Motion sickness according to Chinese Medicine

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Motion sickness factsheet

In Chinese Medicine, motion sickness can be associated with three so-called "patterns of disharmony". Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted. It is not equivalent to the Western concept of "disease", as a matter of fact here motion sickness can be caused by three different patterns.

To understand whether someone's motion sickness might be caused by a given pattern, one needs to look for signs and symptoms associated with the pattern beyond what one might typically experience from motion sickness alone. For instance when motion sickness is caused by the pattern Phlegm, patients also experience symptoms such as feeling of oppression of the chest, muzziness of the head, dizziness and nausea. Similarly, patients with Phlegm typically exhibit slippery (Hua) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as swollen tongue with sticky coating .

We've listed below a description of the three patterns associated with motion sickness so that you can start to get an understanding of the various possibilities according to Chinese Medicine.

Once identified, patterns are often treated using herbal formulas. Drinking herbal infusions is the most common remedy in Chinese Medicine, together with acupuncture. Here we detail below Wu Ling San, a formula that can help treat the patterns Phlegm, Spleen Deficiency with Dampness and Phlegm in the Lower Burner.

The three "patterns of disharmony" associated with motion sickness

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the key herb for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Phlegm


Phlegm has a great importance in Chinese Medicine as it is both a condition in and of itself as well as a cause for other diseases.

The main cause for the formation of Phlegm is Spleen Deficiency since the Spleen rules the transformation and transportation of Body Fluids. If this function is impaired, Body Fluids accumulates and change into Phlegm. 

The Lungs and Kidneys may also be involved since they each play a role in handling body Fluids: the Lungs disperse and descend Body Fluids while the Kidneys transform and excrete them. Again, if they fail to perform those roles, Body Fluids will accumulate and become Phlegm.

That being said, the Spleen malfunction is the fundamental reason behind the formation of Phlegm and, as such, treatments will focus on it first and foremost.

There are two broad types of Phlegm: so-called "Substantial Phlegm" and "Non-Substantial Phlegm". Simply put, Substantial Phlegm can be seen, such as sputum in the Lungs and throat. Non-Substantial Phlegm is more hidden and will manifest itself into, for instance, kidney stones, gallstones or arthritic bone deformities.

Phlegm can accumulate and settle down in different parts of the body and lead to corresponding symptoms. For example, if it stays in the joints, muscles and Channels, there are muscle numbness, bone deformities and etc. If it mists the Heart, it causes many mental illness. If it settles in the Gall Bladder or Kidney, it leads to stones in these Organs. 

Phlegm can further be categorized according to its nature: there is Damp-Phlegm, Phlegm-Heat, Cold-Phlegm, Wind-Phlegm, Qi-Phlegm, Phlegm-Fluids and etc. 

"Phlegm-Fluids" is very similar to Dampness and is very watery and thin. It can be heard splashing in the body, found usually in the Stomach and Small Intestines, hypochondrium, limbs or above the diaphragm.

Read more about Phlegm here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Spleen Deficiency with Dampness

Motion sickness might be due to Spleen Deficiency with Dampness if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as edema, general sensation of heaviness, diarrhea and urinary difficulty.

Read more about Spleen Deficiency with Dampness here

The Triple Burner is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Triple Burner in Chinese Medicine

Phlegm in the Lower Burner

Motion sickness might be due to Phlegm in the Lower Burner if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as throbbing pulsations just below the umbilicus, vomiting frothy saliva, vertigo and shortness of breath.

Read more about Phlegm in the Lower Burner here

Wu Ling San, a herbal formula that might help with motion sickness

Wu Ling San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes urination,. Warms the Yang. Strengthens the Spleen. Promotes Qi transformation function. Drains Dampness. Clears edema.

Why might Wu Ling San help with motion sickness?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help with the patterns Phlegm, Spleen Deficiency with Dampness and Phlegm in the Lower Burner which are sometimes associated with motion sickness. If any of these patterns look like something you might suffer from, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Wu Ling San here