Stiff Upper Backaccording to TCM

Symptom family: Back and Neck Stiffness and Discomfort

Parent symptom: Back Stiffness

What is Stiff Upper Back?

Stiff upper back refers to a condition characterized by reduced flexibility, discomfort, or tightness in the thoracic spine area. This condition encompasses a range of symptoms, including immobility of the thoracic spine, restricted movement, and a general sensation of rigidity or tightness in the upper back. It's a specific manifestation of broader back stiffness issues, often impacting posture and mobility.

How does TCM View Stiff Upper Back?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), stiff upper back is seen as a symptom arising from imbalances within the body's energy system. TCM interprets this stiffness as a result of disrupted Qi (vital energy) flow or imbalances in Yin and Yang energies.

This perspective emphasizes understanding the underlying disharmonies or patterns causing the symptom, rather than treating the stiffness in isolation. Identifying and addressing these patterns is key to TCM treatment.

Root Causes of Stiff Upper Back in TCM

TCM identifies several potential causes for stiff upper back, with one main pattern often at play. Liver Yang Rising can manifest as upper back stiffness, alongside symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision. This pattern reflects an imbalance where Yang energy in the liver overpowers Yin, leading to tension and stiffness.

Explore below more details about what might cause Stiff upper back according to TCM.

  • By Syndrome
  • By Organ
  • Yang Excess
  • Liver
Detailed description of the cause

Yang Excess

Yang Excess in TCM refers to a state where there is an overabundance of Yang energy, leading to symptoms of heat and hyperactivity in the body. This pattern of disharmony often arises from factors like stress, excessive physical activity, overconsumption of spicy or heating foods, or an internal imbalance that causes Yang to flare up. Symptoms of Yang Excess include a feeling of heat, red face, irritability, restlessness, thirst, constipation, and a rapid, forceful pulse. Treatment in TCM for Yang Excess aims to cool down and subdue the excessive Yang while nurturing Yin energy to restore balance.... see more

Yang Excess Patterns That Can Lead to Stiff Upper Back

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Liver Yang Rising Stiff upper back, Headaches, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Deafness, Blurry vision, Xerostomia, Dry throat, Insomnia, Irritability, Exhaustion, Anger, Stiff neck, Shoulder stiffness... see more Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | Qi Ju Di Huang Wan | Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin | Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang | Da Chai Hu Tang | Zhen Zhu Mu Wan | Zhen Xin An Shen Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Liver

In TCM the Liver is viewed as the organ responsible for the smooth flow of Qi, Blood, and emotions throughout the body. It plays a key role in regulating mood, storing blood, supporting digestion, and ensuring the health of tendons and eyes. When the Liver malfunctions or is imbalanced in TCM, it can lead to a range of issues such as irritability, mood swings, menstrual irregularities, eye problems, and muscular stiffness or pain. A malfunctioning Liver in TCM reflects not only physical disturbances but also emotional and mental disharmony, emphasizing the holistic approach of TCM in addressing health and wellness.... see more

Liver Patterns That Can Lead to Stiff Upper Back

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Liver Yang Rising Stiff upper back, Headaches, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Deafness, Blurry vision, Xerostomia, Dry throat, Insomnia, Irritability, Exhaustion, Anger, Stiff neck, Shoulder stiffness... see more Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | Qi Ju Di Huang Wan | Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin | Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang | Da Chai Hu Tang | Zhen Zhu Mu Wan | Zhen Xin An Shen Tang

TCM Herbal Formulas for Stiff Upper Back

TCM employs various herbal formulas to address stiff upper back, tailored to the underlying pattern. For Liver Yang Rising, formulas like Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, which nourish Yin and tonify, are recommended.

This formula, containing ingredients like Prepared rehmannia, targets the imbalance between Yin and Yang, providing relief from stiffness. Each herbal formula in TCM is chosen based on the patient’s specific pattern of disharmony, ensuring a personalized treatment approach.

Explore below some TCM herbal formulas used to address stiff upper back, organized by cause and by formula type.

  • By Cause
  • By Formula Type
  • Yang Excess
  • Formulas that nourish yin and tonify
  • Formulas that pacify and extinguish internal wind
  • Formulas that release the exterior and purge the interior
  • Formulas that sedate and calm the mind
  • Formulas that nourish the heart and calm the mind

All Formulas Recommended for Stiff Upper Back Caused by Yang Excess

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Liver Yang Rising
Qi Ju Di Huang Wan Liver Yang Rising
Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin Liver Yang Rising
Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang Liver Yang Rising
Da Chai Hu Tang Liver Yang Rising
Zhen Zhu Mu Wan Liver Yang Rising
Zhen Xin An Shen Tang Liver Yang Rising

All "formulas that nourish yin and tonify" recommended for stiff upper back

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Liver Yang Rising
Qi Ju Di Huang Wan Liver Yang Rising

All "formulas that pacify and extinguish internal wind" recommended for stiff upper back

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin Liver Yang Rising
Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang Liver Yang Rising

Acupoints for Stiff Upper Back

TCM also recommends specific acupoints for alleviating stiff upper back. In the Small Intestine Channel, points like Qiangu SI-2 are used to expel Wind-Heat and open the chest, benefiting the upper back area. The Triple Burner Channel's Xiaoluo TB-12 point is known to remove obstructions from the channel, aiding in reducing stiffness.

Additionally, in the Bladder Channel, Pohu BL-42 plays a significant role in benefiting the Corporeal Soul (Po), tonifying the Lung Qi, and subduing rebellious Lung Qi, which can indirectly relieve upper back stiffness. Acupuncture at these points is aimed at restoring the harmonious flow of Qi, thereby easing stiffness.

Explore below some acupoints used to address stiff upper back, organized by meridian.

  • By Meridian
  • Small Intestine Channel
  • Triple Burner Channel
  • Bladder Channel
Qiangu SI-2

Qiangu SI-2

On the ulnar aspect of the little finger, distal to the metacarpophalangeal joint, at the junction of the shaft and the base of the proximal phalanx.

Xiaoluo TB-12

Xiaoluo TB-12

On the line joining the olecranon and Jianliao TB-14, midway between Qinglengyuan TB-11 and Naohui TB-13, 5 cun proximal to the olecranon. It is just on the lower end of bulge of the lateral head of triceps brachii when the forearm is in pronation.

Pohu BL-42

Pohu BL-42

3 cun (about 4 finger-breadths) lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the 3rd thoracic vertebra (T3).