Muscle cramps according to Chinese Medicine

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Muscle cramps 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 muscle cramps 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 muscle cramps is often associated with amenorrhea, dizziness and insomnia in the pattern “Liver Yin Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record four patterns that can cause muscle cramps.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of muscle cramps we’ve identified four 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 muscle cramps.

The four "patterns of disharmony" that can cause muscle cramps

In Chinese Medicine muscle cramps is a symptom for 4 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

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

Liver Yin Deficiency

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

Tongue coating: Complete absence of coating

Tongue color: Red points on the sides

This is a type of empty Fire pattern arising out of Liver Blood Deficiency or Kidney Yin Deficiency. It shares similar symptoms as Liver Blood Deficiency, but with extra signs of Dryness and Yin-Deficient Heat. It can be caused by excessive activity, overwork, 'burning the candle at both ends' without sufficient rest, and poor and irregular diet.

In addition to muscle cramps, other symptoms associated with Liver Yin Deficiency include amenorrhea, dizziness and insomnia.

Liver Yin Deficiency is often treated with Qi Ju Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Qi Ju 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: "Nourishes Kidney and Liver Yin".

Read more about Liver Yin Deficiency here

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

Liver and Heart Blood Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Fine (Xi)

In addition to muscle cramps, other symptoms associated with Liver and Heart Blood Deficiency include amenorrhea, dizziness and insomnia.

Liver and Heart Blood Deficiency is often treated with Gui Pi Tang, a herbal formula made of 12 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Gui Pi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi and blood", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood".

Read more about Liver and Heart Blood Deficiency here

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

Spleen and Liver Blood Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Fine (Xi)

In addition to muscle cramps, other symptoms associated with Spleen and Liver Blood Deficiency include amenorrhea, dizziness and insomnia.

Spleen and Liver Blood Deficiency is often treated with Gui Pi Tang, a herbal formula made of 12 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Gui Pi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi and blood", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood".

Read more about Spleen and Liver Blood Deficiency here

Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di huang) is the king ingredient for Si Wu Tang, a formula used for Blood Deficiency and Stagnation

Blood Deficiency and Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Fine (Xi), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to muscle cramps, other symptoms associated with Blood Deficiency and Stagnation include amenorrhea, dizziness and insomnia.

Blood Deficiency and Stagnation is often treated with Si Wu Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Si Wu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify blood", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Restores and nourishes Blood".

Read more about Blood Deficiency and Stagnation here

Four herbal formulas that might help with muscle cramps

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 muscle cramps?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Yin Deficiency' of which muscle cramps is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Liver Yin Deficiency include amenorrhea, dizziness and insomnia.

Read more about Qi Ju Di Huang Wan here

Sheng Yu Tang

Source date: 1336 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Preserves the Blood.

Why might Sheng Yu Tang help with muscle cramps?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver and Heart Blood Deficiency' of which muscle cramps is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Liver And Heart Blood Deficiency include amenorrhea, dizziness and insomnia.

Read more about Sheng Yu Tang here

Gui Pi Tang

Source date: 1529 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood. Tonifies Heart and Spleen.

Why might Gui Pi Tang help with muscle cramps?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Spleen and Liver Blood Deficiency' of which muscle cramps is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen And Liver Blood Deficiency include amenorrhea, dizziness and insomnia.

Read more about Gui Pi Tang here

Si Wu Tang

Source date: 846 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Restores and nourishes Blood. Stimulates Blood circulation.

Why might Si Wu Tang help with muscle cramps?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood Deficiency and Stagnation' of which muscle cramps is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Blood Deficiency And Stagnation include amenorrhea, dizziness and insomnia.

Read more about Si Wu Tang here

Acupuncture points used for muscle cramps

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat muscle cramps

Why might Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di Huang) help with muscle cramps?

Because Prepared Rehmannia is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle cramps as a symptom, like Qi Ju Di Huang Wan or Bu Gan Tang 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

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with muscle cramps?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle cramps as a symptom, like Sheng Yu Tang or Bu Gan Tang for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Liver and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here

Why might White Peony Root (Bai Shao) help with muscle cramps?

Because White Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle cramps as a symptom, like Bu Gan Tang or Si Wu Tang for instance.

White Peony Roots is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sour. It targets the Liver and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood and preserves the Yin. Nourishes the Liver and assists in the smooth flow of Qi. Regulates the meridians and eases the pain.

Read more about White Peony Roots here

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with muscle cramps?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle cramps as a symptom, like Gui Pi Tang or Bu Gan Tang for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Milkvetch Root (Huang Qi) help with muscle cramps?

Because Milkvetch Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle cramps as a symptom, like Gui Pi Tang or Sheng Yu Tang for instance.

Milkvetch Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Lung and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Wei Qi and stops perspiration. Tonifies the Spleen Qi and the Yang Qi of the Earth Element. Tonifies the Qi and Blood. Expels pus and assists in the healing of wounds. Helps to regulate water metabolism in the body and reduce edema.

Read more about Milkvetch Roots here