With over $50 Billion spent on back pain relief, surgeries, medications, and other “cures,” it’s no surprise that we are still in search of a way to heal our backs, for good. Frustratingly, many who take the leap and undergo costly and traumatic surgeries still report back pain – even a worsening of their symptoms – after the procedure. Medications like opioids are addictive and are now highly restrictive due to the opioid crisis. Books, diets, procedures, and trendy gadgets all promise the perfect fix for everyone, but the truth is that back pain (like most health issues) must be addressed individually.
Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Approach to Back Pain Relief
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes a different approach to treating back pain. The goal of herbal medicine is to heal the root of the problem, to allow the body to restore its natural form and function. Each back is different, and herbal medicine can be used to address your symptoms with your specific condition in mind.
As the muscles, joints, and nerves of the back begin to heal with herbal medicine, inflammation is eliminated, and pain is reduced or gone completely. The structure of the back is supported and nourished and you are well on your way to getting back to the life you remember.
How Does Chinese Medicine Treat Back Pain?
Back pain is incredibly common with a wide range of possible causes. Overuse or underuse. Sitting too long or standing too long. Injury or unknown reason. Hyper-flexibility or rigidity. There is a kind of back pain for every kind of person out there.
No matter how you developed your pain, there will be an underlying reason as to why your back hasn’t healed properly. Under healthy conditions, even after an injury or overuse, the body will work to repair the damage and return the back to a state of pain-free health. When we lack these healing resources, the pain lingers and we never heal quite fully.
Full-Service Healing: This is where Chinese herbal medicine can make all the difference. The herbs used in formulas that address back pain do have some analgesic properties. Yu Jin, for instance, is an herb commonly used as an analgesic. It has the specific action of strong pain relief, but it is rarely used alone – it will be paired with several other herbs that have less direct functions to increase blood flow, support bone health, reduce inflammation, and even settle the mind. The beauty of the whole herbal formulas themselves is that they also (perhaps more importantly) replenish the body’s ability to heal.
An undernourished body will not be able to provide the rich nutrients required to heal muscle tissue or repair damaged joints. A body blocked with stagnation and distress cannot begin to heal in an inflamed, aggravated environment. Chinese herbs can right these imbalances and provide the optimum environment, energy, and resources for the body to complete the healing process.
Prevention. What’s better? Using Chinese herbs to actually correct the root problem reduces pain, but it also prevents future damage and injury. As a well-oiled machine, the body is less likely to fall victim to the daily strains we put it through, and more likely to recover quick and easy if it does.
Herbal Solutions for Back Pain
Let’s take a look at some of the best herbal formulas for back pain. Each has their own special function, so read on to see what formula fits you and your unique back condition.
Yao Tong Pian: activate
The Yao Tong Pian formula is best for those who show signs of what Chinese medicine practitioners call Kidney Yang Deficiency: a waning in the active, warming, moving aspect of the Kidney system which rules over the low back. Common symptoms are weakness in the low back and knees, poor energy, frequent nighttime urination, and swelling. It can be useful in longstanding cases of weak low back pain or sciatica where the tendons and joints are affected as well as the muscles.
Zuo Gui Wan: nourish
Zuo Gui Wan translates to “restore the left” which refers to the Chinese medical concept of the left Kidney, or Kidney yin. Yin is the nourishing and supporting balance to activating yang. The Kidney system rules over the low back, so this formula is geared towards nourishing a declining and weakened low back by supporting the Kidney Yin. Those with this type of back pain may feel that their backs seem brittle or hard. It’s common to also experience night sweats, hot flashes, frequent short urination, dry mouth, tinnitus, anxiety, or insomnia along with the complaints of back pain.
Xiao Huo Luo Dan: pain-buster
This simple formula can pack a punch. The three herbs in Xiao Huo Luo Dan (turmeric, frankincense, and myrhh) are three powerful blood movers and pain relievers. This formula is great for sharp or severe back pain, especially when inflammation and deep soreness is present. Look to this one if you suffer from bone spurs or have other bone-related causes of back pain. This is a great formula to have on hand as an herbal pain-killer.
Zuo Gu Shen Jing Tang: sciatic support
Pick up a bottle Zuo Gu Shen Jing Tang if you experience sciatic pain with your back pain, or even sciatica alone. This formula targets the hip, sciatic nerve, and leg to move blood, relieve blockages, and reduce pain. It is particularly good for piercing nerve pain.
Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang: protect
Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang is a commonly used formula for a set of conditions called “Bi Syndrome” in Chinese medicine. Bi syndrome refers mostly to joint pain, but there is often an “external” component. What does this mean? This typically refers to the environment having a impact in worsening the condition (such as cold, heat, rain, humidity, etc). For our purposes, Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang might be a good choice for you if you have back pain that worsens with cold and damp weather (think drizzly winter days or even overly-air conditioned offices). If you can tell that it’s going to rain because your back acts up, this might be a formula for you. Pair this internal formula with warming Po Sum On oil.
Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan: reinvigorate
We’ve mentioned the Kidney a few times here, and that’s because of the great influence the Kidney has over the lower back, especially the bones. While other formulas focused on yin or yang, this one is best for qi. Qi is a difficult concept to describe, but it can be most easily likened to power or energy. When you lack enough qi, your body doesn’t have the enough energy to power all your muscles and nervous system. The result? A weak, achy, tender, slow back. Many who have a Kidney Qi-type low back pain will also feel very fatigued, have dark under eye circles, hearing trouble, poor circulation, and poor water metabolism.
Du Zhong Pian: relax
This formula strengthens the lower back, relaxes mental and muscular tension, settles spasms, clears inflammation. It can be used for warm-type back pain with spasmodic muscles as well as sciatic pain. Du Zhong Pian has an added benefit of helping to reduce blood pressure, ringing in the ears, and dizziness.
Topical Solutions for Back Pain
Sometimes we need a little extra help, and Chinese herbs can come to the rescue here as well. Below are some of our favorite topical back pain relief products.
701 Medicated Plasters: herbal Band-Aid (warm relief)
We like to think of our 701 Medicated Plasters as herbal Band-Aids for back pain. While they are best known for use on bone spurs and arthritic joints, 701 plasters work great as pain patches over sore and aching back muscles. These patches can be warming and work best with pain that responds well to warm relaxation. If your back pain is inflammatory or hot in nature, try the Bao Zhen Gao Plasters instead.
Bao Zhen Gao Plasters: herbal Band-Aid (cool relief)
Just like the 701 Plasters, the Bao Zhen Gao plasters act like herbal pain-relief Band-Aids. Place them over the spine or musculature of the back to relieve pain and tightness. Bao Zhen Gao, however, is a cooling version so it’s best for pain that feels inflamed, tight, hot, or gets aggravated with heat.
Yunnan Baiyao Analgesic External Plaster: rescue patches
Yunnan Bai Yao is a famous formula with a colorful history. Today, we use it mostly for injury, bleeding, and pain relief. These Yunnan Bai Yao patches can do wonders on acute back pain after an injury, strain, or pulled muscle. Try these for arthritic backs as well.
Fei Fah Brand Ultra Strength Electric Medicated Balm: smooth relief
If you prefer a balm to an oil, try this Fei Fa Medicated Balm. It can be used for nearly any kind of back pain but works especially great for tired muscular pain.
White Flower Oil: cool and calm
Ahhh. This topical oil not only helps to relieve pain with a cooling, numbing sensation, but smells provides much needed aromatherapy. Peppermint, lavender, menthol, eucalyptus, and evergreen help to soothe your aching muscles and your tired mind.
Po Sum On: wonder oil
This lovely pink oil is a favorite among acupuncturists because it’s gentle quality and wide range of uses make it the perfect secret weapon against pain. Po Sum On is best for sore and tire muscles, and has a light warming quality.
Woodlock Oil: achy joints
This oil is best for arthritic back pain. Dab a few drops of Woodlock oil anywhere on the spine (or other joints that suffer arthritis) and apply a heat pack over top. This helps the oil to penetrate deeper and have a stronger pain-relieving effect.
Back on Track
Back pain is far too common an issue in many homes around the country. We rely on the health of our backs more than we might realize; it’s only when things go wrong that we notice how integral our backs and spines are to our overall well being.
There’s no reason to miss work, sit out on activities, or miss out on life’s great events because of a troubled back. Consider treating your back holistically, and from the root. Pain medications will only mask the issues; it’s time to get to the core issue and heal your back from the inside out. Herbal medicine will help you get back on track.