TCM and Multiples Sclerosis

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), multiple sclerosis is associated with a Wei or flaccidity syndrome, which results in muscular weakness. This is an association, not a classification, however—Wei syndromes generally do not result in pain and some symptoms of MS may be painful. Aspects of MS are associated with Bi or blockage syndrome as well.

Like Wei syndrome, however, TCM theorizes the origin of MS to be an invasion of External Pathogenic Factors such as Dampness (which affects the Spleen and muscles) in patients with a weak Spleen Zang, or a deficiency in the Liver and Kidney Zang (which affects the tendons and bones, and are thought to play a role in the function of the nervous system. Hence, the etiology of MS may be varied and include factors such as early exposure to damp environments, improper diet, excessive sexual activity, shock, and a predisposition towards Liver and Kidney Zang deficiency. The initial stages of MS usually result from Dampness invading the muscles. As the disease progresses, symptoms of Liver and Kidney Zang Deficiency frequently begin to develop and may progress to symptoms of Liver Yang rising, such as dizziness or stiffness, and then to Liver Wind, resulting in tremors and paralysis.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Categories of Multiple Sclerosis

In terms of TCM, multiple sclerosis is categorized on the basis of the predominance of signs and symptoms:

  • Spleen Deficiency with Dampness Lodging in the Channels: Typical signs include paresthesia, numbness, sensation of heaviness in the limbs, poor appetite, abdominal distention after meals, loose stools, fatigue, dizziness, and weakness in the muscles. The tongue is usually swollen, with teethmarks and a greasy coating and the pulse is slippery. If there is a recent external invasion of the Dampness Pathogen, the pulse might be floating as well.
  • Liver and Kidney Deficiency: Typical signs of this Pattern of Disharmony are numbness and weakness, dizziness, and soreness in the lower back and knees. If Liver and Kidney Yin Deficiency is present, there also may be insomnia and dry mouth, with a scantily coated red tongue and a thin rapid pulse. If the Liver Yang is rising, there may be stiffness and dizziness, with a coated red tongue and a wiry pulse. If there is Liver Wind, there may be spasms or paralysis and the pulse is wiry.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis

Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment for multiple sclerosis focuses on treating symptoms as they arise while strengthening the Spleen, resolving Dampness, and nourishing the Kidney and Liver Zang.

While Traditional Chinese Medicine cannot cure multiple sclerosis, it provides an important complementary treatment approach. While each of the modalities is important, acupuncture is probably the most demonstrably effective approach and Qi Gong plays a secondary role. Herbal medicine may be useful, but its results, while deeper acting, take longer to manifest.

MS & Acupuncture

Acupuncture points may be chosen according to the Pattern of Disharmony and the patient's particular symptoms. For example:

  • Dampness with Spleen Deficiency requires treatment of acupuncture points such as Stomach 36 (Zu San Li), Spleen 9 (Yin Ling Quan), and Stomach 40 (Feng Long) to resolve the underlying condition.
  • Local points may be added to address specific muscular complaints. For example, Stomach 32 (Fu Tu) may be used for patients complaining of tired and heavy limbs and Ren 12 (Zhong Wan) for those with digestive complaints.
  • Liver and Kidney Deficiency benefits from points such as Spleen 6 (San Yin Jiao), Kidney 3 (Tai Xi), and Liver 8 (Qu Quan) to treat the underlying Pattern of Disharmony.
  • If Liver Yang Rising or Liver Wind, points such as Liver 3 (Tai Chong) may be added. Local acupuncture points can be needled to treat symptoms such as tremors and stiff muscles.

MS & Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine may be used to treat MS—the combination of specific herbs varies according to which Patterns of Disharmony the patient manifests.

  • For Dampness Patterns, herbs such as Cang Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis Lanceae) and Yi Yi Ren (Semen Coicis Lachryma Jobi) are appropriate to strengthen the Spleen and drain Dampness. If there are prevalent signs of a recent invasion of Exterior Dampness, herbs such as Huo Xiang (Herba Agastachis) and Pei Lan (Herba Eupatorii) may be added as well.
  • For Liver and Kidney Deficiency, herbs such as Shu Di Huang (Radix Rehmanniae) and Sang Ji Sheng (Ramus Loranthi) may be used to tonify the Liver and Kidneys. If there is Liver Yang Rising, herbs such as Mu Dan Pi (Cortex Moutan Radixcis) may be added; Liver Wind may be treated by adding herbs such as Tian Ma (Rhizoma Gastrodiae) and Gou Teng (Ramulus Uncariae cum Uncis).

If there is muscular pain or discomfort, herbs that are used to treat Bi syndrome by dispelling wind and dampness may be added to the formulas. Some typical choices are Du Huo (Radix Angelicae Pubescentis) and Wu Jia Pi (Cortex Acanthopanacis Radicis).

MS & Qi Gong

While regular practice of Qi Gong is an important component of TCM treatment of multiple sclerosis, it is important for patients to engage in the appropriate exercises. Qi Gong exercises such as Tai Qi Quan and the Eight Brocade exercises may prove useful for maintaining strength, flexibility, and balance. MS patients also may massage and stretch their limbs while focusing on bringing Qi to the affected areas.

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

Published: 02 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 22 May 2014