Medicine and Excess

You have all seen those familiar black and white symbols that represent Yin and Yang. You can find them everywhere: on T-shirts, in tattoos, on holistic websites all over the internet. When asked what these symbols mean, most people will answer that this symbol represents balance. This is true, but there is so much more to it than that. In the world of Yin and Yang, one cannot exist without the other. There can be no light without darkness, no up if there is no down. The balance of Yin and Yang is integral to every aspect of our health, and much of what we acupuncturists do centers around keeping the two in a form of relative balance. If either the Yin or the Yang fall out of balance, one side will be deficient of energy, and the other side will be in excess.

So what does this mean? Let’s start with an example of a person who might be displaying symptoms of an “excess” personality type. Imagine that you are sitting in your office, waiting for this person to come in. As you wait, your door suddenly slams open and your patient bursts into your office. He is sweating, red-faced, irritated, and loudly asks if this is the right place. Before you can answer, he begins to vent about the traffic. He sits, but seems to have a hard time being still; he fidgets and gestures wildly as he speaks. As you speak with him, you can’t help but feel drained as his frenetic energy fills the room; it’s difficult to get a word in edgewise. Patients who exhibit signs of excess are often hot, loud, and move quickly. They may seem impatient and have a difficult time relaxing. These patients can be prone to issues like high blood pressure, anger, anxiety, headaches, and TMJ.

When we acupuncturists diagnose, an imperative part of our job is to determine if the symptoms the patient is experiencing are due to excess or deficiency, and treat accordingly. We don’t simply treat dysfunction; we first find the root of the issue. Excess conditions are generally more acute, hot, and painful. If a pain condition feels worse with pressure, it is usually excess. If the pain is alleviated with pressure, it is more likely to be caused by deficiency. Blood stagnation, a common cause of pain, is an excess condition. In a healthy, pain-free individual, the Blood flows through the body smoothly and easily. When there is trauma, that smooth flow of Blood is interrupted and it becomes stuck and stagnant. This leads to pain that is intense and worse with pressure.

Any system of the body can be affected by either excess or deficiency. Excess energy in the Liver can lead to intense headaches, neck and shoulder pain, agitation, or insomnia. The mind cannot rest with all of that excess energy rising upward. Excess in the Stomach might manifest in heartburn, indigestion, or uncomfortable sensations of hunger. Heart excess could result in a rapid, pounding heartbeat. Excess energy of the Lung might lead to a strong, productive cough. And excess of the Kidney might show itself with a painful UTI.

Aside from examining symptoms, we also use tools such as the pulse and tongue to differentiate between excess and deficiency. When you visit your acupuncturist, you may notice that he or she will ask you to stick out your tongue. Examining the tongue gives us important information about what is going on with your health. An “excess” tongue might be quite red; this is a sign of excess Heat. In comparison, a tongue displaying signs of deficiency could be pale, thin, or have toothmarks on the side.

Once your acupuncturist looks at your tongue, he or she will then likely take your pulse. This also gives us a lot of insight as to the levels of excess and deficiency. An excess pulse would be rapid, full, pounding, and forceful. It might also feel “choppy”, as if the smooth flow of blood is impeded. Since stagnation is a form of excess, Blood stagnation would create this type of excess pulse. Often people who are in pain will have this pulse.

Diagnosing the difference between excess and deficiency is another way for your acupuncturist to take a look at the whole picture, and to treat the entire essence of “you”, rather than just your symptoms.