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Chinese Medicine Basics: Treatments for Arthritis & Join Pain

In Chinese medicine, arthritis pain is referred to as “bi syndrome,” a painful condition that attacks the bones and joints. Just as in Western medicine, Chinese medicine works to help relieve joint pain by reducing inflammation, but goes even further to restore the health of the tissues to prevent further damage.

Weather and Arthritis: Arthritis sufferers often claim that they can predict the weather with their pain. This is due to the direct effect weather (especially cold fronts, dampness, rain, and wind) has on our bones and joints.

The 4 Types of Arthritis (according to Chinese Medicine):

Zuo Bi: This type of arthritis, or bi, feels heavy and numb and is a caused by dampness.

Re Bi: This type is sharp and painful and often involves swelling.

Xing Bi: This type is not fixed to one location; the pain moves from joint to joint.

Tong Bi: This type of arthritis involves severe pain and is often soothed with warmth. Cold temperatures and too much activity tend to make this type flare up.

Yin or Yang?: Joint pain & stiffness is also described diagnostically by whether it is yin or yang in nature:

Yang: red, inflamed, swelling, hot, worse in summer

Yin: cold, weak, achy and sore, worse in cold weather or rain

Qi and Blood:

Qi: Arthritis is often a condition that happens in older age as our qi, or energy, starts to decline. A lack of qi in the joints will cause weakness and eventually deterioration. Those who suffer from arthritis tend to have low energy and benefit from activities like exercise.

Blood: Arthritis typically involves a lack of blood flow or poor blood quality. Blood is like water for our garden. When our hose is full and straight, there is a good flow of water to nourish all of our plants. When there’s not enough water or there’s a kink in the hose, we aren’t able to properly care for our plants. In some cases, they even get dry and brittle. This is the main idea behind the importance of proper blood flow for healthy bones and joints.

Common Chinese Medicine Treatments for Arthritis and Joint Pain & Stiffness

Chinese medicine recommends a few different treatments to help restore joint health and protect the body’s skeletal system. Acupuncture and moxibustion are popular treatments that improve blood and qi flow throughout the body, while also relieving pain. Topical herbal ointments are useful for relieving pain throughout the day. Many Chinese medicine practitioners also recommend an anti-inflammatory diet and regular exercise to keep the joints strong and lubricated naturally.

Chinese Herbal Formulas for Arthritis and Joint Pain & Stiffness

Because of its strong effect on enhancing blood quality, boosting energy, and nourishing the joints, herbal medicine is a natural choice for relieving arthritic pain. Many formulas are taken internally to restore joints while other herbal formulas can be used topically as an analgesic.

Formulas (i.e. pills) taken internally:

Du Huo Ji Sheng Wan (Solitary Hermit): Addresses arthritic-type pain and weakness in the lower back and/or knees, especially that which gets worse in cold or damp conditions.

Juan Bi Wan: addresses heaviness in the limbs and muscles and joint pain and stiffness from a variety of causes (e.g. old injuries, arthritis, rheumatism, etc…) that worsens in cold, damp weather.

Guan Jie Yan Wan: Addresses various presentations of joint pain and swelling in lower part of the body.

Zuo Gu Shen Jing Tong: Specifically addresses sciatica and sciatic nerve pain shooting down the back of the thigh.

Tian Qi Du Zhong Wan: Addresses chronic dull aching, stiffness and/or weakness in the lower back and knees that may be interspersed with occasional flare-ups of sharp pain associated with overwork and strain.

Yao Tang Pian: Addresses chronic deficiency back problems (especially in the elderly) such as: chronic lumbago, sciatica, arthritis, and rheumatism, and back strain caused by overwork.

Kang Gu Zeng Sheng Pian: Addresses swollen, inflamed, painful joints with chronic dull aching pain, especially in the spinal vertebrae of the neck and back.

China Tung Hsueh Pills: Addresses lumbar pain/stiffness, joint pain, and cold limbs; also good for helping heal bruising and swelling from traumatic injuries.

Topical Treatments: Oils, Linaments, Salves and Patches/Plasters:

Po Sum On Oil: loved by massage practitioners and acupuncturists alike, it has a very relaxing scent that is not overpowering. Acupuncturists dub it “Pour some on” because of how the name sounds. For temporary use on areas of soreness and pain such as back pain, arthritis, sprains, strains, and bruises.

Kwan Loong – Pain Relieving Oil: Blend of salicylate, menthol and other (inactive) ingredients combine to provide temporary relief for muscles aches and joint pain & stiffness.

White Flower Oil: Blend of aromatic oils that can be rubbed over sore muscles and joints for temporary relief.

Zheng Gu Shui (aka Dit Da Jow): Linament for use on areas of traumatic injury to relieve pain and swelling and to promote healing of these areas. Useful for temporary relief of general muscle/joint pain & stiffness… commonly used in China for Plantar Fasciitis (rubbed on the feet before putting on socks and shoes).

Zhuang Gu She Xiang Zhitong Gao- Pain Relieving Plaster Patch: medicated patches useful for the temporary relief of minor aches and pains of muscles and joints due to simple backache, arthritis, strains, bruises, sprains.

Special Herbs for Arthritis and Joint Pain & Stiffness:

The following are important herbs used in arthritis and joint pain formulas.

Du Huo/Angelica pubescentis: Du huo is one of the most commonly used herbs in “bi syndrome” formulas. This herb is especially good at reducing pain that worsens in cold, wet, windy weather.

Huang Qin/Baikal skullcap: Huang qin is a deep yellow herb that improves circulation while attacking inflammation. This herb is in formulas for hot-type arthritis with swelling, heat, and sharp pain.

Menthol and peppermint: Peppermint and menthol are commonly used in topical herbal products for arthritis like balms, oils, and tinctures. The cooling and tingling effect of menthol works to relieve pain and increase blood flow to the painful area to stimulate healing.

Shop our Collection of Chinese Herbal Remedies for Arthritis & Join Pain

You don’t have to suffer from the pain of arthritis. Shop our collection of Chinese herbal formulas to heal and nourish the joints.