Stiff neck according to Chinese Medicine

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Stiff neck 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 stiff neck 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 stiff neck is often associated with joint pain, swollen joints and numbness of the muscles in the pattern “Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause stiff neck.

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

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause stiff neck

In Chinese Medicine stiff neck 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.

Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles

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

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

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 Ma Huang Tang, a formula used for Greater Yang Attack of Cold

Greater Yang Attack of Cold

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

In addition to stiff neck, other symptoms associated with Greater Yang Attack of Cold include aversion to cold, occipital headaches and sneezing.

Greater Yang Attack of Cold is often treated with Ma Huang Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ephedra - Ma Huang - as a key herb). Ma Huang 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 exterior cold".

Read more about Greater Yang Attack of Cold here

Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi) is the king ingredient for Gui Zhi Tang, a formula used for Greater Yang Attack of Wind

Greater Yang Attack of Wind

Pulse type(s): Slow (Chi), Floating (Fu)

In addition to stiff neck, other symptoms associated with Greater Yang Attack of Wind include occipital headaches, sneezing and aversion to wind.

Greater Yang Attack of Wind is often treated with Gui Zhi Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Cinnamon Twigs - Gui Zhi - as a key herb). Gui Zhi 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 pathogens from the muscle layer".

Read more about Greater Yang Attack of Wind here

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

Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Wiry (Xian), Full (Shi)

Tongue coating: Thick coating, Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red

Tongue shape: Stiff

The invasion of Exterior Wind-Heat leads to this pattern and it then transforms to Interior Wind and Heat.

In addition to stiff neck, other symptoms associated with Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat include convulsions, dizziness and paralysis.

Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat is often treated with Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin, a herbal formula made of 11 herbs (including Gastrodia Rhizomes - Tian Ma - as a key herb). Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin belongs to the category of "formulas that pacify and extinguish internal wind", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Calms the Liver".

Read more about Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat here

Heat victorious stirring Wind

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to stiff neck, other symptoms associated with Heat victorious stirring Wind include convulsions, high fever and fainting.

Heat victorious stirring Wind is often treated with Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Saiga Antelope's Horns - Ling Yang Jiao - as a key herb). Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that pacify and extinguish internal wind", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Cools the Liver".

Read more about Heat victorious stirring Wind here

Five herbal formulas that might help with stiff neck

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 stiff neck?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles' of which stiff neck is a symptom.

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

Read more about Wu Tou Tang here

Ma Huang Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Releases exterior cold. Treats wheezing.

Why might Ma Huang Tang help with stiff neck?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Greater Yang Attack of Cold' of which stiff neck is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Greater Yang Attack Of Cold include aversion to cold, occipital headaches and sneezing.

Read more about Ma Huang Tang here

Gui Zhi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Releases pathogens from the muscle layer. Regulates the Nutritive and Protective Qi.

Why might Gui Zhi Tang help with stiff neck?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Greater Yang Attack of Wind' of which stiff neck is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Greater Yang Attack Of Wind include occipital headaches, sneezing and aversion to wind.

Read more about Gui Zhi Tang 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 stiff neck?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat' of which stiff neck is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Liver Wind Agitating Internally Due To Extreme Heat include convulsions, dizziness and paralysis.

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 stiff neck?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Heat victorious stirring Wind' of which stiff neck is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Heat Victorious Stirring Wind include convulsions, high fever and fainting.

Read more about Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat stiff neck

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with stiff neck?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat stiff neck as a symptom, like Wu Tou Tang or Ma Huang 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 White Peony Root (Bai Shao) help with stiff neck?

Because White Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat stiff neck as a symptom, like Wu Tou Tang or Gui Zhi 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 Cinnamon Twig (Gui Zhi) help with stiff neck?

Because Cinnamon Twig is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat stiff neck as a symptom, like Gui Zhi Tang or Ma Huang 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 Host-Wood Poria (Fu Shen) help with stiff neck?

Because Host-Wood Poria is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat stiff neck 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

Why might Ephedra (Ma Huang) help with stiff neck?

Because Ephedra is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat stiff neck as a symptom, like Wu Tou Tang or Ma Huang 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