Muscle pain according to Chinese Medicine

Muscle 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 muscle 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 muscle pain is often associated with stiff neck, joint pain and swollen joints in the pattern “Painful Obstruction Syndrome”. As you will see below, we have in record four patterns that can cause muscle pain.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of muscle 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 muscle pain.

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

In Chinese Medicine muscle pain 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.

Painful Obstruction Syndrome

Pulse type(s): Tight (Jin), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to muscle pain, other symptoms associated with Painful Obstruction Syndrome include stiff neck, joint pain and swollen joints.

Painful Obstruction Syndrome is often treated with Wu Tou Tang, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Prepared Sichuan Aconite - Zhi Chuan Wu - as a key herb). Wu Tou Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that warm the meridians and disperse cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms the channels and remove obstruaction".

Read more about Painful Obstruction Syndrome here

Ephedra (Ma Huang) is the king ingredient for Da Qing Long Tang, a formula used for Phlegm-Fluids in the limbs

Phlegm-Fluids in the limbs

Pulse type(s): Tight (Jin), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick white coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

This is when Body Fluids stagnate in the four limbs instead of flowing in the body and getting released as sweat.

In addition to muscle pain, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Fluids in the limbs include coughing of copious thin and white sputum, feeling of heaviness and absence of sweating.

Phlegm-Fluids in the limbs is often treated with Da Qing Long Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Ephedra - Ma Huang - as a key herb). Da Qing Long Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear wind-cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Promotes sweating".

Read more about Phlegm-Fluids in the limbs here

Phlegm in the Channels joints and muscles

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

The bone deformities that occur in chronic rheumatoid arthritis are seen as a form of Phlegm.

In addition to muscle pain, other symptoms associated with Phlegm in the Channels joints and muscles include numbness of the muscles, numbness in the limbs and stifling sensation in the chest.

Phlegm in the Channels joints and muscles is often treated with Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 12 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that regulate blood", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Invigorates Blood".

Read more about Phlegm in the Channels joints and muscles here

Notopterygium Roots (Qiang Huo) is the king ingredient for Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang, a formula used for Damp-Wind

Damp-Wind

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Floating (Fu)

In addition to muscle pain, other symptoms associated with Damp-Wind include swollen joints, aversion to cold and fever.

Damp-Wind is often treated with Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Notopterygium Roots - Qiang Huo - as a key herb). Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dispel wind-damp", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Expels wind and dampness".

Read more about Damp-Wind here

Five herbal formulas that might help with muscle pain

Wu Tou Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Warms the channels and remove obstruaction. Disperse Cold and Dampness. Warms the joints. Relieve joints pain.

Why might Wu Tou Tang help with muscle pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Painful Obstruction Syndrome' of which muscle pain is a symptom.

Read more about Wu Tou Tang here

Xiao Qing Long Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Releases the Exterior. Transforms Phlegm-Fluids. Warms the Lungs. Directs Rebellious Qi downward.

Why might Xiao Qing Long Tang help with muscle pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Fluids in the limbs' of which pain in the muscles is a symptom.

Read more about Xiao Qing Long Tang here

Da Fang Feng Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Key actions: Expel Wind Damp. Relieve pain. Tonify the Liver and the Kidneys. Tonify the Blood and Qi.

Why might Da Fang Feng Tang help with muscle pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Painful Obstruction Syndrome' of which muscle pain is a symptom.

Read more about Da Fang Feng Tang here

Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates Blood. Unblocks painful obstruction. Relieves pain. Invigorate Qi. Dispels Blood Stagnation. Unblock Channels.

Why might Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang help with muscle pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm in the Channels joints and muscles' of which muscle pain is a symptom.

Read more about Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang here

Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang

Source date: 1247 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Expels wind and dampness.

Why might Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang help with muscle pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Wind' of which muscle ache is a symptom.

Read more about Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang here

Acupuncture points used for muscle pain

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

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

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle pain as a symptom, like Wu Tou Tang or Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin 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 Notopterygium Root (Qiang Huo) help with muscle pain?

Because Notopterygium Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle pain as a symptom, like Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang or Da Fang Feng Tang for instance.

Notopterygium Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Bladder and the Kidney.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold and Dampness. Relieves Wind-Damp-Cold painful obstruction. Directs Qi to the Greater Yang (Tai Yang) channel and the Governing Vessel.

Read more about Notopterygium Roots here

Why might Ephedra (Ma Huang) help with muscle pain?

Because Ephedra is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle pain as a symptom, like Da Qing Long Tang or Xiao Qing Long Tang for instance.

Ephedra is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Bladder and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Releases the surface through sweating. Promotes the circulation of Lung Qi and stop wheezing. Promotes urination.

Read more about Ephedra here

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

Because White Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle pain as a symptom, like Wu Tou Tang or Xiao Qing Long 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 Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with muscle pain?

Because Szechuan Lovage Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle pain as a symptom, like Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang or Da Fang Feng Tang for instance.

Szechuan Lovage Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Gallbladder, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Regulates and moves the Blood. Relieves Wind-Cold and pain. Circulates the Qi in the Upper Burner, relieving headaches.

Read more about Szechuan Lovage Roots here