Expanding into Spring: The Energetics of the Liver and Pain Management
by Jillian Rifkind L.Ac, EAMP
Many of us have an urge to get out of the house, go on a hike, or dust out old equipment and gear as the weather starts to get warmer. The winter has provided us the stillness of cold nights, warm fires, and staying at home to watch movies and drink warm beverages. Now that the weather is warming up, we are moving away from the energetics of the Kidneys, and the idea of storing energy and vitality for the winter, and are moving into the spring time which is governed by the liver, growth, and expansion.
The Chinese character ‘Mu’ 木 meaning wood, or tree is used to represent the liver. The character represents strength, flexibility, growth and expansion. For some of us, this transition might cause frustration, irritability, and inability to go with the flow. Clinically, sciatic pain, carpal tunnel, and other painful episodes occur more often during this time. Spring is a great time for us to immerse ourselves in green, stretch our legs, and challenge ourselves to new heights.
When things are flowing well in our bodies, our blood and lymphatic systems are moving, and our muscles and joints are loose, we feel much softer and more able to take on the world. When things don’t flow well, we get frustrated, irritated, and stuck, we have digestive issues, thoracic tension, PMS, and often headaches. We can develop tendonitis, Raynaud’s disease, rib pain, itchy eyes, and have difficulty sleeping, especially from 1-3 AM.
Nowadays, our bodies seem to demand a lot of our livers. We have mild toxicity in our environment, and must process lots of caffeine and sugar to keep up with today’s pace. Everyday stress and toxins must be processed by the liver. When adding extra caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, we have a lot more to deal with.
Spring is a great time to dust things off and make way for new habits. Getting outside, enjoying fresh air, and developing a ritual to relieve stress is a great way to nourish our liver. Avoiding sugar, limiting caffeine intake, and taking breaks from alcohol is also helpful, as it minimizes the amount that the liver will need to digest.
Excess consumption of NSAIDs and alcohol can be difficult for the liver and kidneys to process. Often athletes take ibuprofen prophylactically before a workout to anticipate muscle soreness. New research suggests that NSAIDs and the use of ice can impair the repair process that happens when your body goes through a difficult workout and tears muscles or becomes injured. Inflammation signals white blood cells and circulation to promote healing in the body, and we don’t want to miss out on that.
When examined through X-Rays, the kidneys move 3cm vertically and sideways even while the subject is holding their breath. The liver moves 600 meters daily as it is connected to the diaphragm. Jean Pierre Barral, a french osteopath, also used ultrasound scans to measure the mobility of the kidneys immediately after and again two months following a visceral manipulation treatment for renal ptosis, or dropped kidney. When the organs become sluggish they can often compress thoracic and lumbar nerves, and compress the inferior vena cava causing back pain and sciatic nerve issues. For this reason, NSAIDs could be a nice relief from occasional pain but chronically they can make things worse in the body and create new compensations.
Creating space in life for self-care, whether it is taking regular epsom salt baths, practicing yoga or Tai Chi, getting acupuncture or massage, or going on hikes will help to keep us mentally and physically balanced. Sleep, deep breathing, and a maintaining a positive mood is beneficial for athletic recovery. Maintaining gratitude for our organs, our natural pain signals and inflammatory process is also very helpful. Our bodies know what to do.
Jillian Rifkind L.Ac, EAMP
Jillian Rifkind is the owner of Joy Point Acupuncture, practicing in the Dahlia Center on Bainbridge Island, as well as in Port Ludlow. In addition to relieving pain through acupuncture, she specializes in manual therapy to balance the organ systems, release myfascial tension, and encourage the body to self regulate. She enjoys getting outside to splitboard, rock climb, and learn about mountain rescue.