Chinese 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.
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
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
Angelica pubescens - du huo -
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
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.
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