The 5 Physical Pain Archetypes. Which One Are You? (And How To Heal It)

Whenever we experience stress, it’s not just a sympathetic nervous system response of “fight or flight” that we feel emotionally.

It’s a full-body experience where we are affected physically, emotionally, spiritually, and energetically.

That is, all levels of our being are put on high alert, sending adrenaline into our systems so that we can get out of harm’s way.

But, what if the source of stress is an ever-constant presence?

Then, the high alert response creates tension in the body, creating a holding pattern of chronic pain.

Unfortunately, I see this all the time in my treatment room.

Although acupuncture addresses many health issues effectively, pain management is one of the top reasons why Western physicians refer patients to me for acupuncture. The other one is stress.

In my private practice, most of my patients who come in to receive healing treatments for their pain issues often fall into 5 physical pain archetypes.

Here are the 5 physical pain archetypes. Which one are you?:

The Worker Bee: Working at a desk with a computer and mouse for long periods of time creates tension commonly held in the upper trapezius muscles (the “traps”), upper back, and neck areas for the Worker Bee. If there’s a lot of computer work, carpal tunnel is added to the mix. Pain management tip: get a lumbar roll for your lower back to help you get into a better posture while seated, or try a standing desk. In addition, make sure to take frequent breaks to go to the bathroom and do some stretches or breathing exercises, receive regular acupuncture, and try stretching out the hip flexors with this simple stretch. Bringing in healing oils to de-stress and calm, and using crystals to help to offset the electromagnetic frequencies of computers (such as black tourmaline) can also bring the Worker Bee some calm in the body.

The Athlete: There’s no rest for the wicked! Often dashing from gym, to work, to a game or practice, the Athlete’s body is in constant motion. Depending on the sport, a range of injuries and pain can result, from the joints, to the back, shoulders, hips, IT (iliotibial) band, hamstrings, neck, and everywhere in between. Pain management tip: regular epsom bath soaks to help relieve the muscles with instant magnesium absorption into the skin, and get regular physical support such as acupuncture, massage (such as tui na, deep tissue, shiatsu, or myofascial release), physical therapy, and chiropractic adjustments. Make sure to warm up and warm down before working out to keep the muscles supple, use a foam roller (my favorite one is The Grid TriggerPoint foam roller) on the back, buttocks, IT band and other broad areas, and if the pain is excruciating, give your body some much-needed temporary rest to allow your body to recover. The latter is a hard pill to swallow for many athletes, but the reality is that your body will be more susceptible to injury if it’s not adequately healed. Bonus pain management tip: for chronic pain, it’s best to NOT ice your affected area. Bringing cold into an injured area is considered counter-productive to healing in Chinese Medicine. And, even Dr. Mirkin, the one who coined the term “RICE” (rest, ice, compression, elevation) in 1978 to treat injuries has updated his viewpoint, saying that applying ice to the injury actually delays recovery.

The Overachiever: Up before the birds, and on her way home way after the sun sets, the Overachiever pushes herself way past human limits and her own bedtime. Due to constant laptop action and jet setting to meetings, her stress response is slightly elevated on a regular basis. There will be tension in the traps and upper back, neck, and sometimes the lower and middle back. She will also likely be breathing shallowly, which will be evident since she will feel tired by the end of the day from lack of full oxygen in the lungs, and also feel tight in the solar plexus area. Sometimes there will be tightness in the arms, maybe even carpal tunnel, from computer work and carrying heavy bags to and fro. There may also be some TMJ (temporomandibular join) pain from the stress held in the jaws. Pain management tip: if you’re carrying heavy bags on the regular, try switching shoulders to more evenly distribute the weight on the body throughout the week, carrying smaller bags so that one side of the body is not so burdened, or try using a backpack or rolling bag. Regular healing bodywork such as acupuncture and massage (acupuncture is helpful for all of these areas of the body, including the TMJ tension), and the other modalities mentioned for the Athlete, will help the Overachiever bring more ease into her body. Also, bringing in regular meditative practice helps to ground and regulate the blood flow, breathing, and mindset to a more balanced level. Anything to ease the stress levels and anxiety (since for the Overachiever, both often come into play) to get still would help the physical body.

The Social Media Maven: Whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media drug of choice (it IS addictive!), the Social Media Maven’s physical pain is often in her wrists, arms, shoulders, and neck, due to the all-day texting that is part of her daily to-do. The Social Media Mavens who come into my office often show up with DeQuervain’s Syndrome, carpal tunnel, and posterior neck pain from keeping the head at a certain angle. Pain management tip: try having a specific timeframe when you create and post your social media, so that it’s not 24/7. Or, one better, take a temporary social media fast on the weekends. If you must post because the world will otherwise end, try using your pointer finger to give your thumbs a rest. Also try some stretches for your wrist, such as the ones in this video from this physical therapist with a very colorful delivery! Of course, acupuncture rocks in moving these symptoms out so you can get back to doing what you love best.

The Artist: From make-up artists and nail art picassos, to photographers, painters, and fashion designers, the Artists often carry their tension in their wrists from gripping their tools in the same holding pattern all day, neck and upper back pain from keeping their arms lifted at a certain angle or from bending over their canvas/laptop/client while creating, and/or from carrying their heavy equipment around with them. Depending on the kinds of coworkers they have, there may be some TMJ pain or jaw clenching as well from stress, creating tightness in the neck and jaw areas. Pain management tip: yes, yes, yes to acupuncture! The Artist benefits greatly from regular acupuncture treatments, not only because it effectively alleviates the pain in the wrists, arms, upper back; but, also because it kills the stress that builds up in the body over time. For some reason, my Dear Ones who are Artists often have coworker dynamics that leave them exasperated and stressed. So, other methods of creating peace within their lives, such as through meditation, cultivating mindfulness, and going out to get fresh air or physical activity often helps. The stretches for the Social Media Maven would also be helpful for the Artist.


Of course there are many pain archetypes that I haven’t mentioned. But, often, people fall within one, or a combination of, the above. Once you can identify which types of pain are more common for you, the easier it is to address them!

What techniques, stretches, or pain managements tips have worked for you?
Please share with us in the comments, below!

Go with the flow,



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