Upper back stiffness according to Chinese Medicine

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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 soreness and weakness of the knees, dry stools and headaches in the pattern “Liver Yang Rising”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause upper back stiffness.

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

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause upper back stiffness

In Chinese Medicine upper back stiffness 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.

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 soreness and weakness of the knees, dry stools and headaches.

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 upper back 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

Three 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 upper back stiffness is a symptom.

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

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 upper back stiffness?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Painful Obstruction with Qi and Blood Deficiency' of which upper back 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

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 upper back stiffness is a symptom.

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

Read more about Qi Ju Di Huang Wan here

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 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 Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di Huang) help with upper back stiffness?

Because Prepared Rehmannia 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.

Prepared Rehmannia is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Tonifies the Yin of the Kidneys.

Read more about Prepared Rehmannia 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 Chrysanthemum Flower (Ju Hua) help with upper back stiffness?

Because Chrysanthemum Flower is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat upper back 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 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 Spleen, the Heart, the Large intestine, the Lung and the Small intestine.

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