TCM and Fibromyalgia

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) categorizes fibromyalgia as a blockage in the smooth flow of Qi and Blood throughout the energetic pathways in the body. Accordingly, the disorder is classified as a type of Bi, or impediment, syndrome affecting the muscles: Muscle Bi.

Because pain in TCM indicates the presence of a blockage, conditions such as fibromyalgia are called Painful Obstruction Syndromes. The immediate cause of Bi syndromes is environmental: pathogenic influences of Wind, Cold, and Dampness, are said to penetrate the body's defenses and lodge in the muscles, tendons, and joints, creating obstruction and causing pain, stiffness and other symptoms. The confluence of these pathogens also can lead to the generation of Heat in the affected areas, manifesting as inflammation.

While the Qi usually is strong enough to resist invasion by environmental pathogens, several internal disharmonies in the Qi and the Blood can predispose a person to Bi syndrome.

  • People under stress often suffer from obstructed flow of Qi and Blood in the body because stress affects the Liver, which is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi. Obstruction creates an environment in which pathogens can invade and lodge.
  • Insufficient Blood and Qi can lead to the body's energetic pathways being incompletely filled, allowing pathogens to invade.
  • Genetic predisposition, poor diet, overwork, or insufficient exercise can weaken the Zang Organs, such as the Kidney or Spleen—responsible for supplying the kinds of Qi that maintain overall resistance—allowing Pathogenic Influences to invade as well.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Categories of Fibromyalgia

TCM diagnoses Muscle Bi syndrome based on the predominance of Wind, Cold, or Damp symptoms. All three pathogenic factors usually are found together; Wind is said to carry the others into the body. Each, however, has a separate set of symptoms, with one factor playing a primary role. Accordingly, Muscle Bi is differentiated into the following categories:

  • Wind Bi: Wind predominates when a patient exhibits pain that begins and ends rapidly, limits the range of comfortable movement, and moves among different parts of the body. Windy weather can make symptoms worse. A patient afflicted with Wind Bi also may have an aversion to wind, a floating pulse, and a tongue of normal color with a thin, white coat. Because this type of Bi moves from area to area, it is also known as "Wandering Bi."
  • Cold Bi: Cold predominates when the pain is severe, limits the range of comfortable movement, and has fixed locations. Cold temperatures worsen the condition and warmth improves it. A patient afflicted with Cold Bi may have an aversion to cold, a tight pulse, and a white coat on the tongue. Because this type of Bi usually results in severe pain, it is also known as "Painful Bi."
  • Damp Bi: Damp predominates when the pain is characterized by soreness, limits the range of comfortable movement, and is accompanied by feelings of heaviness and sometimes numbness. Pain tends to be fixed in areas of the body. Dampness worsens the condition, and there may be swelling of affected areas. Patients afflicted with Damp Bi usually have an aversion to damp weather, a slippery pulse, and a greasy tongue coating. Because this type of Bi is characterized by fixed areas and sensations of heaviness, it is also known as "Fixed Bi."

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 02 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 08 Sep 2011