Journal of Acuherb in Medicine

Multiple Sclerosis

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By Dr.Ken Y. Wang

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neural disorder with an unknown triggering mechanism. This chronic, slowly progressive autoimmune disease is where the body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheaths around nerve cells mainly in the brain and spinal cord (a process called demyelination), resulting in the damaged areas failure to transmit nerve impulses. Because the lesions can partially heal, it goes through characteristic phases of remission and relapse.

Initial symptoms of MS are often vague, such as blurred or double vision, fatigue and muscular weakness. Individuals are usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, when they present with symptoms like muscular weakness, numbness, incoordination, paralysis, convulsions, visual problems, bladder or bowel disturbances, mood swings, cognitive problems and difficulty in speaking. Symptoms vary greatly from patient to patient since almost every system of the body can be affected.

Chinese Medicine: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disorder of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), which is characterized by patchy, degenerative changes in the myelin sheaths surrounding nerve cells, resulting in scar formation. It is a common neurological disorder in the northern hemisphere.

This debilitating disease is rare in China, and no specific details have been recorded in TCM history. However, reports about it are on the rise. Due to a great variety in clinical presentations, modern TCM places MS in different syndrome categories and takes the individual’s condition as reference.

When symptoms are marked withmuscular weakness or paralysis syndrome, it is classified as flaccidity syndrome. This is a morbid condition that is mostly due to a lack of nourishment in the muscles.

When individuals present with difficulty in speaking, limb weakness or paralysis, TCM classifies their conditions asaphasia and paralysis syndrome, which is believed to be mainly due to consumption of kidney essence or obstruction of the meridians by wind and phlegm.

When dizziness, vertigo and unsteadiness predominate, TCM classifies it as vertigo syndrome. This usually caused by exogenous evils invasion(especially wind-fire or phlegm-dampness), impairment of qi (vital energy) or blood flow or organ dysfunction (deficiency of heart, spleen or kidney.)

In the late stages that present with limb spasms, delirium or mental deterioration, physicians usually put this condition underepilepsy or dementia syndromes.

While Western medicine has a number of drugs to slow down progress of this disease and reduce the frequency of attacks, there is still no cure for MS. Based on integrated immune modulation effects  to the body, TCM therapies can assist individuals in recovery from attacks, reducing the number of relapses and preventing further progression of the MS.


TCM knows very little about the cause of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the typical symptoms of multiple sclerosis such as limb weakness, vertigo, incoordination and even paralysis are mainly attributed to dysfunctions in the lungliverspleen and kidney. It is possible that the organs are attacked by exogenous factors like heat, dryness, dampness and wind evils, which give rise to yang-qi failing to ascend upward to nourish the brain. Furthermore, TCM holds that a well organized internal environment ensures the production of marrow (which is chiefly derived from kidney essence and food nutrients). The marrow not only fills the bone, it also makes up the brain and spinal column, and thus TCM calls these structures the “sea of marrow”. Long-term disharmony or emotional stimulation will affect the production of marrow particularly when the kidney is involved, leading to problems in the central nervous system.

Generally, the pathogenesis of MS can be divided into the following aspects:

Deficiencies in the spleen and stomach 
In TCM, one of the major functions of the spleen and stomach are transforming food into nutrient essence that is used to manufacture qi and blood. Under-functioning will lead to malabsorption and indigestion, and dampness or phlegm will accumulate. When dampness or phlegm interferes with the ascending movement of yang-qi to the head region, vertigo occurs. On the other hand, due to the impairment in the transformation of blood and qi, head orifices and the sea of marrow will lose nourishment, leading to the development of speech difficulties or visual problems. When there are inadequate nutrients to bones, muscles and tendons, associated symptoms appear. Improper diet is an important cause of these symptoms.

Invasion of external dampness evil 
This is contracted by living in damp places, sitting on damp grass, failing to dry oneself after swimming, being exposed to damp weather when wearing inadequate clothes or being exposed to foggy weather. The dampness evil tends to invade the meridians in the limbs; they cause obstruction and lead to heaviness, numbness and tingling sensations. When the damp circumstances last for a long time or are repeated, the accumulated dampness evil can turn into internal heat, which will then cause further damage to the organs, and result in various symptoms.

Flaring up in lung heat 
Normally, the lung is responsible for distributing the nutrient essence throughout the body; this distribution function is carried by the lung fluid, which works to nourish the muscles, tendons, bones and vessels and also acts as the material base for normal functioning of the other organs. Acute febrile disease caused by exogenous evils invasion e.g. wind, heat, or coldness, usually damage the lung and lead to lung fluid being consumed and therefore depleted. Sometimes, a heated lung can also be induced by excessive internal heat and dryness evils. Depletion of lung fluid leads to insufficient nourishment in the above mentioned structures and result in related manifestations.

Impairment of the liver and kidney 
In TCM, liver stores blood and rules tendons, and kidney stores essence and rules bones. Having a long-term chronic disease, being sexually active, overstraining oneself, suffering from an emotional disturbance or accumulation of damp-heat evils in the lower burner lead to liver and kidney damage. This leads to a depletion of kidney essence. As a result, there are inadequate supply to the bones, tendons and meridians, leading to the development of multiple sclerosis. 


According to the location of lesions in the brain and spinal column, multiple sclerosis can present in various ways. The neural symptoms include difficulty speaking, blurred vision, double vision, weakness and heaviness of one or both legs, jerking of the legs, numbness or tingling and incoordination. Some individuals may only show vague signs like vertigo, incontinence, urinary urgency or frequency, vomiting, diarrhea and impotence. If the nervous system keeps on degenerating, symptoms will progressively worsen.

TCM practitioners usually begin with a full investigation of the individual and then categorize his or her symptoms under syndrome groups known as “disharmony patterns.” In addition to the symptoms discussed above, TCM practitioners also focus on associated symptoms for syndrome differentiation. The disharmony patterns, which present at different stages of the disease, generally indicate the degree of disharmony of the body and the involved organs as well as the progress of the disease.

Meridian obstruction by phlegm and heat 
After onset of fever, individuals develop sudden limb weakness, numbness or paralysis. Associated symptoms include distended headache, irritability, chest tightness, ear ringing or blurred vision. In some cases, there may be sudden blindness, thirst without the desire to quench it, speaking difficulties, yellow sticky secretions in the throat, and even urinary difficulty.

Damp-heat dissemination 
This leads to a gradual development of limb weakness which is obvious in the lower limbs as well as numbness and a slight puffiness in the limbs. Other symptoms include tightness in the forehead, generalized heaviness, sallow complexion, abdominal distention, depression, decreased vision, diarrhea and yellowish urine.

Blood stasis accumulated in meridian 
This leads to limb weakness with numbness, tingling or contracting pain; other symptoms are dizziness, ear ringing, sallow complexion, muscular atrophy, urinary difficulty or dribbling after voiding, double vision or even blindness.

Deficiencies in lung and spleen 
This leads to slow and progressive development of limb weakness, unsteadiness, tremor and muscular atrophy in the lower limbs. Other associated symptoms include pale complexion, poor appetite, abdominal distention, diarrhea, and aversion to wind; there is also a tendency to catch cold or flu, dizziness, inability to void urine, blurred version or even blindness.

Deficiencies in liver and kidney 
Individuals present with general paralysis, weight loss, unsteadiness, clumsiness, facial distortion, soreness in lumbar and knee regions. Associated symptoms include dizziness, vertigo, blurred version, throat dryness, constipation, ear ringing, fatigue, depression, speaking difficulty, urinary difficulty, as well as hot sensations in the palms, soles and chest.

Depletion of kidney yang 
Individuals present with general paralysis, numbness, muscular atrophy, clumsiness, unsteady steps, blurred version or dropping of upper eyelids, declined hearing, difficulties in swallowing and speaking. Other accompanying symptoms include dizziness, limbs coldness, fatigue and sleepiness, sensitivity to cold temperatures, poor appetite, urinary frequency and diarrhea.


In TCM, diagnosis is based on the four examination techniques, which stress the determining of the circumstances and manifestations of a disease through inquiry and symptom observation.

Procedures for a TCM diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) can be explained as follows:

Meridian obstruction by phlegm and heat 
This usually occurs in the late stages of a MS relapse. Invasion of heat evils give rise to symptoms like fever, thirst, irritable and urinary difficulty, while phlegm invasion tends to cause obstructions and interfere with the meridian flows. In addition to limb problems, the influence of phlegm is also blamed for chest tightness, distended headache, throat secretions and vision problems. On examination, the tongue is red and covered by yellow or yellow greasy fur. The pulse is rolling and rapid or taut and rolling.

Damp-heat dissemination 
The acute stages of MS usually fit this pattern. Damp-heat is a pathogen mostly contracted from the external environment. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, generalized heaviness, fatigue, abdominal distention and poor appetite as well as scanty and yellowish urine. On examination, the tongue is red and covered by yellow fur; the pulse is hesitant and rapid.

Blood stasis accumulated in meridians 
Features of blood stasis are characterized by numbness, contracting pain and tingling sensations. On examination, the lips are purple, the tongue is purple-blue or may appear bruised; the pulse is hesitant.

Deficiencies in the lung and spleen 
In TCM, the spleen is the source of nutrients while the lungs play an important role in the distribution of nutrients. Dysfunction of the two organs not only affects the supply of nutrients to muscles and tendons, but also leads to general impairment of the whole body. Symptoms include weakness, as well as low resistance against infection, dizziness and a sallow complexion. On examination, the tongue is pale and covered by thin white fur. The pulse is fine and weak.

Deficiencies in the kidneys and liver 
The kidney stores essence while the liver stores blood. Disorder in these organs therefore lead to inadequate nourishment in important structures like the brain, orifices and limbs lead to symptoms such as dizziness, ear ringing, speaking difficulty, numbness and soreness. Yin deficiency in this case leads to yang hyperactivity creating virtual heat symptoms. On examination, the tongue is red with little fur covered the pulse is fine and rapid.

Depletion in kidney yang 
This pattern usually results from enduring yin deficiency; kidney yang has the effect of propelling transformation and warming the organs. It acts as the root of the body’s physiological functions. As a result, all physiological activities decline, leading to coldness and inhibitory symptoms. On examination, the tongue is swollen and pale, and is covered by white thin fur. The pulse is deep and fine.

It should be emphasized that individuals usually present with different manifestations of their illness and not as described above. Therefore, an experienced physician is needed to ensure an accurate diagnosis.


TCM’s experience with multiple sclerosis (MS) indicate that therapeutic strategies for individuals undergoing a MS relapse or those who are newly diagnosed, should focus on releasing the body surface, expelling wind, clearing heat, resolving phlegm, activating blood and unblocking the meridians. In the late stages or the remission period, strategies should focus on fortifying the kidney, replenishing essence, soothing the liver, nourishing the blood, supplement qi (vital energy) and reinforcing spleen. Nevertheless, it is recommended that treatment be based on syndrome differentiation.

Meridian obstructions by phlegm and heat 
Therapeutic aim: Clear heat, resolve phlegm, smooth and unblock meridians 
Sample prescription: Cleansing Phlegm Decoction (Di Tan Tang)

In the prescription, pinella and arisaema are the main ingredients for cleansing the phlegm. The others work together to clear heat, replenish qi and enhance spleen, so that meridian flows are smoothed, and orifices in the head region can be unblocked. Symptoms like dizziness, speaking difficulty, numbness and weakness in the limbs can be relieved.

Damp-heat dissemination 
Therapeutic aim: Clear heat, resolve dampness and strengthen joints 
Sample prescription: Modified Two Wonders Powder (Jia Wei Er Miao San)

In the prescription, coix seeds, atractylodes rhizome and Corktree bark are the main ingredients for clearing damp-heat. The others activate blood flow, strengthen tendons and bones. As a result, problems in the limbs can be relieved.

Blood stasis accumulated in meridians 
Therapeutic aim: Replenish qi and blood, and activate circulation. 
Sample prescription: Sacred Healing Decoction (Sheng Yu Tang)

All the above ingredients are used for enriching the qi and blood as well as promoting their circulations. As a result, signs such as weakness or abnormal feelings caused by stagnated condition can be resolved.

Deficiencies in the lung and spleen 
Therapeutic aim: Consolidate qi, invigorate the spleen and stomach. 
Sample prescription: Power of Gingeng, Poria and Atractylodes (Seng Ling Bai Shu San)

In the prescription, ginseng, atractylodes and poria are the main ingredients for invigorating the spleen and replenishing qi. Hyacinth bean, lotus seeds, coix seeds and yam can expel the accumulated dampness effectively; together with cardamom seeds, balloonflower and liquorice, the qi flow can be consolidated. As a result, both of the spleen and lung are fortified.

Deficiencies in the kidneys and liver
Therapeutic aim: Invigorate liver and kidney, nourish yin to clear heat. 
Sample prescription:Modified Zuogui Drink

In the prescription, the cornus fruits, dodder seeds, achyranthes and tortoise shell tonify and nourish liver and kidney; the deerhorn replenishes essence and promotes marrow production; the anemarrhena rhizome and corktree bark nourish yin and clear virtual heat.

Depletion in kidney yang 
Therapeutic aim: Warm and invigorate the kidneys, replenish essence and marrow. 
Sample prescription:Modified Erxian Decoction plus Yougui Drink

In the prescription, the  epimedium, eye-grass rhizome, morinda and monkshood can warm kidney and replenish essence; the rehmannia rhizome, cornus fruits and eucommia bark nourish yin and tonify the kidneys which will benefit kidney yang; Chinese angelica nourishes blood; deerhorn glue replenishes essence and marrow.

Acupuncture therapies for multiple sclerosis

During the remission period, the recovery process in MS individuals may take months or even years. Acupuncture not only eases the suffering of patients, it can also stimulate the overall modulation system and speed up the healing process.

Physicians usually focus on the head region during treatment, such as bai-hui, qu-bin, shuai-gu, feng-chi and yu-zhen. They choose one side for stimulation and then carry out the procedure on the opposite side. Needles should be retained for 30 minutes each time, and the procedure should be carried out once a day. After 10 days, there should be a 3-day rest period and then another cycle should take place. Below are the selected acupoints for relief of symptoms:


Acupoint injection

Paralysis in the upper limbs: jian-yu, qu-chi, wai-guan, he-gu, shou-san-li
Paralysis in the lower limbs: huan-tiao, bi-guan, feng-shi, zu-san-li, yang-ling-quan, san-yin-jiao, xuan-zhong, kun-lun, mai-bu
Speaking difficulties: lian-quan, he-gu, tong-li, ya-men
Dysphagia: tian-tu, lian-quan, fu-tu, feng-chi, he-gu
Urinary retention or incontinence: guan-yuan, qi-hai, zhong-ji, shen-shu
Constipation: zu-san-li, yang-ling-quan, tian-shu, da-chang-shu, zhong-wan
Blurred vision: jing-ming, tai-yang, guang-ming
Facial distortion: yi-feng, xia-guan, di-cang joined jia-ju.

Herbal infusions can be injected at selected points so as to exert stimulating and pharmaceutical effects. Selection of these points are based on the particular manifestations of MS; however the acupoints are usually in the lower limbs, such as fu-tubi-guanzu-san-li, cheng-shan, yang-ling-quan and yin-ling-quan. Some of the herbal injections include Chinese angelica, red sage root and safflower flower. Every two days, 0.5-1.0 ml of diluted herbal infusion should be injected at 2-3 selected points, 5-7 injections for one cycle.


Physical therapies

Individuals will remain unsteady and clumsy in their movements or suffer from paralysis to a certain extent when they enter the remission period, therefore, proper physical exercise helps to improve muscular strength, prevent atrophy and stiffness or relieve the muscle spasm. It would be beneficial to choose some traditional self-practice exercises. TCM massage is another alternative, which has some set procedures, for example:

Upper limb weakness: grasp the tendons in the shoulder region, twist and knead the lateral side of the arm, and then strike on acupoints like jian-yu, he-guand qu-chi.

Lower limb weakness: grasp the medial aspect of the upper thigh, calf of the lower leg and heel tendon, twist and kneed around the upper tight, and then strike on acupoints like yang-guan,huan-tiao, jie-xi and du-bi.


Hydrotherapy is the use of water to treat disease, alleviate pain, induce relaxation, and maintain general good health. For therapeutic purposes, the water may be warm or cold, or in the form of ice or steam. This method is used to relax muscles and joints, soothe anxiety, relieve stress, and enhance mobility. It can be achieved through swimming, underwater exercise, or warm baths in a darkened room that helps individuals to focus on breathing exercises and other pain-control methods. Herbal washing or bathing are combined in some centers.


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