Muscle pain according to Chinese Medicine

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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 numbness of the muscles, numbness in the limbs and stifling sensation in the chest in the pattern “Phlegm in the Channels joints and muscles”. As you will see below, we have in record five 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 five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause muscle pain

In Chinese Medicine muscle pain is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

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

Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles

Pulse type(s): Tight (Jin), Floating (Fu)

In addition to muscle pain, other symptoms associated with Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles include numbness of the muscles, swollen joints and joint pain.

Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles 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 Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles here

Ephedra (Ma Huang) is the king ingredient for Xiao Qing Long Tang, a formula used for Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm

Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thick white coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

This is when, often due to a stagnant Qi, the Body Fluids are retained in the chest and Lungs.

In addition to muscle pain, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm include feeling of oppression of the chest, dizziness and coughing of copious thin and white sputum.

Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm is often treated with Xiao Qing Long Tang, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Ephedra - Ma Huang - as a key herb). Xiao 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: "Releases the Exterior".

Read more about Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm 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

Five herbal formulas that might help with muscle pain

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.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm In The Channels Joints And Muscles include numbness of the muscles, numbness in the limbs and stifling sensation in the chest.

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 pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Damp-Wind include swollen joints, aversion to cold and fever.

Read more about Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang here

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 'Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles' of which muscle pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Cold Invading The Channels Joints And Muscles include numbness of the muscles, swollen joints and joint pain.

Read more about Wu Tou Tang here

Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Warms the Lungs. Transforms congested Fluids.

Why might Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang help with muscle pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm-Fluids above the diaphragm' of which muscle pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm-Fluids Above The Diaphragm include feeling of oppression of the chest, dizziness and coughing of copious thin and white sputum.

Read more about Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang here

Da Qing Long Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Promotes sweating. Releases the Exterior. Clears Interior Heat.

Why might Da 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 muscle pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm-Fluids In The Limbs include coughing of copious thin and white sputum, feeling of heaviness and absence of sweating.

Read more about Da Qing Long Tang here

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 Spleen, the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung.

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 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 Cinnamon Twig (Gui Zhi) help with muscle pain?

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

Cinnamon Twigs is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Adjusts the nutritive Ying and defensive Wei Qi. Relieves the Exterior through sweating. Warms and disperses Cold. Removes obstruction of Yang. Promotes the circulation of Yang Qi in the chest. Regulates and moves blood.

Read more about Cinnamon Twigs here

Why might Schisandra Berry (Wu Wei Zi) help with muscle pain?

Because Schisandra Berry is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat muscle pain as a symptom, like Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang or Xiao Qing Long Tang for instance.

Schisandra Berries is a Warm herb that tastes Sour and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Kidneys and preserves the Essence. Astringes the Lung Qi and stops coughing. Retains Bodily Fluids and encourages their production. Tonifies the Heart and calms the spirit (Shen).

Read more about Schisandra Berries 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 Spleen and the Liver.

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