The Stress Connection: Abdominal Pain

An acupuncturist’s perspective
March 17, 2014 Updated: March 17, 2014

Are you one of the many people who are living with abdominal pain? You may experience it as a sharp pain, a dull ache, or bloating. It may occur every day or less frequently, but enough to be a concern. 

Stomach pain is a very common complaint afflicting people of all ages. Did you know that the high level of stress in our modern lives is often directly related to this pain? 

Chinese medicine most often sees the cause of abdominal pain in adults as resulting from an underlying imbalance in the energetic systems that correspond to the liver and spleen. However, there may be other energetic imbalances as well, so Chinese medicine tailors treatments to you as an individual.

The major energetic function of the liver is to maintain the free movement of qi (energy) and blood. Emotional stress can cause the liver qi to become imbalanced and unable to carry out its function of maintaining free flow in the body system. 

When the liver qi becomes stagnant, it reduces the spleen’s energetic ability to absorb and move qi and fluids upward. This pattern of disharmony is described as the liver qi overacting on the spleen qi. The spleen and stomach are instrumental in the process of digestion.

When the stomach qi becomes stuck or stagnant, it can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, esophageal reflux, and more persistent abdominal pain. 

Other common signs of liver qi stagnation include fatigue, headaches, nausea, and bloating. Stagnation of the liver qi can also affect the body in other serious ways leading to menstrual problems like irregular periods, menstrual cramps, and even infertility. Don’t wait to seek attention if you experience persistent abdominal pain.

On the emotional level, liver qi imbalance can manifest as anger, irritability, frustration, or depression.


Acupuncture is very effective at soothing and relaxing the liver qi to relieve the stagnation and restore free flow in your system. You may find that your abdominal pain is gone by the end of the first treatment. 

Acupuncture treatments can also help you feel better emotionally by releasing some of the tension and stress that has been building up inside.

In addition to acupuncture, a Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist may prescribe a natural herbal formula. Bodywork such as tuina, Chinese medical massage, can also be an excellent adjunct.

It is also important to take a closer look at what and when you are eating and drinking. Many people don’t think of this obvious aspect affecting their stomach pain. I often have patients keep a food diary so we can make suggestions to improve your digestion.

You can also relieve some of the stress in your system with gentle exercises such as qigong, yoga, meditation, and walking. Be sure to schedule some time for yourself in your daily routine.

As part of your health care team, an acupuncturist may advise you to get additional tests done if necessary.

The 4,000-year-old medicine of acupuncture and Chinese medicine is very effective in treating and preventing our 21st century problems in a comfortable, safe, and relaxing way. Though this natural health care can’t get rid of the sources of your stress, it can help your system handle it differently.
Suffering is optional, don’t wait to seek attention!

Cindy E. Levitz, M.S., L.Ac. is a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine, NCCAOM. She has been in private practice since 1996. Specialties: Stress/Anxiety & Pain Reduction, Women’s Health Issues. Complimentary consultation: