The Common Cold According to Chinese Medicine


Common folk wisdom will tell you to, “Bundle up when you go outside so you don’t get a chill.” Is the concept of cold weather causing a common cold just a societal misperception or myth? According to Chinese medicine, it’s pretty accurate. Chinese medical theory says that cold is a pathogen that can invade the exterior of the body, causing symptoms of a common cold, such as chills, body aches, cough, and aversion to cold.

In order to penetrate the body’s defenses, cold may combine with wind. Like wind in nature, wind as a pathogen can cause movement and change, it can be strong and aggressive, overpowering the body’s natural defense mechanisms and invading the skin and pores. Just like a turbulent wind on the prarie can become a tornado and knock over a fence or a house, a cold winter wind can knock down the body’s defenses and wreak havoc on your health. Wind-cold often invades the body at the back of the neck, which is why an acupuncturist may advise you to wear a scarf in cold and windy weather. Why the back of the neck? Acupuncture channels related to the body’s immune defense system run through this body area.

In Chinese medical channel theory, the body’s defensive system is connected to its’ more exterior aspect, often referred to as Tai Yang, which includes the Urinary Bladder and Small Intestine channels. The Tai Yang warms the skin and hair and discharges defensive qi across the surface of the body, while keeping the pores and exterior closed to external invasion. When pathogens like cold disrupt this natural dynamic, warmth and defensive qi cannot discharge outward to the body’s exterior, and a person may feel chills. Or alternately, this trapped warm qi may instead rise up the head, causing fever or headache.

To treat a cold, acupuncturists use may techniques that can release the trapped cold pathogen from the exterior layer of the body, and restore the natural dynamic of the Tai Yang. One technique we often use is cupping, wherein suction cups are placed on the skin, helping to open the pores and exterior layer to pull the pathogen out to the surface.

Acupuncture points can also help release the body’s exterior and restore balance to the Tai Yang and exterior. For instance, Lung 7, located on the wrist, is the command point for the head and neck, and can help release the exterior of the body and expel pathogens, while strengthening the body’s defensive qi. San Jiao 5, on the forearm, is another point that releases the exterior, and can help treat fever or disperse pain. Other points may be used locally or distally to unclog sinus congestion, treat head and neck pain, or alleviate other symptoms of the common cold.

So the next time you’re out in cold or windy weather, keep your neck covered and your body warm, and don’t give the cold and wind a chance to penetrate your defenses. Or if you’re feeling under the weather, stop in for a treatment, and see how acupuncture can help you.



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