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Liniments, Oils and Plasters

Though acupuncture is the first therapy that’s called to mind when discussing Traditional Chinese Medicine, topical herbal therapies are one of the protocols most-often used to treat aches, pains, and illnesses, as well as to maintain overall wellbeing.

In addition to the decoctions that are taken internally, there are over 6,000 medicinal herbs, mineral and animal substances detailed in the Materia Medica that can be chosen and custom compounded for the impact they have on particular organ systems and the disharmonies that they’re known to address.  The formula created for each patient is highly individual and is based upon the specifics of their condition. However, not all herbs are used internally, and many are applied using a variety of topical delivery systems and in various ways, including liniments, oils, and plasters.

The Philosophy Behind the External Application of Herbal Medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbal formulas are created and applied to acupoints in order to regulate the meridians and restore the proper flow of qi based on the patient’s individual condition and the practitioner’s diagnosis. The actions of the different herbs are thought to stimulate a response that will either prevent symptoms or treat the root disease. Medicines are ground into powder and combined with bases that are then placed on gauze and taped into place; formulated into oils that can be rubbed directly onto the skin’s surface or soaked into cloth that is then heated with a hot water bottle or left overnight; or dried into a resin patch (called a cataplasma) that is applied directly to the skin. Though these treatments are best known for the treatment of aches and pains of injury and arthritis, they are also used for conditions as disparate as hypertension, asthma and bronchitis, and allergic rhinitis.

Modern Medicine’s View of Chinese Medicine’s Topical Agents

Though Western medicine has long looked at Traditional Chinese Medicine’s use of topical agents with a dubious eye, recent studies examining the pharmaceutical effects of specific medicinal herbs have found them extremely effective and established them as anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and pro-angiogenic in the treatment of conditions including plantar fasciitis, tennis elbow, wrist tendonitis and a foot fracture. This study not only proved the effect of these treatments, but also confirmed that the herbs’ active compounds crossed the transdermal membrane and penetrated tissue, while another confirmed the effectiveness of a paste in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee.

Essential Oils

The power of Chinese medicine’s essential oils comes from the essence of plants, or jing. They are selected based on their associations with different organs and channels, and blended based on their rate of evaporation, with fast-evaporating oils influencing the immune system, middle-level evaporation oils regulating digestive mechanisms, and the slowest evaporating oils effecting chronic and genetic issues. They can impact both the physical and the emotional, evoking relaxation, calming anxiety, or stimulating focus, memory and thinking speed.


Liniments are used in Chinese medicine to treat both chronic and acute injuries, making sure that the flow of qi and blood are adequate to promote healing.  They were originally used to treat martial arts injuries such as sprains and bruises, but today can be used to remedy new and old injuries, either on its own or in conjunction with acupuncture. Chinese medicine practitioners use liniments to awaken the healing process in areas where “dead” blood has accumulated, and a Chinese medicine called Jinchuang ointment has proven to be remarkably effective in the treatment of wounds, including nonhealing diabetic wounds.


Transdermal plasters have traditionally been used in Chinese medicine for the treatment of pain from sprains and bruises, metastatic cancer, arthritis, and other conditions. The protocol has proven so effective that the delivery method has been modernized from having the herbs pressed into rubber and rosin to a gel product that is largely made up of water to allow quick and continuous release of the ingredients over a period of days. The use of these products has been particularly helpful when combined with traditional Western medical approaches.

Traditional Chinese Medicine has proven to be remarkably effective in its diverse treatment of aches, pains and ailments. Sharon Sherman has been licensed to practice acupuncture and Oriental Medicine since 2001, and holds the highest credential available from both the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Her knowledge and understanding of complex conditions in conjunction with the medicine’s effectiveness assures patients of the highest level of care and professionalism.

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Philadelphia, PA, 19118

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