TCM Treatments & IBS

The basic treatment principle for irritable bowel syndrome is to relieve the Liver Qi Stasis, strengthen the Spleen Qi, harmonize the Liver and Spleen Zang, and eliminate the Dampness or Damp-Heat.

People with irritable bowel syndrome often respond well to acupuncture, herbal medicine, or Qi Gong. All three therapies may be used together for maximum effect. Before using these modalities as a primary treatment, however, it is important to have a thorough physical examination by a physician to rule out other causes of the symptoms.

IBS & Acupuncture

Acupuncture treatment varies according to the extent to which each Pattern of Disharmony is involved.

  • Liver Qi Stasis might be treated with points such as Liver 3 (Tai Chong) and Large Intestine 4 (He Gu), which also alleviates intestinal Wind caused by the constrained Liver Qi.
  • Spleen Qi Deficiency may be treated with points such as Stomach 36 (Zu San Li) and Spleen 4 (Gong Sun). A combination of these points may be used if the Liver is Invading the Spleen. Likewise, points on the abdomen, such as Stomach 25 (Tian Shu) and Spleen 15 (Da Heng), may help balance symptoms of diarrhea and constipation, and Pericardium 6 (Nei Guan) might be useful as well, as it affects the Liver and Stomach (which is paired with the Spleen) and helps balance the emotions and relieve stress.

If there is Dampness or Damp-Heat, Spleen 9 (Yin Ling Quan) may be added to the point formula.

IBS & Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine also focuses on balancing the Qi of the Liver and Spleen Zang.

  • Liver Qi Stasis might be treated with a combination of herbs such as Chai Hu (Radix Bupleuri), Bai Shao (Radix Paeoniae Lactiflorae), and Xiang Fu (Rhizoma Cyperi Rotundi), and the addition of Fang Feng (Radix Ledebouriellae Divaricatae) may be used to alleviate intestinal Wind caused by the constrained Liver Qi.
  • Spleen Qi Deficiency may be treated with herbs such as Bai Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae) and Dang Shen (Radix Codonopsis). A combination of these herbs may be used if the Liver is Invading the Spleen.

Other herbs may be used to balance symptoms of constipation and diarrhea. For example, the addition of Mu Xiang (Radix Aucklandiae Lappae), Sheng Ma (Rhizoma Cimicifugae), and Cang Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis) may control diarrhea, cramping, and pain, while constipation may be treated with the addition of Zhi Shi (Fructus Aurantii Immaturus). Herbs such as Suan Zao Ren (Semen Ziziphi Spinosi) along with Chai Hu (Radix Bupleuri) may help balance the emotions and relieve stress.

If there is Dampness or Damp-Heat, Fu Ling (Sclerotium Poria Cocos) or Yin Chen Hao (Herba Artemesia Capillaris) may be added to the formula.

Qi Gong

Because irritable bowel syndrome is a functional disorder that has a stress-related component, Qi Gong is an effective treatment. Exercise routines, such as Tai Qi Chuan and the Eight Brocade Exercises of Qi Gong, calm and balance the emotions while moving the Liver Qi and strengthening the Spleen Qi.

Patients may also find it useful to massage the lower abdomen in clockwise circles (if there is constipation) or counterclockwise circles (if there is diarrhea) while focusing on sending Qi to that part of the body. Patients with irritable bowel syndrome also should be encouraged to learn simple meditation or other stress-reduction techniques.

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

Published: 01 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 22 Sep 2015