Chinese Medicine Offers Relief for FibromyalgiaChinese Medicine Offers Relief for Fibromyalgia

By Catherine Browne, L.Ac., MH, Dipl.Ac.

There are a thousand ways to heal, and most of my fibromyalgia patients have tried almost all of them without great success by the time they begin Oriental medical therapies. The symptoms associated with Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) include pain in the muscles and joints, insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, and digestive imbalances. This is a disease process that takes many forms of expressing itself and is tenacious in nature. Because Chinese medical therapies treat energetic imbalances in the body, fibromyalgia responds extremely well to this type of treatment.

Typically, FMS patients look healthy. Hence, no one can imagine that they are quite ill and in a great deal of pain. As a result, FMS sufferers receive little empathy from family, friends, or even health care practitioners. Western medical practitioners often avoid billing using a fibromyalgia code fearing reprisals from insurance companies that are still debating whether or not fibromyalgia even exists. FMS patients also run into misinformed health practitioners who treat fibromyalgia patients as drug seekers. This is because FMS does not respond well to pain medications and patients, especially those with severe pain, are looking for solutions where they may not exist.

There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the origins of FMS. Western medicine has yet to determine the cause of FMS. However, according to the ancient theories of Chinese medicine, fibromyalgia follows patterns of imbalance associated with Qi (vital energy loosely), organs and energetic qualities of the body leading to pain syndromes. Some of the patterns are as follows:

1) Latent Pathogens
According to Chinese medicine, a cold or flu is treated by releasing the pathogen to the exterior. Part of this process includes opening the pours by causing a sweat. If an exterior pathogen is not treated properly, it can become lodged in the interior of the body. This unresolved virus can lodge itself in the muscle tissue, or more seriously, in the organs of the body. Interestingly, antibiotics are very cold in nature and cold causes contraction. When antibiotics are used in the presence of an exterior pathogen, the pathogen cannot move to the exterior. Environment toxins are also pathogenic factors that can become stuck in the muscle tissue.

2) Liver Qi Constraints
The Liver is dynamic in its ability to move Qi in all directions in the body. When the Liver function becomes constrained, there is a tendency for the Liver to become heated. Not only does the Liver function become impaired, but the Liver overacts on other systems. It can affect the Heart function causing insomnia and the Spleen and Large Intestine functions causing digestive difficulties. With Liver Qi constraints there is typically an emotional imbalance causing frustration, easy anger and even depression.

3) Dampness
Imagine a sticky substance like phlegm adhering to every cell in your body. Most of us think of phlegm as something that is restricted to the respiratory system. However, given the right conditions, phlegm can turn up throughout the body. In the case of FMS, it is often lodged in the muscle tissue causing stagnation and pain. This is one of the factors that make FMS so difficult to treat. Western medicine has no way of recognizing or clearing dampness from the tissues.

4) Qi Deficiency
Patients suffering with FMS typically experience bouts of severe lethargy. Their energy is often so depleted that they cannot hold down a job or care for their families on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, tonifying Qi with herbs, heat therapy and acupuncture often strengthens the latent pathogen and worsens the condition. On the other hand, if the body does not have adequate Qi, there is not enough strength to expel the pathogen. The Chinese have a saying that loosely goes, “don’t feed the thief while he is robbing your house.” This is why FMS patients cannot use typical supplements that build energy and vitality in the body.

The patterns listed here are the main underlying patterns seen in FMS patients. The only way for a patient to regain health in this situation is to release the pathogen and resolve the dampness. I have found the following herbs used together to be an effective way of treating fibromyalgia:

Angelica pubescens - du huo - Angelica Root
Pushes out pathogens, dries dampness, and alleviates pain.

Vitex spp.- man jing zi - Chaste Berry
Vitex drive out pathogens clears heat and drains dampness. It clears Liver Heat, especially associated with headaches and eye pain.

Bupleurum - chai hu 
One of the most important herbs in Chinese medicine, it soothes Liver energy and relieves congestion when the Liver Qi is stagnated. This is especially important when one is easily frustrated or feels stuck. It is detoxifying and anti-microbial. Bupleurum has the ability clear stagnation anywhere in the body. It is used to relieve spasms, muscle tension and menstrual irregularity.

Eupatorium perfoliatum - Boneset
Boneset is a Native American herb with potent anti-viral qualities. It drives out pathogens, reduces fevers, and treats deep muscle pain thru anti-inflammatory actions.

Filipendula ulmaria - Meadowsweet
Stimulates circulation and relieves joint and muscle pain. Clears stomach heat and reduces acid reflux. Meadowsweet also relieves headaches and treats achy muscles at the onset of colds and flues. It is a gentle diuretic that clear toxins, uric acid, and edema.

Lactuca spp. - Wild Lettuce
Wild Lettuce is exceptional at calming the Spirit, promoting sleep and reducing pain. It is anti-spasmodic and calming to the nervous system.

Coix lachryma - yi yi ren - Jobi Seed
Drains dampness and increases joint mobility.

Pueraria - ge-gen - Kudzu Root
Kudzu relieves headaches with a stiff neck and releases muscle tension and releases pathogens from muscle tissue.

Cimicifuga spp. - sheng ma - Black Cohosh
A highly revered Native American herb with a vast array of applications including the ability to drive out pathogens and relieve pain.

Poria cocos - fu ling - Hoelen
Poria is a fungus that grows on the roots of pine trees widely used in Chinese herbalism to leach out dampness, drain phlegm, and move fluid stagnation. Poria has important immune enhancing ability.

Nepeta spp. - Catnip
Pushes pathogens to the exterior. Calming to the nervous system.

Cyperus rotundus - xiang fu - Nut Grass Rhizome
A classic supportive herb in Chinese medicine, cyperi moves Qi in the body and spreads Liver Qi.

Foeniculum vulgare - xiao hu xiang - Fennel Seed
Fennel is a versatile herb that spreads Liver Qi, harmonizes the stomach, relieves Large Intestine spasm and gas, supports Kidney Qi, relieves coughing and stimulates the immune system.

Acorus calamus – Sweet Flag
Sweet flag has a very long history of medicinal use in many herbal traditions including Chinese, Native American and Ayurvedic medical systems. It is highly esteemed as a rejuvenator for the brain and nervous system and as a remedy for digestive disorders. It supports the Spleen and resolves dampness.

Cinnamomum cassia - rou gui - Cinnamon Bark
Cinnamon bark is a strong essence tonic that promotes circulation and warms internal energy; it is said that it leads energy back to the source, or Kidney. Cinnamon bark increases the Yang energy and relieves pain from dampness.

Mentha spp. - bo he - Mint
A gentle herb that releases constrained Liver Qi. Mint dispels wind-heat pathogens, such as a common cold or flu with fever and headache by promoting sweating and opening the sinuses. Mint also relieves digestive pain and gas.

Verbena officinalis - ma bian cao - Verbena
Verbena will lift the Spirit while rejuvenating the nervous system and allowing us to process emotions constructively. Additionally, it drives out pathogens and relieves pain by circulating Qi.

Althaea officinalis - Marshmallow Root
Reduces inflammation throughout the body.

While there are no quick fixes in the treatment of FMS, there is great hope and promise using Oriental medical approaches. These specific herbs offers great hope in restoring health in patients who might otherwise suffer needlessly for years.

About the Author:

Catherine Browne, L.Ac., MH, Dipl.Ac. has been a practicing medical herbalist for over 24 years, is a nationally board certified acupuncturist, and had extensive clinical experience and training in Oriental medicine.


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