When an acupuncturist is treating, we tend to categorize symptoms into binaries: Hot or cold, dry or damp, excess or deficiency, pale or purple. Chinese Medicine is all about restoring balance. When we can identify where someone falls on any one scale, it helps choose points and additional therapies that will best balance that person out. Here, we’re taking a closer look at pain and stress, focusing on the binaries of deficiency vs excess.

There are two main types of pain and stress in Chinese Medicine: Deficient and excess. Knowing the difference, and which one you are exhibiting, can help your treatment move along more efficiently. Below is a list of ways deficient and excess pain and stress presents. Try using some of these terms the next time you are treated by your acupuncturist!


The English language is funny in that, compared to other languages, we have fewer words to describe things, like physical pain. We resort to phrases like “that hurts”, “that’s painful”, or maybe “ouch”. Naming your pain can be helpful to your practitioner-it helps us figure out which points and additional therapies might help you.

Deficient pain

  • Dispersed
  • Distended
  • Pain tends to move around
  • Numb
  • Tingly
  • Achy
  • Cold
  • Chronic
  • Less intense in the morning, then increases as the day goes on
  • Intensity lessens with rest

Excess pain

  • Sharp
  • Stabbing
  • Pain stays in one spot
  • Hot
  • Acute
  • More intense in the morning, then eases as the day progresses
  • Intensity eases up with movement
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Much like physical pain, emotional pain tends to have a limited number of phrases: “I’m stressed”, “I’m tired”, or maybe “I just feel ‘off'”. Rest assured, we have several ways to name stress, in acupuncture. And just like with physical pain, the more descriptive you can be, the easier it is to find a treatment plan that’s best for you. Also, hold space for the times where you simply have no words. That happens too, and that’s AOK.

Deficient stress

  • Tired
  • Lethargic
  • Fearful
  • Worrying
  • Ruminating
  • Wanting to curl under a blanket and hide from the world
  • Being withdrawn
  • Unwilling to make eye contact
  • Unable to make decisions or being pensive

Excess stress

  • Angry
  • Irritability
  • Flushed face
  • Stuck/stagnant
  • Manic
  • Talking a lot/talking fast at a high pitch
  • Moving fast
  • Needing to be productive: “Can’t stop, won’t stop”
  • Shaking of limbs (tapping pen, shaking a leg)

You likely saw some words you’ve used before to describe sensations, and some you’ve never thought to use. And that’s the goal! The more ways we have to talk about our feelings, the more we can tend to them. Try to take 2 or 3 words away from this article, and use them at your next appointment. Be curious what shifts.

Thank you for stopping by this week. We appreciate your interaction and would love to hear from you! Please comment bellow to continue the discussion. If you’d like to schedule an appointment, call us at 651-756-8525 or visit us at villageacupunctureandmassage.com.

Until next time!
Rachel Kristyniak, Licensed Acupuncturist at VAMT

Rachel was born and raised in St.Paul, MN, where she currently lives with her husband, Chris and Shih Zhu, Stewie. She graduated from Northwestern Health Sciences in 2017 with her Masters in Chinese Medicine. Rachel found Chinese medicine on a journey to understand and tend to her own anxiety and depression and now has a passion for helping others who experience a similar reality. She enjoys treating a wide variety of conditions and welcomes anyone looking for care.

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