What are Chinese Herbs for Pain?

Patients commonly seek Chinese Medical care because they are in pain.

Acupuncture is becoming well known for its ability to resolve pain. A growing number of studies are demonstrating its use in the treatment of painful conditions such as low back pain and sciatica. In Chinese Medical terms it is said, “ where there is pain there is stagnation”. This means that pain is indicative of some kind of blockage in the Meridian or Channel System. Acupuncture has the ability to “move qi and blood” and is therefore a treatment of choice for pain relief. What is not as well known is that there is a long tradition of using Chinese Herbs internally, meaning taken by mouth, for the treatment of pain disorders. For example, some of the most useful Chinese Herbal Formulas fall into the category of “Tieh Tah”, or “Hit Medicine”. These are formulas that come from the martial arts tradition and historically have been an important branch of Chinese Medical study. However many herbal formulas have pain relieving functions.

Chinese Herbs have advantages over pharmaceuticals for resolving pain. While western medications may be more quick acting they have numerous side effects and many patients have difficulty tolerating them. All substances that are ingested must some how be detoxified and expelled by the body. Drugs are processed through the liver or the kidneys and some may irritate the stomach. The use of pain relievers daily can be problematic. For example Acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol, is toxic to the liver and in high doses, taken over a period of time or in combination with alcohol can lead to liver damage. Other NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen (Advil) can irritate the stomach and cause ulcers. Advil has also been linked to renal damage. Narcotic pain relievers like Vicodin are extremely habit forming, may be very sedating and can cause symptoms like nausea and constipation.

The beauty of Chinese Medicine is that by treating the “pattern of disharmony” presenting symptoms are alleviated. This means that if pain is caused by stagnation, pain will be relieved by herbs that regulate or move qi and/or blood. We can treat the “root and the branch” simultaneously, relieving pain and resolving the underlying disharmony.

Chinese Herbs are easily administered at home. Herbs can be taken in the form of teas that are cooked at home, pills, granules or tinctures.   Herbs can also be targeted to treat pain in a specific area of the body. For example, for tight muscles in the upper back and shoulder blades Ge Gen (Kudzu) will guide an herbal formula to that area. It can be combined with herbs that specifically relax spasms like Bai Shao and Zhi Gan Cao (White Peony and Baked Licorice) and medicinals like Ji Xue Teng (Milletia) that open the channels and invigorate and nourish the blood. Pharmaceuticals are broad-acting and often do not target specific areas of the body.

As an adjunct to the use of internal herbs, liniments, plasters, or soaks can be used in the management of pain. Self-massage, epsom salts baths, stretching exercises, relaxation techniques and the application of caster oil packs can also be helpful. If you are dealing with pain feel free to talk with your practitioner about your treatment plan, home care suggestions and herbal formulas that may be helpful to resolve your condition and support your healing.

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