Chinese clinical descriptions of pain and what they mean

Aching pain – suan tong 酸痛
-a sign of deficiency, usually of qi  and blood, or damp or cold
-generally not severe and accompanied by weakness, soreness, lightness, or emptiness in the affected area
-often relieved by pressure and rubbing
-often in the low back and where there are a lot of soft muscles

Distending pain – zhang tong 胀痛
-a sign of qi stagnation
-it fluctuates in intensity and location
-it can be influenced by emotional changes
-often occurs in the chest and abdomen

Throbbing pain – tiao tong 跳痛
-characterized by rhythmic quality, like the beating of the pulse
-commonly seen in patients with a migraine from liver yang rising
-also seen in carbuncle, or other skin problems from heat and toxins
-it is often accompanied by a feeling of heat, redness and swelling

Dull pain – yin tong 隐痛
-a sign of deficiency
-often relieved by pressure and rubbing
-often from yang deficiency or yin/blood deficiency failing to nourish the channels

Empty pain – kong tong 空痛
-seen in deficiency patterns

Cold pain – leng tong 冷痛
-a sign of cold obstructing the luo channels or yang qi deficiency
-relieved by heat

Gripping (or colic) pain – jiao tong 绞痛
-a sign of cold or obstruction due to qi or blood stasis, phlegm, stone stranguary
-it is usually very severe
-it is often in the internal organs, commonly the gall bladder, uterus, and intestines

Heavy pain – zhong tong 重痛
-a sign of dampness
-pain that also has sensations of heaviness, dragging or down bearing sensations

Pulling pain – che tong 掣痛
-pulling, stretching feeling pain
-a sign of luo channels lacking nourishment
-can be due to wind, cold, phlegm or blood stasis obstructing the luo channels, or a liver disorder

Scorching (or burning) pain – zhuo tong 灼痛
-a sign of either excess of deficiency heat
-characterized by pain with a very hot feeling, as though the skin was burned
-it is typically caused by heat
-intense scorching pain is seen in trigeminal neuralgia, post herpetic neuralgia from liver gall bladder heat from constraint
-mild scorching pain such as stomach heat with dry mouth and throat can be from stomach yin deficiency
-in most cases it is accompanied by local redness and swelling
-prolonged stagnation of cold, qi or blood can lead to heat

Scurrying (or wandering) pain – cuan tong 窜痛
-moving pain with no fixed location, often in the muscles and joints
-often seen in bi syndrome
-a sign of qi stasis or of wind
-can also involve the internal organs
-here it is often from qi stasis
-can be aggravated by emotional changes, eg, stress, nervousness, anxiety

Stabbing pain – ci tong 刺痛
-a sign of blood stasis
-feels like a needle or knife puncturing the skin
-the pain commonly occurs in the same place, it can be worse at night, or when lying/sitting still
-it is relieved by movement
-it can accompanied by swelling, darkening of the skin in the local area, a dislike of pressure, T: purplish, P: choppy
-common after trauma

Sharp pain – rui tong锐痛
-mostly caused by acute qi and blood stasis, and especially qi stasis
-need to discover the cause of the stasis

Hemialgia – ban tong 半痛
-its causes include disharmony of the ying and wei qi system, slowing of qi and blood circulation, or disorders of yin and yang
-often develops gradually and is confined to one side or the other
-it often fluctuates in intensity

Pantalgia
-caused by qi and blood stasis, damp, or deficiency of qi and blood
-pain experienced over the whole body, mainly in the joints and muscles

Other indicators often accompanying pain

Constant pain
-usually from any kind of excess factor
-it implies the battle between wei and xie qi is still strong
-treatment is mainly aimed at helping the wei qi and attacking the pathogen

Intermittent pain
-usually caused by a deficiency of qi, blood, yin or yang, and this implies the wei qi is weak, so the battle between the wei and xie qi is not very active
-treatment is mainly aimed at helping the wei qi

Pain with a fixed location
-can be from blood stasis, internal or external damp
-if due to blood stasis; it is stabbing, worse at night, or when still
-if due to damp there are other signs and symptoms of damp, such as lassitude, heaviness, poor appetite, loose stool

Pain with spasm
-from invasion of external cold, liver blood deficiency, or deficiency cold from yang deficiency
-deficiency of liver blood can lead to feelings of spasm and cramping, common in the legs at night

Pain with radiation
-usually due to blockage of qi  and or blood circulation, or calculi in an organ

Pain with heaviness
-this is often not severe and can occur anywhere in the body
-it is commonly associated with damp
-for example, the feeling of wearing a hat or a sensation like a band around the head with heaviness is often to damp

Pain with a suffocating sensation
-usually from qi stasis or phlegm damp accumulation
-often in the chest or abdomen

Pain with contraction
-usually associated with external cold penetration, or internal deficiency cold from yang deficiency
-it is more sever if from external cold and accompanied by signs and symptoms of cold, eg aversion to cold, runny nose, headache and so on
-if from yang deficiency the pain tends to be slight and intermittent and accompanied by signs and symptoms of yang deficiency, eg aversion to cold, fatigue, pallor, cold hands and feet and so on

Pain with swelling
-usually caused by stagnation of blood after trauma, accumulation of damp, or of toxic heat
-it often occurs in the joints
-if from blood stasis due to trauma, there is severe pain, limitation of movement, a hard swelling often with distinct edges, blue green blotching of skin
-if it is damp in the muscles and joints, the joints are painful, and the muscles have a feeling of heaviness, with soft swelling in the area with indistinct edges, and often a vibration under the skin can be felt in the area
-if it is the accumulation of toxic heat the joints and muscles are swollen, with redness and heat, with severe pain, and other signs of toxic heat

Pain with a preference for pressure and massage
-usually slight and intermittent and caused by deficiencies
-in some cases excess pain can be relieved by pressure and massage, usually pain from qi and blood stasis, which is temporarily relieved by the movement but it soon returns

Pain with a dislike of pressure and massage
-is usually sever and constant and caused by excesses

Pain with a preference for heat
-usually from cold, or deficiency cold from yang deficiency

Pain with a preference for cold
-usually pain from heat of external or internal origin