Proper blood flow is essential to healing from chronic injuries and pain, trauma, sprains, strains and other musculoskeletal problems. There are many Chinese herbs that improve circulation and promote healing. This article will teach us why blood flow slows or gets blocked, what happens when blood stagnates and what can be done to prevent blood stagnation.
When blood flow begins to flow more slowly than normal (due to blockage by pathogenic factors, Qi dysfunctions or other mechanical impediments) quick action should be taken to restore normal blood circulation. If no action is taken and no improvement is made, the blood flow will actually stagnate. It can begin to accumulate, and, in more severe cases, the blood can congeal and form masses, swelling, and/or tumors. When the blood stagnates in this way without intervention, blood and phlegm masses can form, especially in late-stage degenerative conditions with bony spurs.
There are three general degrees of the elimination of blood stasis. It is important to match the strength of the method used to stimulate blood circulation with the level of stagnation experienced. Choosing a method that is too strong can cause an excess response or waste of blood, yin, fluids and Qi.
So, let’s take a closer look at the degrees or levels for the treatment of blood-stasis:
- Level 1: The first level involves the activation of the blood, promotion of circulation, regulation of Qi and elimination of stasis. It is the least aggressive method for treating blood stasis. This level is applied to issues of poor posture, or where tissues are stressed or excessively stretched for prolonged periods and have become painful. These are overuse/underuse conditions where underuse has caused slowed circulation and poor nourishment of the sinews or where overuse has caused excessive demand. These conditions are not chronic and are usually the easiest to treat.
Herbs that improve circulation; used for Level 1 Blood Stasis
- Chuan Xiong - Activates the Qi within the blood; very important herb for treating pain.
- Yan Hu Suo – Activates the Qi within the blood; very important herb for treating pain and can be used for all types of pain. (We have and article about the use of Yan Hu Suo for low-level chronic pain, HERE).
- Dan Shen – Slightly cold; Can clear heat, cool the blood and calm the mind; promotes circulation; reduce pain (musculoskeletal pain); useful for helping to heal bone fractures.
- Hong Hua - Promotes circulation; breaks congealed blood; reduces pain; anti-inflammatory.
- Hu Zhang – Activates blood circulation; anti-inflammatory
- Jiang Huang- Breaks blood stasis; promotes circulation; relieves pain; important for shoulder or upper limb pain.
- Yu Jin - Activates the Qi within the blood; slightly cold; sometimes used in traumatic bleeding.
Level 2: The second level is to further activate the blood, but, more importantly, to dispel stasis. The goal of level 2 treatment is dispel the blood stasis first. This is accomplished by:
- dissolving and dissipating congealed blood,
- opening the channels and network vessels,
- thinning the blood, and
- increasing microcirculation.
Dispelling the blood stasis in this way allows the blood to penetrate and nourish the tissues. This level should be applied to those who awake with pain and stiffness, but feel better after some movement, and to those who report their backs being “out” and require frequent spinal adjustments. The conditions at this level have become chronic.
Herbs that Improve Circulation; used for Level 2 Blood Stasis
- Ji Xue Teng – Invigorates the blood; promotes circulation; tonifies the blood; opens collateral/network-vessels; reduce pain; often used int eh elderly
- Chi Shao – Clears excess heat from the blood; invigorates the blood; anti-inflammatory.
- Si Gua Lao – Expels wind; invigorates blood; clears damp-heat; especially useful for treating painful sore muscles and sinews or acute injury of the chest or lumbar area.
- Ru Xiang – Penetrates and regulates Qi; promotes Qi and blood circulation; relaxes the sinew; analgesic, anti-inflammatory; used for stiff, swollen, and painful joints or soft tissues, sprains, strains, and fractures.
- Mo Yao – Breaks congealed blood; treats hard masses (spurs), traumatic sprains, strains and fractures as well as stiff, swollen and painful joints.
- Lu Lu Tong – Opens all the channels and network vessels; promotes movement of Qi and blood; eliminates wind-dampness; especially useful for pain of the lower back; anti-inflammatory.
- Xue Jie – Dispels blood stasis; alleviates pain from sprains, strains, contusions, fractures, and arthritic pain.
- Chuan Shan Jia – Can penetrate the entire body; disperses blood-stasis; reduces swelling; expels wind-dampness in the channels; drains pus; anti-inflammatory; used for swelling, stiffness, numbness, tingling or spasms of the limbs, arthritic pain, and nodules. (Note: this is an animal product and an endangered species and PlumDragonHerbs does not use or supply this substance.)
- Level 3: The third level is to resolve substantial stagnant blood situations. The goal is to break stasis and disperse masses. At this level there are usually palpable masses, nodes or spurs on x-rays. The pain is not necessarily related to movement, but more related to the location of the mass and whether it impinges on the nerves or whether there is severe congestion.
Herbs that Improve Circulation; used for Level 3 Blood Stasis
- Tao Ren – Breaks blood stasis and masses; used for many kinds of pain due to traumatic causes or due to chronic blood accumulation
- Shui Zhi – Penetrates masses to dissolve and drive out blood-stasis.; used for acute traumas; slightly toxic.
- Tu Bie Chong - Penetrates masses to dissolve and drive out blood-stasis; aid in healing of sinews and bones; often used for trauma and acute lumbar strain.
- E Zhu – Removes congealed blood and dissolves masses; strongly moves Qi; often used for older injuries with accumulations and bony spurs.
- San Leng - Removes congealed blood and dissolves masses; often used for older injuries with accumulations and bony spurs.
There is another situation in which blood moving herbs are used and that is when cases of blood-stasis are hindering the body’s generation of fresh blood. These herbs are often useful during recuperation from injuries where the generation or growth of healthy new tissues or blood is desired. They are often used in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, in weak patients during recuperative periods, and for fractures. The herbs used for these situations often have vitalizing and tonifying effects on the blood.
Herbs used for blood generation
- Dang Gui – Tonify and invigorate the blood; reduce swelling; alleviate pain and “generate flesh”; used for chronic and acute disorders.
- Niu Xi – Strengthen the sinews and bones; often used for headaches and chronic disorders, especially low back ache, weakness of waist and knees and difficulty walking.
- Chuan Niu Xi – Moves blood; strengthens sinews and bones; often used for headaches, dizziness, musculoskeletal pains from traumatic injuries, and chronic weakness and pain of the low back and knees.
- Liu Ji Nu – Dispel blood stasis; unblock channels; sometimes used in trauma usually to dispel swelling.
- Zi Ran Tong – Dispels blood-stasis; unblocks the channels; renews the sinews; often used for traumatic injuries with swelling and pain, inflammation and bruising, as well as bone fractures.
- Ze Lan – Dispels blood stasis; treats blood-deficiency, edema, and joint-swelling; often used for back and other joint pains from traumatic injuries as well as chronic arthritic pains with swelling.
Plum Dragon Herbs provides dit da jow formulas that can help address these levels of blood stasis and contain herbs that improve circulation. Bruise Dit Da Jow combines a careful balance of many of the herbs mentioned in levels 1 and 2 for mild to moderate symptoms of stasis.
Bruise Juice provides a strong formula for level 3 concerns and incorporates most of the herbs on the level 3 list mentioned above. Ho Family Dit Da Jow is an interesting and highly effective balance of herbs from all three levels that is very effective for most chronic injury situations and provides powerful natural pain relief. Jeet Kune Do (JKD) Dit Da Jow combines herbs from levels 1 and 2 and adds a strong dose of herbs from level 3.
*The above post has been adapted from Foundations for Integrative Musculoskeletal Medicine: An East-West Approach by Alon Marcus, pgs. 375-379
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