Swollen limbs according to Chinese Medicine

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Swollen limbs 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 swollen limbs 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 swollen limbs is often associated with oily skin, fatigue and nausea in the pattern “Damp-Phlegm”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause swollen limbs.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of swollen limbs we’ve identified three 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 swollen limbs.

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause swollen limbs

In Chinese Medicine swollen limbs is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Damp-Phlegm

Damp-Phlegm

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua)

In addition to swollen limbs, other symptoms associated with Damp-Phlegm include oily skin, fatigue and nausea.

Damp-Phlegm is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

Read more about Damp-Phlegm 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 swollen limbs, other symptoms associated with Phlegm-Fluids in the limbs include irritability, coughing of copious thin and white sputum and no desire to drink.

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

Three herbal formulas that might help with swollen limbs

Er Chen Tang

Source date: 1148 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm. Regulates Qi and harmonizes the Middle Burner (Stomach and Spleen).

Why might Er Chen Tang help with swollen limbs?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm' of which swollen limbs is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Damp-Phlegm include oily skin, fatigue and nausea.

Read more about Er Chen 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 swollen limbs?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Phlegm-Fluids In The Limbs include irritability, coughing of copious thin and white sputum and no desire to drink.

Read more about Da Qing Long Tang here

Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1675 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Spleen and Stomach Qi. Removes Dampness. Moves Qi. Alleviates pain.

Why might Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang help with swollen limbs?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm' of which swollen limbs is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Damp-Phlegm include oily skin, fatigue and nausea.

Read more about Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat swollen limbs

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with swollen limbs?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen limbs as a symptom, like Er Chen Tang or Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi 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 Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) help with swollen limbs?

Because Fresh Ginger is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen limbs as a symptom, like Da Qing Long Tang or Er Chen Tang for instance.

Fresh Ginger is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Warms and circulates Qi in the Middle Burner. Calms a restless fetus and treats morning sickness. Treats seafood poisoning.

Read more about Fresh Ginger here

Why might Cinnamon Twig (Gui Zhi) help with swollen limbs?

Because Cinnamon Twig is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen limbs as a symptom, like Shen Qi Wan or Xiao 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 Crow-Dipper Rhizome (Ban Xia) help with swollen limbs?

Because Crow-Dipper Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen limbs as a symptom, like Er Chen Tang or Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang for instance.

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Drains Dampness and reduces Phlegm. Reverses the flow of Rebellious Qi. Reduces hardenings and relieves distention.

Read more about Crow-Dipper Rhizomes here

Why might Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with swollen limbs?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen limbs as a symptom, like Er Chen Tang or Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang for instance.

Poria-Cocos Mushrooms is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and drains Dampness. Tonic to the Spleen/Stomach. Assists the Heart and calms the Spirit.

Read more about Poria-Cocos Mushrooms here