Back pain according to Chinese Medicine

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Back pain can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like back pain here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here back pain is often associated with dizziness, tinnitus and depression in the pattern “/tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-yin-deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record three patterns that can cause back pain.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of back pain we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat back pain.

The three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause back pain

In Chinese Medicine back pain is a symptom for 3 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

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

Kidney Yin Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Empty (Xu), Floating (Fu)

Tongue coating: Complete absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

Tongue shape: Cracked

Kidney Yin Deficiency causes false Heat symptoms, such as night sweats, thirst and five palm heat. These signs are from a depletion of Body Fluids and Essence. It can be caused by prolonged overwork, excessive sexual activity, chronic long term illnesses, consumption of Body Fluids by Heat, prolonged blood loss, overdosage of Kidney Yang tonics herbs, smoking and Kidney depleting foods such as coffee, alcohol, sugar, and fruit juices.

In addition to back pain, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-yin-deficiency include dizziness, tinnitus and depression.

From a Western Medicine standpoint /tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-yin-deficiency is associated with health issues such as Menopausal Syndrome, Prolonged Periods or Irregular Menstruation.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-yin-deficiency is often treated with Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Liu Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nutritive tonic for the Liver and Kidney Yin Essence (nourishes the parasympathetic nervous system)".

Read more about Kidney Yin Deficiency here

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

Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Yang Rising

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Empty (Xu), Wiry (Xian), Fine (Xi), Floating (Fu)

Tongue color: Red

Liver Yang Rising can create Interior Wind if the condition is not treated for a long time. It can be divided to three categories based on the cause of the pattern: Liver Yin Deficiency, Liver and Kidney Yin Deficiency or Liver Blood Deficiency.

In addition to back pain, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/liver-wind-agitating-internally-due-to-liver-yang-rising include dizziness, tinnitus and night sweats.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/liver-wind-agitating-internally-due-to-liver-yang-rising is often treated with Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Liu Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nutritive tonic for the Liver and Kidney Yin Essence (nourishes the parasympathetic nervous system)".

Read more about Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Yang Rising here

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

Kidney Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo)

Characterised by frequent urination as the most distinguishing symptom. Kidney Qi Deficiency can be a precursor of Heart Qi Deficiency.

In addition to back pain, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-qi-deficiency include dizziness, tinnitus and frequent urination.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-qi-deficiency is often treated with Qing E Wan, a herbal formula made of 3 herbs (including Eucommia Bark - Du Zhong - as a key herb). Qing E Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that warm yang and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms and Reinforces Kidney Yang".

Read more about Kidney Qi Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with back pain

Liu Wei Di Huang Wan

Source date: 1119 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Nutritive tonic for the Liver and Kidney Yin Essence (nourishes the parasympathetic nervous system).

Why might Liu Wei Di Huang Wan help with back pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-yin-deficiency' of which back pain is a symptom.

Read more about Liu Wei Di Huang Wan here

Qi Ju Di Huang Wan

Source date: 1350 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Kidney and Liver Yin. Improves vision.

Why might Qi Ju Di Huang Wan help with back pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/liver-wind-agitating-internally-due-to-liver-yang-rising' of which back pain is a symptom.

Read more about Qi Ju Di Huang Wan here

E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang

Source date: the Qing dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Yin. Nourishes Blood. Calms the Liver. Extinguishes Wind.

Why might E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang help with back pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/liver-wind-agitating-internally-due-to-liver-yang-rising' of which back pain is a symptom.

Read more about E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang here

Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang

Source date: 1918 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Sedates the Liver. Axtinguishes Wind. Nourishes the Yin. Anchors the yang.

Why might Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang help with back pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/liver-wind-agitating-internally-due-to-liver-yang-rising' of which back pain is a symptom.

Read more about Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang here

Qing E Wan

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Warms and Reinforces Kidney Yang.

Why might Qing E Wan help with back pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/kidney-qi-deficiency' of which back pain is a symptom.

Read more about Qing E Wan here

Acupuncture points used for back pain

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat back pain

Why might Achyranthes Root (Niu Xi) help with back pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat back pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat back pain as a symptom (such as Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang for instance).

Achyranthes Roots is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sour. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Moves Blood and relieves pain in the raw state. Tonic to the Liver and Kidneys and strengthens the bones and sinews. Reduces Damp-Heat in the Lower Burner. Regulates the flow of reckless Blood caused by either ascendant Liver Yang or Yin Deficient Fire.

Read more about Achyranthes Roots here

Why might Palmleaf Raspberry (Fu Pen Zi) help with back pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat back pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat back pain as a symptom (such as Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan for instance).

Palmleaf Raspberries is a Warm herb that tastes Sour and Sweet. It targets the Bladder and the Kidney.

Its main actions are: Augments the Kidneys, restrains Essence. Stops leakage of Bodily Fluids.

Read more about Palmleaf Raspberries here

Why might Pilose Antler (Lu Rong) help with back pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat back pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat back pain as a symptom (such as Tu Si Zi Wan for instance).

Pilose Antlers is a Warm herb that tastes Salty and Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies Kidney Yang and the Governor vessel. Supplies Essence, Qi and Blood and supports growth. Strengthens the sinews and bones. Treats infertility and impotence.

Read more about Pilose Antlers here

Why might Glossy Privet Fruit (Nu Zhen Zi) help with back pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat back pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat back pain as a symptom (such as Er Zhi Wan for instance).

Glossy Privet Fruits is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Nourishes Yin of the Liver and Kidneys. Clears Yin Deficiency Heat (False Heat). Brightens the eyes and reduce premature graying hair.

Read more about Glossy Privet Fruits here

Why might Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di Huang) help with back pain?

Because Prepared Rehmannia is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat back pain as a symptom, like Liu Wei Di Huang Wan or Qi Ju Di Huang Wan for instance.

Prepared Rehmannia is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Tonifies the Yin of the Kidneys.

Read more about Prepared Rehmannia here