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You probably know that arthritis is extremely common (especially if you’re struggling with joint pain yourself). But did you know that arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States?
With so many people struggling with pain and immobility, there’s a significant need for natural ways to heal this condition. Thankfully, Chinese herbs for arthritis are quickly becoming a go-to way to stop arthritis pain.
Chinese herbs for arthritis help relieve the pain and aches that arthritis causes and prevent further damage to your joints. With consistent use, many people are able to reduce or stop their pain medication and enjoy better joint mobility and stability with Chinese herbs for arthritis.
In fact, research shows that between 7.7% to 27.3% of arthritis patients use TCM as part of their pain management plan – a sign that more and more people are looking for complementary and natural approaches to healing their arthritis.
Curious how you can get arthritis relief too? Read on to learn more about how Chinese herbal medicine can make living with arthritis more comfortable.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that causes pain and swelling in the joints. And contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not just one disease, but a blanket term that refers to over 100 types of arthritis and related conditions.
Arthritis can happen to anyone, no matter their age, gender, or ethnicity. But, it does tend to be more common as we get older.
Symptoms of Arthritis
- Joint pain
- Swollen joints
- Reduced range of motion
- Knobby joints
- Difficulty performing daily activities (like opening a jar)
- Pain while walking, lifting, or general activity
What Causes Arthritis?
Arthritis occurs when inflammation affects the joints. Inflammation can arise after long-term infections, injuries that fail to heal fully, poor diet, stress, smoking, obesity, and other factors. There can also be a genetic predisposition to arthritis.
In the short term, inflammation simply causes stiffness or reduced mobility. With long-term inflammation, however, the joints deteriorate or become knobby.
There are other root causes of arthritis depending on the type. Osteoarthritis, for instance, occurs with wear-and-tear damage to the joint’s cartilage. This typically happens over many years and is more common in older people. But, it can also happen after a joint injury or illness.
Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune condition. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joint “capsule” and the synovial membrane – a membrane that encapsulates the various parts of the joint. This membrane then becomes swollen and inflamed, causing further damage to the membrane and surrounding joint tissues.
Exploring the Different Types of Arthritis
While many people simply say they struggle with “arthritis,” there are actually several distinct types of this joint condition. Each type does have a few things in common – like joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness. But beyond those symptoms, these various types of arthritis can differ widely. From wear-and-tear osteoarthritis to autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, the differences often lie in their underlying causes and the specific joints they impact.
Each type of arthritis requires a different tailored approach (and specific herbal formulas) to fix the root cause and restore balance. Let’s take a look at the most common types of arthritis:
OA is the most common form of arthritis. It is often called “degenerative joint disease” or “wear and tear” arthritis. It occurs when the cartilage in the joint gradually erodes, leading to bone-on-bone friction, pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. OA most frequently affects the hands, hips, and knees.
While conventional treatments for osteoarthritis focus on managing symptoms with painkillers, injections, and even surgery, TCM offers a less invasive approach. Chinese herbal medicine, in particular, works to manage pain, reduce inflammation, and promote tissue repair.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
RA is an autoimmune and highly inflammatory form of arthritis. In this condition, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, which causes painful swelling and tissue damage.
RA usually attacks many joints at once, usually the hands, wrists, and knees. In some cases, RA also attacks other tissues in the lungs, heart, and eyes. While RA has been infamously hard to treat, recent studies show that the Chinese medicinal herb, Tripterygium wilfordii (or wilfordii hook) is a powerful natural remedy for RA.
Childhood Arthritis, (Juvenile Arthritis)
Childhood, or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, occurs when inflammation attacks a child’s joints, leading to permanent damage. While the exact causes of juvenile arthritis are still unclear, we do know a few factors that can trigger it: inflammation, immune system imbalances, and genetics can all play a part.
While no parent wants to see their child in pain, the good news is that Chinese herbs offer a holistic approach to managing juvenile arthritis symptoms and helping your child live a pain-free life. Chinese herbs can help alleviate symptoms as well as address the root imbalances contributing to the condition, from a TCM point of view.
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that causes severe pain in one joint at a time – usually the big toe. Gout tends to come and go, or “flare up.” Flares are often related to increases in stress or poor diet choices. Left unmanaged, gout can develop into gouty arthritis.
Gout stems from the accumulation of uric acid in the body, which causes sharp crystals to form in joints. While conventional treatments focus on symptom relief and lowering uric acid levels, they often fall short in preventing recurring episodes. TCM treatments aim to clear the underlying causes of this build up (typically dampness and heat), reduce inflammation, and balance the body so gout episodes naturally stop.
Sciatica is a specific type of back and leg pain often caused by arthritis in the spine or hip and inflammation of the sciatic nerve. This painful and often restricting condition can be caused by a range of underlying issues such as injury, arthritis, or general overuse.
TCM recognizes sciatica not as a disease, but a symptom of stagnation of qi and blood in the body’s energy pathways. This stagnation may arise from factors like the environment, a physical injury, stress, or lifestyle. Chinese herbs can help alleviate sciatica and arthritis symptoms due to their analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. By addressing both symptoms and root causes of sciatica and arthritis of the hip or lower limb, Chinese herbs for sciatica offer a holistic approach to alleviating pain and promoting recovery.
Fibromyalgia is a complex musculoskeletal condition that causes pain throughout the body. It mainly causes muscle pain, but in some cases, it can lead to joint pain and damage like arthritis. Other health issues (like insomnia, fatigue, and depression) are also common in those with fibromyalgia.
What causes this frustrating condition? Researchers believe those with fibromyalgia have abnormal pain perception processing which causes them to be more sensitive to pain. From a TCM point of view, however, fibromyalgia’s root cause can vary person to person, which is why an individualistic treatment plan is the most effective route.
While research on Chinese herbs for fibromyalgia is growing, promising results show that these remedies could offer an effective natural way to reduce pain, improve sleep quality, and balance mood.
Arthritis Treatment: The Western Medicine Approach
Western medicine typically treats arthritis with anti-inflammatory and pain-killing medications such as NSAIDs and corticosteroids. Other temporary treatments include sprints or braces that protect the joint from pain during movement and rest. This usually provides short-term pain relief but doesn’t address the root cause of the problem. With these treatments, the pain will return, and arthritis can worsen over time.
For those with rheumatoid arthritis, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are often prescribed. Rather than simply masking the pain, these drugs address the immune imbalances and attempt to slow down the progression of autoimmune disease.
For severe arthritis, arthroscopic surgery, fusions, or joint replacements may be recommended. Unfortunately, these have a long recovery time and still don’t address the underlying causes of system inflammation or poor immune function.
Thankfully, there are other options. Massage and acupuncture are both effective natural therapies for arthritic pain without the side effects of pharmaceuticals and surgery. They help improve circulation through the joints, reduce inflammation, and alleviate pain and stress. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and herbal formulas offer another option for getting to the root of joint pain and inflammation from within.
Holistic Arthritis Treatment: Chinese Medicine for Arthritis
Traditional Chinese medicine offers a different way to cure arthritis naturally. Unlike conventional Western medicine, Chinese medicine addresses arthritis by focusing on restoring balance through holistic therapies like acupuncture and herbal formulas.
Within TCM, any form of pain (including arthritis) is viewed as a manifestation of stagnation and imbalance. The key to stopping that pain is understanding what that exact imbalance is.
Bi Syndrome: Breaking Down Arthritis in Chinese Medicine
Bi syndrome is a term used in TCM that closely fits the Western diagnosis of arthritis. But even within Bi syndrome, there are various patterns of imbalance. By understanding the different types, we can better choose an herbal formula to fix the imbalance and relieve pain. Here are the key patterns of Bi syndrome that you could be experiencing:
- Wind Bi
With wind bi-type arthritis, the joint pain moves around and can affect different joints throughout the day. Why wind? In TCM, wind is seen as a troublesome force that can disrupt the flow of Qi and Blood, leading to erratic symptom patterns. Wind bi can be caused by environmental wind, or “wind” that stirs in the body due to other underlying issues with deficiency or excess.
- Cold Bi
Does your joint pain get worse in winter, or in cold climates? You could have cold bi-type arthritis. Cold constricts the blood vessels and impairs circulation which leads to fixed, sometimes severe pain. To treat cold bi, we use warming herbs to promote circulation and soothe joint pain.
- Damp Bi
Damp bi is characterized by swollen, heavy, numb limbs and joints. Just as it sounds, damp bi is caused by “dampness” in the body. In TCM, dampness is a pathological factor that impedes the smooth flow of energy and blood through the body – kind of like a boggy marsh. This leads to stagnation, swelling, and inflammation.
- Heat Bi
Heat bi-type arthritis typically causes severe pain with red, hot, swollen joints. Humans are warm creatures, but when heat builds up too much, it can cause inflammation and pain. In TCM, this heat is considered an excess of Yang energy, and we need to clear the heat to allow the joints to heal properly.
How to Choose Chinese Herbs to Treat Arthritis (Bi Syndrome)
There isn’t one single herbal formula for arthritis. As we saw above, there are different types of arthritis, and getting to the root means using a formula that balances your unique type.
For example, if you have cold bi-type arthritis, you will need warming herbs to increase circulation and relieve pain. However, if you have the heat bi-type of arthritis, warming herbs will only make your pain worse. Instead, you will benefit from a formula with cold and inflammation-fighting herbal ingredients. Likewise, damp bi needs diuretic herbs and wind bi requires stabilizing herbs to restore balance.
Beyond Bi: Other Arthritis Treatment Considerations with TCM and Chinese Herbs
Along with the patterns of bi syndrome, there are other ways to consider your specific arthritis symptoms within the practice of TCM. Here are a few question your TCM practitioner may consider to diagnose your arthritis or plan your personalized treatment:
- Where is the pain?
If the pain is concentrated in a specific joint, practitioners focus on the surrounding channels and collaterals related to that joint. Acupuncture, herbal patches, or topical treatments might be applied directly to the affected area.
- Local or systemic?
When arthritis affects several joints, it’s seen as a more systemic issue. TCM practitioners may work on balancing overall energy and addressing imbalances in organ-related channels. Herbal remedies, acupuncture, and dietary adjustments are commonly used.
- What channels are involved?
Pain in the upper body may involve channels related to the Lungs and Heart, whereas arthritis in the lower body often involves channels related to the Kidneys and Liver. TCM focuses on clearing or nourishing the organs involved to best support joint health.
- What can other symptoms tell us?
When we are out of balance, we rarely have just one symptom or issue. While arthritis pain may be your main complaint, there are likely other symptoms going on within your body that indicate the core underlying cause. For instance, feeling weak, cold, and having trouble with hearing or incontinence may not seem related to arthritis, but together they all point to Kidney deficiency. This may help pinpoint the type of arthritis you are dealing with and inform your decision of which Chinese herbs are best for you.
- Is there dampness or swelling?
If arthritis presents with symptoms like swelling or a feeling of heaviness, it’s often attributed to dampness. Before we can supplement the joints, any dampness needs to be removed. It’s like cleaning your sink – you want to unclog your drain and wash away any debris before you buff and shine. To help, TCM treatments will need to start with herbs that have drying properties to dispel dampness so your joints can properly heal.
- How intense is the inflammation?
Arthritis is by nature an inflammatory condition. However, the intensity of this inflammation will help us decide if you need extra help clearing heat, or if you need to warm cold joints. In cases where there’s heat or inflammation in the joints, Chinese herbs can cool and soothe. If there is little heat, anti-inflammatory herbs with warming properties may be a better choice.
The Science Behind Chinese Herbs for Arthritis
Chinese herbs have been used to combat pain issues like arthritis for thousands of years – long before arthritis was a recognized condition as it is today. How these herbs work to reduce pain and heal arthritis is explained by TCM theory, but what about from a modern, Westernized viewpoint?
While research into Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and herbology lags behind other medical treatments like pharmaceuticals, interest is growing. From the studies that have been done on Chinese herbs, here’s what we’ve learned:
- Chinese herbs have pain-relieving effects.
Many Chinese herbs serve as natural analgesics, providing relief from the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis in general.
- Chinese herbs improve joint function and mobility.
Beyond symptom management, Chinese herbal remedies aim to boost joint function and mobility. For instance, herbs like Eucommia bark are thought to fortify bones and tendons, while ginger promotes circulation and reduces stiffness, ultimately enhancing the ability to move comfortably for individuals with arthritis.
- Chinese herbs fight inflammation.
Herbs such as turmeric and Boswellia contain compounds known for their potent anti-inflammatory effects. Given that inflammation is often a contributing factor in arthritis, incorporating these natural herbal remedies may help alleviate pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints.
- Chinese herbs may prevent further tissue damage.
A notable strength of Chinese herbal medicine for arthritis lies in its emphasis on tissue repair and overall joint health. By addressing the underlying causes of arthritis and promoting the body’s natural healing processes, Chinese herbs have the potential to help prevent additional tissue damage in individuals with arthritis.
Research Spotlight: TCM & Chinese Herbs for Osteoarthritis
While there are limited clinical trials in the world of Chinese medicine, some researchers are dedicated to finding out how it works so more people can get relief. Let’s take a closer look at one particular peer-reviewed study from the PLOS ONE journal: Traditional Chinese medicine for knee osteoarthritis: An overview of systematic review.
In this study, researchers wanted to assess the role of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a complementary therapy for knee osteoarthritis – one of the most common and debilitating forms of arthritis. They measured the efficacy and safety of TCM, as well as the overall quality of research results that are currently available.
To do so, the researchers conducted a thorough search of electronic databases up to April 2016, identifying ten systematic reviews (SRs) to include in their analysis. The findings from these SRs had a positive result: they suggested that TCM has significant potential benefits for those with knee osteoarthritis. The most common benefits people experienced were pain relief, improved functionality and mobility, and minimal side effects or issues with treatment.
While the pool of research available is still low, studies and reviews like this help share the potential of holistic methods like TCM and Chinese herbs for alleviating arthritis pain.
The Best Chinese Herbs for Arthritis
Chinese herbs for arthritis come in many different forms. Many work to reduce inflammation, support joint health, and restore the body’s natural balance. The right one for you will depend on your unique symptoms and constitution.
Best Herbs for Osteoarthritis
When it comes to wear-and-tear arthritis, Joint Obstruction Teapills are often a first choice. This formula focuses on joint pain and arthritis in the lower body (low back, knees, and feet), weak or aching lower back, sciatica and swelling, rheumatism and lower limb arthritis, and supports normal healthy joint function. It is particularly helpful for cold and damp arthritis with painful swelling.
This classic formula is best for those with joint pain as well as stiffness, weakness, or immobility. It warms the joints to dispel wind-dampness, so should not be used if your arthritis is hot in nature. This formula also has tonifying effects, strengthening the tendons, bones, Kidney, and Liver systems. Choose this for arthritis and rheumatism that gets worse in cold, damp weather.
Best Herbs for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Xiao Huo Luo Dan is a classic TCM formula that relieves arthritis due to cold and dampness and is particularly effective for those with RA. Because it supports the body’s energy and immunity while relieving pain, it is best for those with a deficiency at the root of their arthritis, who may also experience lethargy, fatigue, shortness of breath, and numbness.
Best Herbs for Gout
The most famous Chinese herbal formula to treat gout is Si Miao Wan, or Four Marvels Pills. This formula is used to help treat hot-type arthritis pain that is common in patients with gout, with the help of four key herbs; huang bai clears heat and inflammation, yi yi ren reduces dampness and supports the Spleen, cang zhu dries dampness, and huai niu xi supports healthy circulation and balance.
Si Miao Wan also addresses other issues that might accompany gout, like lower back pain, numbness, joint swelling, or muscle weakness or tension. From a Western medicine point of view, Si Miao Wan helps alleviate gout by moderating the cytokines that cause inflammation.
Best Herbs for Childhood Arthritis
Du Huo Ji Shen Wan
Du Huo Ji Sheng Wan is a classic formula that is commonly prescribed for arthritis – including childhood arthritis. This formula is warming and moving, which makes it the perfect balance for kids with wind-cold-damp type of pain. If your child complains of stiffness and discomfort, particularly in cold, rainy, or damp weather, this formula may help.
For some children, their arthritis is caused by an overactive immune response to their own joint tissue. This is rheumatoid-positive arthritis and tends to show up with redness, swelling, and sometimes fever. In this case, Si Miao Wan is a better choice. This formula uses anti-inflammatory and cooling herbs to restore balance to the body and regulate the immune system.
Best Herbs for Sciatica
Zuo Gu Shen Jing Tang is one of the go-to formulas for sciatic pain (which is why it’s also known as “Sciatica Nerve Compound”). This specialized blend serves to unblock the channels, alleviating the stagnation that often leads to sciatic nerve pain, as well as other forms of joint, tendon, and muscle discomfort. Choose this formula if your sciatica presents with heat, swelling, or inflammation. If your sciatica feels better with heat, consider Du Huo Ji Sheng Wan (below) instead.
For severe, deep, fixed sciatic pain, Xiao Huo Luo Dan can help. This formula incorporates a blend of herbs that are known for their ability to invigorate qi, promote circulation, and alleviate discomfort. By addressing the underlying issue of qi stagnation and weak qi, Xiao Huo Luo Dan helps relieve pain and restore proper circulation.
Best Herbs for Fibromyalgia
Liver stagnation (which affects the muscles and joints) is a common root issue in fibromyalgia. Shu Gan Wan is a warming formula that contains a combination of herbs like Poria and Peony that help to soothe the liver, alleviate tension, and promote the free flow of qi and blood. By addressing the Liver qi stagnation pattern, Shu Gan Wan can help reduce pain and discomfort, making it a great choice for those whose symptoms are mainly focused on pain and tension.
Ba Zhen Wan is one of the most commonly used Chinese herbal formulas because it addresses a problem many of us face: low energy. This formula is especially beneficial for individuals with fibromyalgia who primarily experience symptoms of deficiency, fatigue, and “fibro fog.” This formula is designed to strengthen the body’s vital energy (qi) and nourish the blood.
Best Herbal Teas for Arthritis
This herbal tea infuses the power of herbs good for arthritis with a pleasant jasmine tea for everyday enjoyment. Drink this tea regularly to keep joint pain at bay, or to prevent arthritis and maintain healthy joint flexibility.
Magic 5 Inflammation Aid Herbal Tea is a gentle way to fight inflammation all day long. This tea contains herbs that aid in relieving inflammation, including yan hu suo and zi hua di ding. It also contains herbs that specifically help reduce arthritic pain, like san qi, ru xiang, and mo yao. Studies show these herbal ingredients, as well as tea itself, can slow arthritis progression by blocking interleukin-1, a pro-inflammatory cell, from damaging joint cartilage. This tea also supports a balanced immune system, which can help reverse autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Best Topical Herbs for Arthritis Pain Relief
Zheng Gu Shui, which means “bone-setting water,” is an external analgesic formula you can put directly on the joints causing you pain. This formula encourages healthy circulation which eases pain and promotes healing.
Wood Lock oil is a popular analgesic oil that can be used for a wide range of aches and pains. It is relatively balanced, which makes it a good choice for either cold or hot-type arthritis. For cold-type pain, apply the oil to the joint, then place a heating pad or hot compress on top.
Are Chinese Herbs Safe for Arthritis?
Chinese herbs have been used safely for thousands of years to address a wide range of health conditions – from headaches to infectious disease and of course, arthritis!
When Chinese herbs are used properly within the framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), they have the power to significantly improve your symptoms and even prevent disease in the future. But, that means choosing the right formula for your unique condition, and the right dosage.
If you are taking Chinese herbs for arthritis and your symptoms don’t improve within a few weeks, you may need extra support to figure out which formula or strategy is right for your body. We recommend working with a qualified TCM practitioner who can help you determine your diagnosis and choose your best Chinese medicine.
Stop Pain at the Source with Chinese Herbs for Arthritis
Many people think that living with arthritis pain is just a part of life. But that’s simply not the case. With the help of Chinese herbs for arthritis and other therapies, you can get natural relief from arthritis pain and stop the condition from progressing.
Ready to find your herbal joint pain solution? Shop now for these and other Chinese herbal medicines for joint health and support! Struggling with a different pain condition? Check out our Chinese herbs for pain relief.
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