Touch of Ayurveda

Ayurveda’s Guide for Pain Management

The body responds to various external stimuli with a series of cellular and molecular interactions that direct the body towards homeostasis. These external stimuli include pathogens, pollen, or any other form of irritant. When they come in contact with the body, one of the immediate initial responses is inflammation. Ayurveda provides various solutions to deal with inflammation and pain.

In Ayurveda, inflammation is known as Vranashotha. Various Ayurvedic texts including the Brihat Trayee (Charaka Samhita, Sushrutha Samhita, and Ashtanga Samgraha) have given detailed descriptions on the concept and treatment of inflammation. Madhava Nidhana, a book that is based on the above three, also gives an account on inflammation.

Inflammation is also known by various othaer names such as Shotha, Shopha, Svayathu, Utsedha, and Samhatha. It is interesting to note that for the various names associated with inflammation in the Ayurvedic texts, a correlation was attempted with the subject of inflammation in Robins and Cotran’s Pathologic basis of Diseases.

According to modern medicine, inflammation is recognised as a healing response to a trauma or infection. It is characterised by heat, colour, swelling, pain and loss of function in the affected region. Immune responses are elicited when a foreign object comes in contact with the body. Cytokines (proteins that produce immune response) mediate a network of responses that minimise tissue and surrounding tissue damage, and establish homeostasis. Apart from external stimuli being a cause of inflammation, age-related diseases also give rise to chronic inflammation. These include arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. They show high levels of cytokines in the blood.

Now, if we look at Ayurveda’s perspective on inflammation, it also speaks about cellular responses. In addition, it looks at faulty functioning of the microcirculation channels or also known in Ayurveda as Srotodushti. This leads to the obstruction of microchannels by Ama or toxins. Ama status in each person varies and this can be regarded as a biomarker for chronic inflammation. It thus lays the basis for a personalised form of treatment.

During an inflammatory response, there is an abnormal amount of protein that is released into the extracellular matrix which can lead to obstruction of passages. This causes a change in the rate of diffusion of nutrients, oxygen and waste. This hampered diffusion can aid in the formation of tumours (benign or malignant). When there is obstruction due to the nutrient deposition in one place, reverse osmosis takes place to balance electrolyte differences. This is where fluids move in unnatural directions.

Modern medicine classifies inflammation into acute and chronic. Ayurveda classifies it into Nija (intrinsic factors) and Agantuja (extrinsic). Inflammation caused by Nija is due to changes or imbalances in the tridoshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Extrinsic factors include: trauma (Abhigata), allergies (Bhallataka Pushpa Phala Rasatm), infections (Krimi), toxins (Visha), burns (Dahana) and climatic changes (Himavata). This classification was given by Acharya Charaka.

Acharya Sushrutha explained the six stages of inflammation in a sequential pattern. The first stage is known as Chaya where the doshas are imbalanced and they begin to accumulate. In the next stage, Prakopa, the accumulated doshas are excited. These doshas then leave their original site and this is known as Prasara. The wandering doshas localise at a different location in the stage known as Sthana. In Vyaktha, the doshas manifest as diseases with signs and symptoms. Finally, a pathological lesion is formed and this stage is known as Bheda.

Inflammation can be managed in the early stages to avoid aggravation. Different therapeutic strategies are prescribed by Sushrutha for the treatment of inflammation.

They include: Vimlapana, Avasechana, Upahana, Patana, Shodhana, Ropana, and Vaikritapaha. Vimlapana involves massaging the area to improve circulation. Avasechana or elimination therapy is where blood is purified to remove toxins. Upahana involves application of medicated paste on the affected area. Patana is an operative procedure. Shodhana or detoxification includes antiseptic measures. Vaikritapaha is a procedure that restores the area without a scar.

There are many herbs that can be taken alone or in combination to address chronic inflammation. Some of them include Boswellia serrata, a herb that is commonly used for osteoarthritis. A study revealed that this herb reduced knee pain and swelling, and improved the flexibility and movement. It also showed improvement in intermittent lameness, localised pain and stiff gait.

Ashwagandha, a very prominent herb in many Ayurvedic concoctions, is shown to relieve pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. It is a great alternative to steroids. In a collaborative study by the UK and India, Ashwagandha has entered clinical trials for post-COVID-19 fever recovery. Inflammation is a predominant symptom during fever that leads to severe body ache.

The next time you have chai, make sure to add ginger in it. Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory spice. It was studied in patients with rheumatoid arthritis in clinical trials. It improves joint mobility, decreases swelling, stiffness and pain associated with it.

There are many more herbs and concoctions that aid in reducing inflammation and pain. An ice pack to calm the pain surely helps but it is necessary to ice the root cause as well. Ayurveda offers solutions to fight chronic pain along with lifestyle regimes, detoxification procedures, to ensure we lead a healthy and pain-free life.

About the Author

Ms Varsha Venkataraman

Varsha Venkataraman is a graduate in Applied Microbiology and Cancer Studies. Currently she is the Senior Researcher for the Centre for Soft Power with an avid interest in Ayurveda and wishes to focus on the integrative approach of Ayurveda and modern medicine in the treatment of cancer.


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