Category: Pain Management

Treating Chronic Pain with Tibetan Foot Soaks

ladys feet in Tibetan soak

Interested in hearing one of the best kept secrets to naturally treating chronic pain? Well, we’re breaking the silence and sharing our most recommended practice and it involves soaking your pain away. 

Tibetan Foot Soaks are specially packed tea bags containing a herbal mixture of Chinese herbs and minerals that have shown to be particularly effective at alleviating chronic pain and improving circulation.  Commonly used by practitioners of Chinese medicine, these natural soaks have becoming increasing popular in western medicine as well due to their effectiveness.

The Benefits of Tibetan Foot Soaks

The Tibetan herbal foot soak is designed to get rid of blood stasis, wind, cold, and phlegm from the channels. (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Modern day living along with a culture that influences us to eat more than we need, particularly foods that we really shouldn’t, creates phlegm

Unlike our ancestors, many people live relatively sedimentary lifestyles, which creates less blood flow throughout the body, but add phlegm on top of that, and now you’ve got chronic blood stasis. 

Additionally, this lack of movement and chronic stress (without a proper outlet) leads to increased muscle stiffness as we age, especially in our feet. 

As the fascia (an inflammation of a thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes), in our feet become less manageable, the normal shock absorbing actions of our feet become stunted and the impact from our normal day-to-day activities, like walking and going up and down stairs, starts to be absorbed by our joints (ankles, knees, hips and all the way up the spine). 

As this progresses, we can end up in that place of overall body stiffness and lack of mobility that we often see in our elderly population.


What conditions may this help?

Tibetan Foot Soaks Also Help With:

  • Chronic health conditions
  • Most autoimmune conditions
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Improving fertility 
  • Digestive problems
  • Sciatica and lower back pain
  • Neck and shoulder pain and frozen shoulder
  • Knee and hip pain
  • Immune regulation
  • Increasing circulation
  • Reducing blood clots
  • Increasing blood oxygen
  • Mood enhancement
  • Regulating digestion

    How Do Tibetan Soaks Work?

    The sheer act of placing your feet in the warm/hot soak water warms your feet, aids in relaxing the fascia, and dilates the vasculature in your feet and lower legs (very important).

    The terpenes, found in the herbs, can then carry the precious volatile oils from the herbs in through the skin and into the vascular system (plant terpenes are also being used in making topicals in modern medicines).

    As the feet soak, the effects penetrate deeper and begin improving circulation throughout the entire body which creates prominent effects on multiple body systems.

    Tibetan foot soak’s particular blend was originally used for treating cardiovascular disorders and have decreased coronary blockages in patients.

    Why we need foot soaks

    If you live in a cold region, like Tibet, the act of turning fat into heat is incredibly important and requires very good peripheral circulation. Tibetan foot soaks increase the heart rate as though you’re exercising, which is essential for those of us who are no longer able to run and jump like we used to. 

    Having the ability to do cardiovascular exercise and being able to break a sweat is just as crucial for getting our body’s processes back in the right direction.

    We find that these soaks are exceptional for nerve pain and nephropathies of the feet, eyes, gout and arthritis.Will Sheppy OM, LAc, BS

    The mixture of herbs and minerals in the Tibetan foot soaks addresses pain caused by the immune system imbalance, which tends to cause pain that wanders from limb to limb. It also aids in the relief of pain and inflammation caused by gut dysbiosis. 

    Gut dysbiosis can cause a heavy pain sensation and is associated with brain fog. The condition gears down nerve pain caused by the deregulation of cortisol and nitric oxide, marked by burning or electric sensations. Additionally, it influences prostaglandin regulation for sharp pain and has beneficial effects on menstrual cycles.

    Woman foot soaking with tibetan foot soaks

    Bring tradition and science together

    The first thing to understand is how these herbs are affecting your body at a trans-dermal level by going into the skin.

    In high school biology, we were taught that our skin is an impenetrable shield. If there was any truth to this, then why does poison oak make you itch?

    Why do so many poisons travel through the skin and cause systemic effects on the body? The truth is that plants can affect us systemically via terpenes, alkaloids and volatile oils. 

    Tibetan foot soaks work similar to an herbal poultice, however herbal patches and poultices are dependent on peripheral blood circulation, because if too little blood is getting into the skin they don’t work very well.

    It’s important to not only place herbs against the skin, it’s vital to increase circulation at the same time.

    Using a poultice or oil blend in a sauna can work very well. It introduces the skin to the botanical chemical while increasing blood circulations, which can be absorbed for more sedentary people. 

    They work very well for farmers in China who lead active lives and are almost in a constant state of sweating. In these cases, I’ve seen the poultice work incredibly well for local pain.

    In the United States, for people who may work on a computer or have a sedentary lifestyle, I see very minimal effects. By working with an herbal foot soak, you increase circulation, while at the same time, introduce the botanical chemicals through the skin into the bloodstream. The effects they have on us is quite extraordinary.

    Tibetan Foot Soak Product Photo

    4 Stages to Soak Away Chronic Pain: Tibetan Foot Soak Instructions

    Stage 1

    Initially you put your feet in the water. The water should be at a hot temperature but still safe for you to use. It can be a little tricky to do, but the heat itself will signal the body to dilate blood vessels. It allows all of the tissue in the area to become oxygenated. 

    Think of your body as a snow globe, anything outside the cells will drain downward and it tends to drain down into the legs and feet. You can imagine it building up sediment and rotting there. The sediment causes oxidative damage to the body by way of an inflammatory reaction.

    Vasodilation will also lower blood pressure for those who want a nice foot soak that’s going to have a tranquilizing effect.

    If you need help getting to sleep, then you’ll start with a foot soak and just allow the feet themselves to get warm, but you’re going to stop before the heat travels throughout the whole body. For high blood pressure you want to do a shorter foot soak. 

    Stage 2

    During the next stage, the heat will begin to rise up the legs. The first time you do a foot soak, the heat may only rise halfway up the shin. As your vasculature improves, you’ll gradually be able to feel the heat past the knees and up through the hips to the lower back. 

    At this point we see a lot of healing taking place, within the knees and the lumbar area, also this stage is where you get a lot of pain relief.

    Stage 3

    As the heat continues up toward the chest and heart, you may begin to feel an increase in heart rate. 

    Doing a prolonged foot soak in a way that increases the heart rate is not ideal if people have high blood pressure. However, blood pressure is not a problem, allowing the heat to go up and cause the heart to beat faster can be a very good thing. It can really increase the energy of the body and activate that mitochondria and get that cardiovascular effect.

    Stage 4

    The final stage of the foot soak is when the heat will travel up through the head and cause the person to break a sweat.

    After you break a sweat is a great time to dry off your head dry and feet, then bundle up and go about your day.

    4 step Tibetan foot soak instructions

    How the 4 stages relate to the 4 seasons


    Initially it draws Qi down as it opens up the blood circulation of the feet. This stage relates to winter just as a tree will have most of its nutrients in the root area during winter. The tree draws the SAP down into the core, into the roots. This represents winter.


    Spring is the rising effect. If you think of shoots going up in spring, the active heat coming up through the legs is spring.


    Summer is when the heart begins to really pump. This is similar to the way working outside in the summer heat would cause increased heart contractility.


    Is the final stage when they’re sweating. This is the end of the cycle, as rising has given way to descending again. Generally during the autumn stage is when you’ll break a sweat, you’ll get a feeling as though your lungs are open.

    This may increase your ability to breathe, which is often accompanied with pain relief.

    Tibetan foot soak ingredients

    8 Sacred Herbs & Minerals Used in Tibetan Foot Soaks

    One of the first herbs in this formula is called Du Yi Wei which helps stop hemorrhaging. If you have internal bleeding from an injury or inflammation that’s causing dilation of the blood vessels this may help it. 

    Du Yi Wei is an antioxidant that promotes red blood cell production and alleviates pain. 

    Hong Jing Tain increases oxygen in the blood and improves immune function and helps people fight fatigue. It is incredibly good for chronic long-term fatigue disorder or people who have been in a state of chronic inflammation.

    Zang Hong Hua this lowers cholesterol and reduces clotting. It is cardio-protective and is a powerful antioxidant. 

    Most of the blood clots that cause people to have a heart attack or stroke are found in the legs, so the increase in circulation at the same time using herbs to reduce these clots, it can drastically help to improve longevity. 

    By doing these foot soaks as a regular part of health maintenance it’s possible to reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes. This is something that’s very commonly used throughout Tibet and China. 

    We have sourced high-quality Qiang Huo, which is very important as this herb is traditionally used for arthritis pain, it is an anti-inflammatory and inhibits fungus. 

    Fungi in the body can have direct effects on pain signaling and this helps to alleviate it. The herb also does wonders to help regulate the timing of the heart. 

    We use this herb extensively with our cardiology patients and just using this foot soak it’s been able to help restore their normal heart rhythm. This herb works very well in conjunction with another Tibetan herb called Hong Jing Tain or Tibetan Rhodiola.

    Zang Chang Pul has a mild tranquilizing effect to relax people. It is antibacterial and has regulatory effects on the digestive system, which is so crucial for diseases involving the gut brain axis. 

    Some people can’t take herbs or supplements, but by using Zang Chang Pu trans-dermally, it’s still able to affect their digestion in a very positive way without asking their stomach to digest anything new.

    Ku Shen in addition is antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic. Ku Shen inhibits bacterial bio-films. This cannot be understated; bio-films are associated with most chronic diseases in the body. 

    These bacterial properties have gene expression which cause up to 20% of themselves to become mucus. They cover themselves in mucus to avoid the burn of the inflammation as your body goes into fever mode. By covering themselves, it allows them to go through the body and spread. Once the inflammation in your body goes down, they begin eating other tissues.  

    Bacterial bio-films are associated with Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, and other chronic diseases, particularly obesity. 

    Sheng Jiang is another wonderful herb in this formula as it is a liver protective. Sheng Jiang protects the gastric mucosa of the stomach lining. It is also anti-inflammatory, a painkiller, prevents clotting and is anti-bacterial.  

    AiYe has very strong volatile oils which transfer trans-dermally. It’s an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and inhibits blood clotting. AiYe also increases the secretion of bile in the gallbladder which can help you burn fat.

    Tibetan foot soak products

    Don't Use Tibetan Foot Soaks If:

    Caution using foot soaks with varicose veins:

    Foot soaks can be very helpful for those with varicose veins, but be careful with the dose. Start with only 1 teabag and have the soak done for shorter period of time at first (20 minutes); as the health and vasculature improve, the dose and soak time can be increased.

    Foot soaks should NOT be used for:

    • Pregnancy
    • Metastatic cancer
    • Active infection
    • Diseases that are made worse by increasing circulation
    • Recent surgery (wait at least 2 weeks)

    Our Conclusion

    Ultimately the only thing that is going to fix chronic pain is movement. As the heart contracts and blood circulation is increased, there’s the feeling that your lungs are open and it becomes much easier to get around and walk, start some yoga, or tai chi.

    Tibetan foot soaks create a window of opportunity to help heal and restore the body and help people to go through longer periods of movement without pain or fatigue.

    Where to buy Tibetan foot soaks

    Valley Health Clinic makes available high quality Tibetan Foot Soaks sourced ethically from Botanical Biohacking of Oregon. 

    We also recommend a quality Foot Spa Massager to pair with like the one from ArtNaturals.

    sustainable sources products

    Purchases give back to the community

    This entire project is being done by incredibly wonderful people who are working cooperatively with local Tibetan doctors and wild crafting herb gatherers. 

    We are working hand in hand with local government in a way that helps to preserve these herb growing regions. With respect for the cultural and spiritual traditions of the regions all of our foot soaks have been blessed by a Buddhist priest.

    You’re helping the ecology of some very precious areas of the world. It’s important to know that you’re actually protecting the ecology of the region. You’re helping to preserve the culture and traditions in that region. Today, so much use and consumption come at the expense of people in other areas and at the expense of the ecology of that region.

    The wild-crafting is done responsibly. When we come across a bunch of Du Yi Wei, we may only take 20% of it and leave the rest to make sure that it’s growing and thriving for the next year.

    We are working with local Tibetan charities. Partial proceeds from this go back into the community. It is something that’s making a truly positive change in the area and the people who are in charge of these charities are friends of ours.

    Thank you for making this decision because not only is this medical therapy the most effective, it is something you can do yourself at home. 

    The History & Benefits of Evil Bone Water (Zheng Gu Shui)

    Ingredient of Evil Bone Water

    Nobody ever remembers Zheng Gu Shui by name, but people remember Evil Bone Water! Discover the history and benefits of Evil Bone Water or EBW for short and the amazing results people are experiencing. 

    Evil Bone Water is a memorable nickname for a powerful topical Chinese herbal liniment called Zheng Gu Shui, which translates into “bone-setting liquid.”  

    What is Evil Bone Water?

    Developed by Chinese Master Herbalist over 1000 years ago, it is used today to treat pain or trauma from backache, arthritis, strains, bruises, sprains, breaks, and more. This external analgesic liniment is a must for everyone’s first aid cabinet.

    Evil Bone Water is well known in many martial arts, and sports medicine circles for it’s quick and effective healing properties and pain relief. Used by martial artists to aid in the healing of iron fist training, it is believed to stimulate circulation, reduce pain and swelling, and improve healing of injuries and wounds. 

    Today the most common applications for Zheng Gu Shui (Evil Bone Water) involve traumatic injuries, bruises, and sprains. Many people have found Zheng Gu Shui helpful for all kinds of pain from carpal tunnel to arthritis.

    The Origins of Evil Bone Water

    Evil Bone Water has made a splash with the Chinese medical community. With premium herbs ethically sourced, the quality upgrade has been a complete game changer.

    Practitioners are discovering how to use it for martial art conditioning such as iron fist, and western practitioners are learning how we use it clinically for arthritis and joint pain.

    The original formula had 26 ingredients. These ingredients were local to the herbalists that were making it for low quantity production. Mass production herbalist lowered the quality of the product by removing all but 7 of the original ingredients.

    However, our Evil Bone Water has added back in 4 of the most essential ingredients, making it the most effective ointment around.

    Where The Name Comes From

    The name started when Mark T. Brinson DOM, Ap CEO of Evil Bone Water was still in school. He had 18 amazing double doctors from China as instructors. They all used Zheng Xie Gu Shu (ZGS) liberally in the student clinic. When asked what ZGS translated as, several of the Master Herbalists would chuckle and say “Evil Bone Water”.

    As Mark learned Medical Chinese, He realized this was far from a literal translation, as it is actually “Rectify or Correct Bone Water.” Skip forward to his practice, and Mark would often tell this story to patients that were prescribed bottles as “homework.”

    When it was decided to make ZGS using the traditional methods and returning the legacy herbs into the formula, it was just obvious what needed to be done.

    The most recent version Zheng Xie Gu Shui or “Rectify Evil Bone Water”, Evil Bone Water for short contains only the highest grade herbs available.

    lady with neck pain

    What Does Evil Bone Water Help With?

    Evil Bone Water is an external use only analgesic that promotes good circulation, helps ease pain, decreases inflammation, and strengthens connective tissues.

    As the name suggests, it helps assist in the healing of bones and can shorten the recovery time of fractures. When a bone breaks, you can apply it to the area of unbroken skin to relieve pain immediately until the bone can be set back into place at the hospital.

    Evil Bone Water is useful to have on hand, especially for the sports enthusiast or if you are living with one. It is well known among athletes, martial artists, and often prescribed in sports medicine for fractures, bruises, and sprains.

    Anyone can benefit from Evil Bone Water. It’s rapid, deep-penetrating healing properties can also provide relief for chronic muscle and bone tissues, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.

    Zheng Xie Gu Shui (Evil Bone Water) works fast for elderly patients that bruise easily. It not only heals the bruise quickly, it improves blood circulation too.

    The biggest thing, is that it actually helps heal the problem instead of just patching it up.

    Evil Bone Water (Zheng Gu Shui) is a very strong, Chinese medicinal topical commonly used for:

      • Sports and accidental injuries
      • Sprains
      • Muscle cramps
      • Insect bites
      • Contact dermatitis – poison oak, sumac and ivy
      • Broken bones
      • Bruises
      • Mild topical anesthetic
      • And more
    Evil Bone Water Image Outside

    What Is In Evil Bone Water?

    We’ll provide you with a complete ingredient list with supplemental information regarding each ingredient that is used and why, so you can have all the information regarding the benefits of Evil Bone Water.

    Zhang Nao, Camphor, Cinnamomum camphora
    Increases local circulation, relieves pain

    Bo He Nao, Menthol, Menthae Haplocalycis Herba
    Aromatic and cooling clears heat.
    Vents rashes used in early stage of rashes to induce the rash to come to the surface as a means of venting heat and speeding recovery..

    San/Tian Qi, Notoginseng,Pseudoginseng
    Stops bleeding, Eliminates blood stasis, reduces swelling, reduces bruising, swelling, inflammation and pain, relieves trauma.

    It’s expensive and hard as a rock. It takes special handling to extract it properly. it stops bleeding without clotting, reducing swelling and pain. It also has some profound synergistic effects with antiviral and antibacterial herbs.

    “Trilinolein is a triacylglycerol purified from a commonly used traditional Chinese medicine Panax notoginseng. Trilinolein has been reported to provide a number of beneficial effects including reducing thrombogenicity and arrhythmias and increasing erythrocyte deformability. Additionally, trilinolein has been reported to be an antioxidant, which can counteract free radical damage associated with atherogenesis, and myocardial damage seen with ischaemia and reperfusion. These pharmacologic effects may explain the perceived benefits derived from treating circulatory disorders with the herb over the centuries.”

    Source: Chan, Paul, G. Neil Thomas, and Brian Tomlinson. “Protective effects of trilinolein extrated from Panax notoginseng against cardiovascular disease.” Acta Pharmacologica Sinica 23.12 (2002): 1157-1162.

    Ji Gu Xiang, Japanese Knot Weed, Eupatorii Herba, 47, OR Linderae Radix
    Treats bruises, sprains inflammation and alleviates

    Gui Pi, Cinnamon Bark Releases the muscles, promotes circulation, warms

    E Zhu, Zedoary Rhizome, Rhizoma Curcumae
    Promotes the circulation of qi and blood, breaks accumulations.
    “Curdione, one of the major sesquiterpene compounds from Rhizoma Curcumae, has been shown to exhibit multiple bioactive properties that are anti-platelet aggregation and antithrombotic activities of curdione”

    Xia, Quan, et al. “Inhibition of platelet aggregation by curdione from Curcuma wenyujin essential Oil.” Thrombosis research 130.3 (2012): 409-414.

    “Rhizoma Curcumae is a popular type of traditional Chinese medicine whose essential oils are widely used in the treatment of cancer in China. This review aims to systematically summarize and analyze the anti-cancer properties of terpenoids, the main components of essential oils in Rhizoma Curcumae, and thus enable the development of new anti-cancer drugs.”

    Lu, Jin-Jian, et al. “Anti-cancer properties of terpenoids isolated from Rhizoma Curcumae–A review.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 143.2 (2012): 406-411.

    Bai Zhu, Atractylodis Macrocephalae Rhizoma
    Anti-inflammatory, relieves pain, treats muscle spasms and cramps

    “A. macrocephala is a valuable traditional Chinese medicinal herb with multiple pharmacological activities. Pharmacological investigations support the traditional use of A. macrocephala, and may validate the folk medicinal use of A. macrocephala to treat many chronic diseases. The available literature shows that much of the activity of A. macrocephala can be attributed to sesquiterpenoids, polysaccharides and polyacetylenes”.

    Zhu, Bo, et al. “The traditional uses, phytochemistry, and pharmacology of Atractylodes macrocephala Koidz.: A review.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 226 (2018): 143-167.

    “It exerts its antioxidant effect through metal-chelating, and radical-scavenging which is via donating hydrogen atom and donating electron. Its metal-chelating may result from flavonoids, while its radical-scavenging can be attributed to phenolic acids, especially caffeic acid, ferulic acid, and protocatechuic acid.”

    Li, Xican, et al. “Antioxidant ability and mechanism of rhizoma Atractylodes macrocephala.” Molecules 17.11 (2012): 13457-13472.

    Hu Zhang, Knotweed Rhizome, Polygoni Cuspidati Rhizoma

    Invigorates the blood, dispels stasis, opens the channels and stops pain

    “Rhizoma Polygoni Cuspidati, a Chinese herbal drug, has actions of dispelling dampness, alleviating jaundice, clearing heat, subsiding toxin, activating blood, and removing stasis. Polydatin, one of its chief active ingredients, has been proved by modern pharmacological studies to possess extensive cardiovascular pharmacological activity, showing marked effects on protecting cardio-myocyte, dilating blood vessel, antagonizing platelet aggregation, thrombosis, and atherosclerosis.”

    Liu, Long-tao, et al. “The progress of the research on cardio-vascular effects and acting mechanism of polydatin.” Chinese journal of integrative medicine 18.9 (2012): 714-719.

    Bai Niu Dan, Inula Cappa DC
    Dispels wind, eliminates dampness, reduces joint pain.
    This is a more rare herb and not in the top 500 TCM pharmacopeia. It has remarkable effects on pain and skin conditions, or Wind, in TCM. I have made the formula with and without the proper variety… no comparison.
    “Inula cappa DC. (Compositae) is mainly distributed in the south of China. The plant of I. cappa has been used in Chinese folk medicine to treat rheumatism, laryngotracheitis, and abdominal pain. Some chemical constituents of this plant have been reported previously. In our chemical investigation of this plant, 33 compounds were isolated from the root of I. cappa.”

    Wu, Zhi-Jun, et al. “Chemical constituents from Inula cappa.” Chemistry of natural compounds 46.2 (2010): 298-300.

    Qian Jin Ba, Philippine Flemingia Root

    Huang Qin, Scutellaria Root, Radix Scutellariae Baicalensis

    “Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi is the most widely used medicinal plant in traditional Eastern medicine, especially in Chinese medicine. The major phytochemicals isolated from S. baicalensis are flavonoids, glycosides and their glucuronides such as baicalin, baicalein, wogonin etc. More than 30 different kinds of flavonoids are isolated from this plant. S. baicalensis and its flavonoids are reported to have several pharmacological activities, which includes anti-allergic, antioxidant, anti apoptotic, anti-inflammatory effects and many more. Recently, S. baicalensis and its isolated flavonoids have been studied for their neuroprotective effects, through a variety of in vitro and in vivo models of neurodegenerative diseases, plausibly suggesting that S. baicalensis has salutary effect as a nature’s blessing for neuroprotection.”

    Gaire, Bhakta Prasad, Sang-Kwan Moon, and Hocheol Kim. “Scutellaria baicalensis in stroke management: nature’s blessing in traditional Eastern medicine.” Chinese journal of integrative medicine 20.9 (2014): 712-720.

    The marriage and mixing through decoction and alcohol extraction is what really creates magic.


    We are fans of the benefits of Evil Bone Water or Zheng Xe Gui Shui. It is a very powerful topical that stops the pain and starts the healing process. Its historical uses have proven effective even in modern times as more practitioners are looking towards natural remedies for pain-related traumas and illnesses.

    Zheng Xe Gui Shui has a rich history in Traditional Chinese Medicine that works on multiple pathways moving Qi and blood, dispelling and blood stagnation to promote healing properties.

    We gladly recommend you try a bottle to see how it can work for you.

    Buy Evil Bone Water today: or read our in-depth FAQ here:

    Rethinking Muscle Cramping and How to Treat It

    Rethinking Muscle Cramping and How to Treat It with Valley Health Clinic in Albany, Oregon

    Contrary to popular belief, muscle cramping after exercise has little to do with dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. While hydration and electrolyte restoration are important following a bout of intense exercise, there’s much more to cramping than formerly understood.

    In this article, we will discuss the real reasons behind exercise-induced muscle cramping and address treatment methods for this condition.

    Myth of Electrolytes

    A study of 43 triathletes reported cramping (cramping group) and were compared with the 166 who did not report cramps (non-cramping group). There were no significant differences between groups in any pre-race–post-race serum electrolyte concentrations and body weight changes. The development of cramps was associated with faster predicted race times and faster actual race times, despite similarly matched preparation and performance histories in subjects from both groups. A regression analysis identified faster overall race time (and cycling time) and a history of cramping (in the last 10 races) as the only two independent risk factors for exercise associated muscle cramps (EAMC).

    The study suggests that electrolyte levels are not a factor in cramping. Rather, competing at a faster pace and high intensity then what is normal can cause (EAMC). So why is this? The most up-to-date scientific theories attribute exercise-induced cramping to a body state called “alpha motor neuron excitability”. It may sound complicated, but alpha motor neuron excitability is relatively easy to understand and identify.

    Read more:

    Alpha Motor Neurons Explained

    Alpha motor neurons (also referred to as alpha motoneurons) are an essential part of the body’s central and peripheral nervous systems. They’re present in the brainstem and spinal column, and they’re directly responsible for telling muscles when to contract.

    Any time you contract (flex) a muscle to make a movement (for example, when you take a step, grasp a pencil or touch a finger to your nose), you’re putting your alpha motor neurons to use. During a bout of intense exercise, your alpha motor neurons work overtime.

    Importantly, when it comes to understanding muscle cramps: the more active your alpha motor neurons are, the more prone your muscles are to contracting when you don’t necessarily want them to.

    What is Alpha Motor Neuron Excitability?

    Alpha motor neurons are an essential part of the body’s nervous system. However, they must strike a delicate balance with other neurons and body systems for your muscles to work correctly. One of these balancing agents is the Golgi tendon organ, which we’ll discuss in more depth further on.

    When these systems become out of balance, your alpha motor neurons aren’t properly kept in check, and they enter a state of excitability. And since alpha motor neurons cause our muscles to contract, the result of this excitability is involuntary and prolonged muscle contraction: i.e. muscle cramps.

    Causes of Alpha Motor Neuron Excitability

    There are several factors that can cause alpha motor neuron excitability, including the following:

    • Fatigue
    • Dehydration and/or malnutrition
    • Inadequate conditioning
    • Muscle damage

    Just one of these factors can lead to alpha motor neuron excitability and subsequent muscle cramping. However, the real problem begins when several of these factors coalesce, causing more severe excitability, and therefore, more intense pain.

    Understanding the Golgi Tendon Organ

    As briefly mentioned above, the Golgi tendon organ (GTO or tendon spindle) is one of the most important balancing agents to the body’s alpha motor neurons. Golgi tendon organs are proprioceptive sensory receptor organs, located in the tendons, adjacent to the myotendinous junction (MTJ).

    So, how do the Golgi tendon organs located in the tendons keep alpha motor neurons in balance, and how can this aid in treating muscle cramps?

    The Golgi tendon organ performs almost the opposite role of alpha motor neurons. Whereas alpha motor neurons tell your muscles to contract, the GTO’s role is to make sure your muscles don’t contract too forcefully.

    When the body is fatigued, not only does alpha motor neuron activity increase, but Golgi tendon organ activity decreases, furthering the potential for unwanted muscle contractions.

    This is important in understanding muscle cramps and how to treat them because by stimulating the Golgi tendon organ, we can essentially “switch off” unwanted muscle contraction.

    The Answer is TRP Channels

    If you’re familiar with the electrolyte depletion theory, you may be familiar with the theory that pickle juice relieves muscle cramps. It was originally thought that pickle juice does this by balancing electrolytes in the body. We now know this is not true. A study by Miller found that it takes pickle juice 30mins to leave the stomach and that the cramp revealing effects happens much faster. Instead, the researchers theorized that pickle juice worked to inhibit the firing of alpha motor neurons by triggering a reflex-response in the mouth, throat and stomach called transient receptor potential (TRP) channels.

    TRP Channels and Muscle Cramps

    TRP channels are pathways through which the body transports positively charged ions (i.e. magnesium, sodium, and calcium). These pathways, or channels, can be stimulated by small molecules like capsaicin and menthol, and by spices like red pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and mustard.

    Numerous physical scenarios can also be explained by the alpha motor theory, where they cannot be explained by the traditional serum electrolyte depletion theory alone. For example, marathon-runners often suffer cramps when fully hydrated and electrolyte-balanced

    TRP channels help the body rapidly and accurately interpret the surrounding environment and adapt. And when it comes to muscle cramping, strong simulation of the TRP channels can calm alpha motor neurons and diminish cramping (

    Read More:

    Cramps and the Taste of Herbal Medicine

    Since ancient times, Chinese herbalists have classified medicinal materials according to their tastes. The taste was understood to have a relationship to the effect of the herb when ingested. This relationship was seen as having great importance in guiding the combining of herbs within formulas. In most traditional Chinese herb books, taste was the first property of an herb to be mentioned, helping to orient the reader to the information that followed. There are five tastes—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and acrid (sometimes called pungent or spicy)—consistent with the five element concept.

    It is reasonable to raise the question whether or not the tastes really have a strong correlation with herbal effects. Now that we know about Transient receptor potential channels and their location in the mouth and esophagus, the answer to this is yes.

    If we take pickle juice as an example of a way to control cramps and overexertion. It’s flavor is sour. Lemonade is another example of how sour can control the outward energy of excessive sweating and fatigue. There is norther better then a cool glass of lemonade on a hot day.

    There are two major connotations of the sour taste in Chinese medical theory:

    • In five element systematic correspondence, the sour taste is associated with the liver. It has a moistening and softening effect, usually reducing contraction of the ligaments and tendons. Persons who are overly flexible may find that the sour tasting herbs worsen that condition. Peony, cornus, achyranthes, are among the main sour herbs used to affect the liver function and said to relax the tendons.
    • According to the taste/action dogma, the sour taste has an astringent and fluid recollecting function (that is, helping to reabsorb fluids as they begin to escape). Chinese medicine considers the sour and astringent qualities as restraining the leakage of any fluid, including perspiration, and blood. Tannins, a class of complex molecules with notable astringent effect, are present in some of the herbs. Schizandra, terminallia, cornus, and sanguisorba are commonly used as astringents.

    Here is a Formula that can help with muscle spasm and cramps:

    • Bai Shao (Radix Paeoniae Alba) and Gan Cao (Radix Glycyrrhizae) are commonly combined to relieve muscle spasms and cramps. Clinically, they may be used for musculoskeletal spasms and leg cramps associated with external or sports injuries.
    • (Radix Paeoniae Alba) and Gan Cao (Radix Glycyrrhizae) have strong antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory effects as confirmed by modern research. Furthermore, Bai Shao (Radix Paeoniae Alba) and Gan Cao (Radix Glycyrrhizae) are effective in treating both skeletal and smooth muscles.

    Summing Up Exercise-Induced Muscle Cramps

    It’s easy to see how muscular fatigue—like that following a bout of intense exercise — can wear down the body’s natural systems and balances, leading to muscle cramps. When the body is fatigued, alpha motor activity increases and Golgi tendon organ activity decreases, leading to painful and involuntary muscle contraction. But by understanding the root cause of exercise-induced muscle cramps, and that TRP and taste has a strong we can better treat the issue in sports acupuncture and herbal medicine.

    The Sports Acupuncture Pyramid

    Each level of sports acupuncture has a unique purpose and set of treatment goals. Each level also has its own sublevels—or phases—which build upon each other in the same way.

    What are the three levels of sports acupuncture? How do they build upon and work with one another?

    Sports Acupuncture Has Three Levels

    In sports acupuncture, our time falls into three main categories: injury, recovery and performance. These three categories work together and can be thought of as a pyramid with injury on the bottom, recovery in the middle, and performance at the top. Each level of sports acupuncture has a unique purpose and set of treatment goals. Each level also has its own sublevels — or phases — which build upon each other in the same way.

    About: The Injury Phase

    The Injury phase of the pyramid has three unique stages: pain, weakness and strength. Each process is equally important, but as acupuncturists, we tend to spend most of our time focusing on pain.

    While pain may the driving factor behind many of our athletes seeking our help, relieving pain is only a small part of what we aim to do in sports acupuncture.

    In the treatment of pain we often focus on musculoskeletal conditions and orthopedic acupuncture. This is only a small part of sports and performance acupuncture. Sports acupuncture is a greater field which includes orthopedic acupuncture, not vice-versa.

    Orthopedic acupuncture is important in the pain stage. This is where trigger points, motor points, manual muscle evaluations and palpation examinations are amazing tools to have.

    We can quickly get an athlete out of pain using orthopedic acupuncture methods, but what we do next–in the weakness stage–is just as important. The pain may be gone, but that doesn’t mean their muscles are working at 100%. At this point, we can say the muscles are “turned off”. We need to choose treatment methods that will turn them back on.

    This “turned off” state connects to what’s known as “competitive plasticity” (use it or lose it). If you don’t use a particular skill or set of neuronal connections, your brain will re-purpose them to be used for something you are using more regularly.

    If you hurt yourself (for example, if you sprain your ankle), the brain will try to stop using that muscle to allow it to heal. In doing so, the brain “turns off” the neuronal pathways that tell your ankle’s muscles to work.

    A muscle might also be considered weak if there is damage to the proprioceptive system. (Proprioception is the sense of knowing where your body part is in space.) Your proprioception capabilities can be impaired when a joint tendon or ligament is injured. This is where the proprioceptors are located. An injury like an ankle sprain can damage the ligaments neurotendinous spindle that lie at the origins and insertion of skeletal muscle fibers and into the tendons of skeletal muscle. When you lose proprioception of your joint after an ankle sprain, you may experience an unstable sensation of the joint. Your joint may even give out. When treating weakness, you can use orthopedic techniques, but you’ll often find distal methods or press tacks to be more effective.

    After you get rid of pain and restore muscle strength, you are able to move to the “Recovery” phase.

    About: The Recovery Phase

    During the Recovery phase, an athlete is not in pain but still dealing with stresses. This is where we need to focus on training stresses that affect the following:

    • Range of motion;
    • Sleep; and
    • Digestion.

    Most of this is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

    When an athlete is training hard, they’re taxing their sympathetic nervous system (SNS); afterwards, they need to switch over to the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to rebuild and regenerate. The body’s sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system balance each other out.

    The SNS is catabolic and mobilizes the body’s resources to help the body “fight or flight” threatening situations. This system is upregulated during workouts. The PNS is anabolic and helps the body rest, digest, and recover after workouts.

    Many athletes are especially vulnerable to being in a sympathetic-dominant state due to increased stress load. The chronic physical and mental stress that they experience may overtax their body’s ability to adapt and maintain homeostasis. Therefore, this type of athlete is more likely to experience challenges with recovery.

    The above is especially true if restorative techniques are not utilized to minimize sympathetic dominance and strengthen the parasympathetic response.

    During the Recovery phase, we are focusing on managing the PNS. We are watching and treating issues with sleep, digestion, and the immune system. We are also watching and treating issues in range of motion and muscle imbalances that are often the results of sport-specific movements.

    About: The Performance Phase

    The top level of the Sports Acupuncture Pyramid is the Performance phase. The Performance phase culminates on the day of an event or athletic performance, but it can also include up to two weeks leading up to the event.

    Most athletes will begin to taper or decrease training intensity during this time period, so focusing on recovery becomes less important. Instead, now is the time to treat the spirit; shift your focus to the mental game.

    Specifically, the three general areas of emphasis are as follows:

    • Stress vs. Relaxation;
    • Confidence & Optimism; and
    • Focus & Awareness

    Stress: Does the athlete perform better under stress, or does stress decrease their performance? Where do they feel gameday stress the most: physically or mentally?

    Russian sport psychologist Yuri Hanin suggested that different athletes had different levels of pressure at which optimum perform­ance occurs. He called these “zones of optimal functioning”. Some respond well to high tension and pressure; others do not. An athlete needs to learn what zone is best for him or herself.

    Confidence: Check in about internal motivations, positive vs negative attitudes, and feelings of self-confidence.

    Burnout is most common in athletes who feel like they’re playing for external motives, such as college scholarships or verbal commitments. Athletes who have a personal attachment to the sport or other internal motivations are much less likely to feel burned out.

    Focus: The ability to maintain a state of full concen­tration is vital to top athletic performance, particularly during a key game or tense moment.

    Visualization, for example, is a well-known technique in which the athlete imagines specific, important game-day situations as vividly as possible. When that specific situation occurs, the athlete feels better prepared, having already worked through the situation mentally.

    The day of an athletic event is not the time to do any major treatments. Treatments are kept to less invasive procedures, such as ROM evaluation and soft tissue work with Gha Sha, or cupping to help warm up tight areas.

    Press tacks or kinesio taping to clean up proprioceptive imbalances that are still present at that time can also be useful day-of.

    Injury Stage

    The Injury level is the base or foundation of the sports and performance acupuncture pyramid. This is where we tend to spend most of our time.


    A patient comes in with an injury. We treat the injury directly to relieve pain, overcome weakness and restore strength.

    • Pain. At the very bottom of the pyramid is the Pain phase of the Injury level. Before we can do anything else, we need to relieve the patient’s immediate pain. Treatment goal: Relieve pain.
    • Weakness. Treatment of an injury doesn’t end with pain relief. Once pain is resolved, the patient still has weakness in the injured area, where the muscles are essentially “turned off”. Treatment goal: Evaluate and overcome weakness.
    • Strength. Finally, once you’ve overcome weakness due to the injury, the patient can work to regain full strength. Treatment goal: Regain strength.

    Treatment Methods

    • Trigger points
    • Motor points
    • Manual muscle evaluation
    • Proprioceptive Aids, Press Tacks, KenisoTape, Distal Needling


    The middle level of the pyramid is Recovery. This level comes after Injury and before Performance. It is where we spend most of our time second to the three phases of the Injury level.


    Treatment doesn’t stop once an injury has healed. After an injury is resolved, the patient enters the Recovery level, which is where you can help them reintegrate into normal training and activity healthily and safely. Recovery focuses mainly on range of motion, sleep and digestion.

    • Range of Motion (ROM). As the patient heals, they begin to tax their sympathetic nervous system with training, which can cause imbalances. To continue to increase strength in the affected area and make sure it heals properly, we focus on range of motion.
    • Sleep. As the patient recovers, they need to switch their focus to the parasympathetic nervous system in order to heal from the taxes they’re putting on their sympathetic nervous system. This means focusing on improving sleep quality.
    • Digestion.Another crucial part of the parasympathetic nervous system is digestion. As the sympathetic nervous system gets put to work with increased training, more focus on improving digestion is needed to recover.

    Treatment Methods

    • Traditional Chinese Medicine Diagnosis. Focus on Sleep, Digestion and Mood to evaluate Autonomic Nervous System


    The top of the pyramid — Performance — is where we tend to spend the least of our time, but where we should try not to neglect important aspects of patient care.


    Finally, the patient isn’t in pain, they’ve worked hard to train healthily and to avoid further injury, and now it’s the day of. Now, our job is to address and treat the spirit: fears, motivation and focus.

    • Stress. When treating the spirit, it’s important to identify and address any fears or Levels of mental, emotional physical stress that might hinder—or improve—performance.
    • Motivation. Identify and create a focus around what makes the patient want to succeed and perform well.
    • Focus. Identify and address any distractions that can detract focus and energy away from peak performance the day of.

    Treatment Methods

    • Acupuncture with Performance Visualization

    Acupuncture and Pain Types

    Acupuncture and Pain Types - Valley Health Clinic, Albany Oregon

    Identify your pain at

    Acute Pain

    Acute Pain is the easiest to understand because there was a pain and it was recent. The patient can point to it and can remember what happened to cause it. The body is sending pain and location signals to the brain. Recent acute pain is often the east to treat and the body responds quickly because a chronic pattern or pain expectation has not set in. If the pain is sever, light local needling or distal needling is best. Strong local needling will add stress to a system that is already over stressed and aggravated. Light local needling with stimulation encourages a local healing response but not aggravation. It will act like a kind of homeopathic treatment. Distal points can block the pain and help the muscles rest.

    Chronic Pain

    Chronic Pain has affected the whole system and a correct local treatment will improve the condition but the pain will return because the body can not adjust to the pain free movement. You must treat local and adjacent points. With chronic pain the body can loose the location signal and the pain may feel vague or wandering. Local needling will stimulate the location nerves and help the body heal.

    Nerve Pain

    Nerve Pain is often described as burning or prickling or electrical shock. Some people with nerve pain will have hypersensitivity to temperature or touch. Very often it will radiate past two joints. Muscle pain radiation rarely passes two joints. Radiation will be along a path and patients will trace an area with there finger when describing it.

    Psychogenic Pain

    Psychogenic Pain aggravated with stress responds better to distal treatment. Pain will often feel better after treatment but always come back once the patient returns to work. It will be very frustrating to treat and can look like a repetitive injury that is aggravated from work. Often time psychogenic pain will be aggravated eerily in the work day will repetitive pain will be aggravated later.

    Muscle Pain

    Muscles Pain is classic. Dull, tight, and achy. It will be local and effected with pressure on the area either by aggravating or relieving pain. For tendon, meniscus, and ligaments, this pain is sharp and often sudden. Patients will describe a giving out of the joint or sudden weakness. For example patient has dull achy shoulder pain, this is muscle pain. When the patient does the arch of pain test at around 90 degrees they say ouch and drop their shoulder. The sudden sharp pain causing weakness would be the tendon being pinched. Another classic example is a tore meniscus or ligament in the knee. The patient will have dull achy pain and suddenly will step wrong and get a sharp pain. They will say it feels like their knee is giving out.


    Inflammation will have swelling heat and redness. Arthritis is worse in the morning and better with heat and movement as the swelling is moved out of the joint. Muscle pain is also worse in the morning and better with heat and movement but it will not come back as quickly with rest. Muscle pain will be aggravated at the end of the day with when patient over does the activity.

    Bursitis will be painful with pressure on bursae, It will typically only be painful with exercises or excessive movement but fine with normal movement. For example, it will only hurt when the patient runs.

    Tendonitis is worse in the morning. The most common pain that is worse in the morning is “itis”. The joints fill with inflammation at night and when you first start to move can be painful. The best example of this is Plantar Fasciitis. It will feel like stepping on glass when they first get up in the morning but will feel better once they move around.