Shoulder stiffness according to Chinese Medicine

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Shoulder stiffness 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 shoulder stiffness 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 shoulder stiffness is often associated with dizziness, stiff neck and dry stools in the pattern “Liver Yang Rising”.

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

Liver Yang Rising, a "pattern of disharmony" that can cause shoulder stiffness

In Chinese Medicine shoulder stiffness is a symptom for the pattern "Liver Yang Rising". Below is a small explanation for it with links for more details.

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

Liver Yang Rising

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Red

Long term Liver Yin Deficiency causes Liver Yang rising upwards. The treatment should be focused on subduing rising Yang as well as nourishing Liver Yin and Blood. It is also called Arrogant Liver Yang.

In addition to shoulder stiffness, other symptoms associated with Liver Yang Rising include dizziness, stiff neck and dry stools.

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 Yang Rising here

Five herbal formulas that might help with shoulder stiffness

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 shoulder stiffness?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Yang Rising' of which stiff shoulder 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 shoulder stiffness?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Yang Rising' of which stiff shoulder is a symptom.

Read more about Qi Ju Di Huang Wan here

Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin

Source date: 1958 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Calms the Liver. Extinguishes wind. Invigorates the blood. Clears heat. Tonifies the Liver and Kidneys.

Why might Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin help with shoulder stiffness?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Yang Rising' of which stiff shoulder is a symptom.

Read more about Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin here

Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang

Source date: Qing dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Cools the Liver. Extinguishes Wind. Increases Fluids. Relaxes the sinews.

Why might Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang help with shoulder stiffness?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Yang Rising' of which stiff shoulder is a symptom.

Read more about Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang here

Da Chai Hu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Harmonizes and releases the Lesser Yang. Drains internal clumping due to Heat.

Why might Da Chai Hu Tang help with shoulder stiffness?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Yang Rising' of which stiff shoulder is a symptom.

Read more about Da Chai Hu Tang here

Acupuncture points used for shoulder stiffness

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat shoulder stiffness

Why might Peach Kernel (Tao Ren) help with shoulder stiffness?

Because Peach Kernel is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shoulder stiffness as a symptom, like Tao He Cheng Qi Tang or Da Huang Mu Dan Pi Tang for instance.

Peach Kernels is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Large intestine and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Moves Blood and breaks up Stasis. Moistens the Intestines. Relieves coughing.

Read more about Peach Kernels here

Why might White Peony Root (Bai Shao) help with shoulder stiffness?

Because White Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shoulder stiffness as a symptom, like Juan Bi Tang or Ling Jiao Gou Teng 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 shoulder stiffness?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shoulder stiffness as a symptom, like Wu Tou Tang or Tao He Cheng Qi 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 Chrysanthemum Flower (Ju Hua) help with shoulder stiffness?

Because Chrysanthemum Flower is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shoulder stiffness as a symptom, like Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang or Qi Ju Di Huang Wan for instance.

Chrysanthemum Flowers is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Liver and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and clears Heat. Relieves Wind-Heat from the Liver channel and clears the eyes. Cools Heat of the Liver and Kidney due to Yin Deficiency. Relieves patterns of Liver Yang rising.

Read more about Chrysanthemum Flowers here

Why might Host-Wood Poria (Fu Shen) help with shoulder stiffness?

Because Host-Wood Poria is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shoulder stiffness as a symptom, like Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin or Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang for instance.

Host-Wood Poria is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Heart.

Its main actions are: Calms the Mind (Shen) and promote urination.

Read more about Host-Wood Poria here

Other symptoms often associated with shoulder stiffness

Dizziness Stiff neck Dry stools Headaches Tinnitus Deafness Blurred vision Dry mouth Dry throat Insomnia