Upper back stiffness according to Chinese Medicine

Upper back 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 upper back 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 upper back stiffness is often associated with dry stools, headaches and dizziness in the pattern “Liver Yang Rising”.

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

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

In Chinese Medicine upper back 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 upper back stiffness, other symptoms associated with Liver Yang Rising include dry stools, headaches and dizziness.

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 upper back 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 upper back stiffness?

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about Da Chai Hu Tang here

Acupuncture points used for upper back stiffness

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat upper back stiffness

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

Because White Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat upper back 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 Baikal Skullcap Root (Huang Qin) help with upper back stiffness?

Because Baikal Skullcap Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat upper back stiffness as a symptom, like Da Chai Hu Tang or Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin for instance.

Baikal Skullcap Roots is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder, the Heart, the Large intestine, the Lung, the Small intestine and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Expels Heat and Dampness. Clears Upper Burner Heat, especially of the Lung. Clears Heat and stops reckless movement of Blood. Clears pathogenic Heat which is upsetting the fetus. Cools the Liver, reducing Liver Yang rising syndrome.

Read more about Baikal Skullcap Roots here

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

Because Mudan Peony Bark is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat upper back stiffness as a symptom, like Liu Wei Di Huang Wan or Qi Ju Di Huang 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 Host-Wood Poria (Fu Shen) help with upper back stiffness?

Because Host-Wood Poria is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat upper back 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

Why might Jujube Date (Da Zao) help with upper back stiffness?

Because Jujube Date is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat upper back stiffness as a symptom, like Da Chai Hu Tang or Juan Bi Tang for instance.

Jujube Dates is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen and Stomach Qi. Tonifies the Blood. Calms the Shen (spirit). Moderates the actions of other herbs in formula.

Read more about Jujube Dates here

Other symptoms often associated with upper back stiffness

Dry stools Headaches Dizziness Tinnitus Deafness Blurred vision Dry mouth Dry throat Insomnia Irritability