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, traumatic swelling and blotchy skin in the pattern “Blood Stagnation”. As you will see below, we have in record three patterns that can cause shoulder stiffness.

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

The three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause shoulder stiffness

In Chinese Medicine shoulder stiffness 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.

Peach Kernels (Tao Ren) is the king ingredient for Tao He Cheng Qi Tang, a formula used for Blood Stagnation

Blood Stagnation

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

Tongue color: Reddish-Purple

Blood Stagnation, like the name indicates, is when Blood flow becomes Stagnant. It can happen in the whole body or in specific Organs.

It is one of the most important diagnostic conditions in Chinese Medicine because it is frequently the cause of intractable pain syndromes anywhere in the body.

In addition to shoulder stiffness, other symptoms associated with Blood Stagnation include dizziness, traumatic swelling and blotchy skin.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Scanty Menstruation, Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

Blood Stagnation is often treated with Tao He Cheng Qi Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Tao He Cheng Qi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dispels Heat and".

Read more about Blood Stagnation here

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, soreness and weakness of the knees 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

Painful Obstruction with Qi and Blood Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Slowed-down (Huan)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

In addition to shoulder stiffness, other symptoms associated with Painful Obstruction with Qi and Blood Deficiency include general sensation of heaviness, numbness in the extremities and difficulty in moving.

Painful Obstruction with Qi and Blood Deficiency is often treated with Juan Bi Tang, a herbal formula made of 9 herbs (including Notopterygium Roots - Qiang Huo - as a key herb). Juan Bi 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: "Tonifies and harmonizes the Protective and Nutritive Qi".

Read more about Painful Obstruction with Qi and Blood Deficiency here

Four herbal formulas that might help with shoulder stiffness

Tao He Cheng Qi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Dispels Heat and. Eliminates Blood Stagnation.

Why might Tao He Cheng Qi Tang help with shoulder stiffness?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood Stagnation' of which shoulder stiffness is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Blood Stagnation include dizziness, traumatic swelling and blotchy skin.

Read more about Tao He Cheng Qi Tang here

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 shoulder stiffness is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Liver Yang Rising include dizziness, soreness and weakness of the knees and dry stools.

Read more about Liu Wei Di Huang Wan here

Juan Bi Tang

Source date: 1178 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies and harmonizes the Protective and Nutritive Qi. Dispels Wind. Eliminates Dampness.

Why might Juan Bi Tang help with shoulder stiffness?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Painful Obstruction with Qi and Blood Deficiency' of which shoulder stiffness is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Painful Obstruction With Qi And Blood Deficiency include general sensation of heaviness, numbness in the extremities and difficulty in moving.

Read more about Juan Bi Tang here

Da Huang Mu Dan Pi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Clears Stagnant Heat in the intestines. Reduces swelling and disperses lumps.

Why might Da Huang Mu Dan Pi Tang help with shoulder stiffness?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood Stagnation' of which shoulder stiffness is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Blood Stagnation include dizziness, traumatic swelling and blotchy skin.

Read more about Da Huang Mu Dan Pi Tang here

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

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 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

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 Water Plantain (Ze Xie) help with shoulder stiffness?

Because Water Plantain is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shoulder stiffness as a symptom, like Liu Wei Di Huang Wan or Qi Ju Di Huang Wan for instance.

Water Plantain is a Cold herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Bladder and the Kidney.

Its main actions are: Causes urination and removes Damp-Heat

Read more about Water Plantain here

Why might Mudan Peony Bark (Mu Dan Pi) help with shoulder stiffness?

Because Mudan Peony Bark is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat shoulder stiffness as a symptom, like Da Huang Mu Dan Pi Tang or Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan for instance.

Mudan Peony Bark is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Cools the Blood, activates Blood circulation and resolves Blood stasis.

Read more about Mudan Peony Bark here

Why might Rhubarb (Da Huang) help with shoulder stiffness?

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

Rhubarb is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach, the Large intestine, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Drains Excess Heat and eliminates Dampness, especially when in the Sunlight Yang stage. Cools the Blood and stops bleeding. Invigorates Blood, breaks up Stasis and relieves pain. Clears Heat and toxins from Excess. Applied topically for Hot sores and Blood Stasis.

Read more about Rhubarb here