What is Knee Pain?

Knee pain is a universal symptom that transcends age and activity level. It can stem from acute injuries like a torn ligament or meniscal damage, or chronic conditions such as arthritis. Symptoms often include stiffness, swelling, and difficulty in bearing weight, making it a leading cause of distress and functional limitation.

How Does TCM View Knee Pain?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sees knee pain not just as a localized discomfort but as a sign of an underlying imbalance in the body's energy, or Qi. TCM often links knee health to the Kidney Channel, asserting that weakness or stagnation here can manifest as knee pain. The holistic approach of TCM seeks to restore harmony through the body, addressing the root of the pain rather than just its symptoms.

Root Causes of Knee Pain in TCM

In TCM, knee pain is often attributed to a Deficiency in Kidney Yang or the presence of Cold and Dampness invading the lower body. A Kidney Yang Deficiency may present with symptoms like a dull ache in the knees, a feeling of cold, and weakness in the legs, suggesting a vital need to warm and invigorate the body's Yang energy.

Conversely, Dampness tends to manifest in heaviness and edema, with pain that lingers like a persistent fog. Addressing these imbalances through tailored treatments is essential for lasting relief.

Explore below more details about what might cause Knee pain according to TCM.

  • By Syndrome
  • By Organ
  • Yang Deficiency
  • Yin Deficiency
  • Blood Deficiency
  • Essence Deficiency
  • Qi Deficiency
  • Heat
Detailed description of the cause

Yang Deficiency

Yang deficiency in TCM refers to a state where the body's Yang energy, which is responsible for warmth, activity, and function, is weakened or diminished. This pattern of disharmony often arises from chronic illness, aging, or inherent constitutional weakness. Symptoms of Yang deficiency are typically associated with cold and sluggishness, such as a feeling of coldness, cold extremities, pale complexion, low energy or fatigue, and a desire for warmth. Digestive issues like poor appetite, loose stools, and water retention can also be indicative of Yang deficiency.... see more

Yang Deficiency Patterns That Can Lead to Knee Pain

Common Symptoms: Dizziness Tinnitus Chills Generalized Fatigue Diarrhea Depression Frequent Urination Coughing

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Kidney Yang Deficiency Knee pain, Weakness and aching in the knees, Lower back pain, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Weak and cold knees, Lower back coldness, Chills, Weak legs, Bright pale face, Generalized fatigue, General weakness, Leg edema, Female infertility, Diarrhea, Depression, Erectile dysfunction, Premature ejaculation, Oligospermia, Low sex drive, Pale and abudant urination... see more Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan | You Gui Wan
Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency Knee pain, Abdominal pain that worsens with cold, Urinary dysfunction, Deep pain and heaviness in limbs, Dizziness, Heavy sensation in the head, Edema, Diarrhea, Palpitations, Coughing, Vomit... see more Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Yin Deficiency

Yin deficiency in TCM is a pattern of disharmony characterized by a depletion of the body's Yin energy, which represents the cooling, moistening, and nurturing aspects of our physiology. This condition often arises from factors like chronic stress, overwork, insufficient rest, or prolonged illness. Symptoms of Yin deficiency can include a sensation of heat, especially in the afternoon or evening, night sweats, insomnia, a dry mouth or throat, and a red tongue with little coating. There might also be a general feeling of restlessness or irritability. Since Yin is essential for balancing the body's active and warm Yang energy, its deficiency leads to a relative excess of Yang, manifesting as heat or dryness symptoms.... see more

Yin Deficiency Patterns That Can Lead to Knee Pain

Common Symptoms: Dizziness Tinnitus Flushed Cheekbones Night Sweats Restlessness Scanty Menstruation Pale Menstrual Flow Back Pain

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Kidney-Deficiency Knee pain, Scanty menstruation, Pale menstrual flow, Back pain, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Frequent urination, Late menstruation, Chills, Cold extremities, Pale face... see more Dang Gui Di Huang Yin | He Che Da Zao Wan | Shi Quan Da Bu Tang
Disharmony between Heart and Kidneys Weakness and aching in the knees, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Insomnia, Palpitations, Poor memory, Lower back pain, Knee pain, Night sweats, Constipation, Menopausal hot flashes... see more Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan
Detailed description of the cause

Blood Deficiency

Blood Deficiency in TCM is like when your body's tank runs low on the vital energy that blood provides. It's not exactly the same as anemia in modern medicine, which is about having too few red blood cells. Instead, Blood Deficiency in TCM is about your body not having enough of the life-giving qualities that blood brings, like nourishment and moisture. This can make you feel tired, look pale, and even feel dizzy or have blurry vision. It's like a garden not getting enough water to stay lush and vibrant. TCM sees this as an imbalance where the body isn't being nourished as it should be, impacting overall health and well-being.... see more

Blood Deficiency Patterns That Can Lead to Knee Pain

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency Knee pain, Primary amenorrhea, Lower back pain, Generalized fatigue, Dizziness, Depression, Amenorrhea, Low energy, Chills, Dark face, Xerostomia... see more Dang Gui Di Huang Yin | Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | He Che Da Zao Wan
Detailed description of the cause

Essence Deficiency

In TCM "Essence" (Jing) deficiency refers to a depletion of the body's fundamental substance, which is vital for growth, development, reproduction, and overall vitality. Jing, often translated as "Essence," is a unique concept in TCM, seen as the basis of all life activities and inherited from our parents. Essence deficiency manifests in various symptoms, such as chronic fatigue, weakness, slow physical or mental development, fertility issues, premature aging, weak bones, and a lackluster complexion. It can also affect the hair, leading to premature greying or hair loss. This pattern of disharmony often arises from congenital factors, chronic illness, overwork, or excessive behaviors that drain the body's resources. ... see more

Essence Deficiency Patterns That Can Lead to Knee Pain

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency Knee pain, Primary amenorrhea, Lower back pain, Generalized fatigue, Dizziness, Depression, Amenorrhea, Low energy, Chills, Dark face, Xerostomia... see more Dang Gui Di Huang Yin | Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | He Che Da Zao Wan
Detailed description of the cause

Qi Deficiency

Qi Deficiency in TCM is like running low on battery power. Qi is the vital energy that powers every function in your body. When there's a Qi Deficiency, it means your body doesn't have enough of this essential energy. This can make you feel tired all the time, weak, or even cause shortness of breath. It's similar to how you feel when you haven't had enough sleep or nutritious food. Your body just doesn't have the energy it needs to perform at its best. Unlike modern medicine, which often focuses on specific physical causes for fatigue and weakness, TCM views Qi Deficiency as an overall energy depletion that affects your entire well-being, and it seeks to replenish and balance this vital energy.... see more

Qi Deficiency Patterns That Can Lead to Knee Pain

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Kidney Qi not Firm Weakness and aching in the knees, Lower back pain, Lower back weakness, Polyuria, Weak urine stream, Enuresis, Nocturnal emission, Generalized fatigue, Chills, Cold extremities, White vaginal discharge, Bearing down sensation in abdomen, Recurrent miscarriage... see more You Gui Wan | Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan | Fu Tu Dan | Qing E Wan | Tu Si Zi Wan
Detailed description of the cause

Heat

In TCM "Heat" signifies an excess of Yang energy, leading to an imbalance where heat predominates over the body's cool Yin aspects. This condition is metaphorically akin to an internal over-heating. Symptoms indicative of Heat can include feelings of warmth, fever, sweating, irritability, red face, thirst with a preference for cold drinks, and a rapid pulse. The tongue may appear red with a yellow coating. Unlike the common interpretation of heat in terms of temperature, in TCM, it represents a state of hyperactivity or inflammation in the body.... see more

Heat Patterns That Can Lead to Knee Pain

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Disharmony between Heart and Kidneys Weakness and aching in the knees, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Insomnia, Palpitations, Poor memory, Lower back pain, Knee pain, Night sweats, Constipation, Menopausal hot flashes... see more Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan
Detailed description of the cause

Kidney

In TCM the Kidneys are regarded as the body's most fundamental reservoir of Essence, known as Jing, which influences growth, reproduction, and aging. They are not just organs for filtering blood, but a holistic system governing vital life forces. When the Kidneys malfunction in TCM, it can manifest as a variety of health issues, such as chronic fatigue, reproductive problems, imbalances in fluid metabolism leading to edema or dryness, lower back pain, and a sense of fear or insecurity.... see more

Kidney Patterns That Can Lead to Knee Pain

Common Symptoms: Dizziness Chills Lower Back Pain Tinnitus Generalized Fatigue Frequent Urination Back Pain Night Sweats

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Kidney Yang Deficiency Knee pain, Weakness and aching in the knees, Lower back pain, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Weak and cold knees, Lower back coldness, Chills, Weak legs, Bright pale face, Generalized fatigue, General weakness, Leg edema, Female infertility, Diarrhea, Depression, Erectile dysfunction, Premature ejaculation, Oligospermia, Low sex drive, Pale and abudant urination... see more Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan | You Gui Wan
Kidney Qi not Firm Weakness and aching in the knees, Lower back pain, Lower back weakness, Polyuria, Weak urine stream, Enuresis, Nocturnal emission, Generalized fatigue, Chills, Cold extremities, White vaginal discharge, Bearing down sensation in abdomen, Recurrent miscarriage... see more You Gui Wan | Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan | Fu Tu Dan | Qing E Wan | Tu Si Zi Wan
Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency Knee pain, Primary amenorrhea, Lower back pain, Generalized fatigue, Dizziness, Depression, Amenorrhea, Low energy, Chills, Dark face, Xerostomia... see more Dang Gui Di Huang Yin | Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | He Che Da Zao Wan
Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency Knee pain, Abdominal pain that worsens with cold, Urinary dysfunction, Deep pain and heaviness in limbs, Dizziness, Heavy sensation in the head, Edema, Diarrhea, Palpitations, Coughing, Vomit... see more Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang
Kidney-Deficiency Knee pain, Scanty menstruation, Pale menstrual flow, Back pain, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Frequent urination, Late menstruation, Chills, Cold extremities, Pale face... see more Dang Gui Di Huang Yin | He Che Da Zao Wan | Shi Quan Da Bu Tang
Disharmony between Heart and Kidneys Weakness and aching in the knees, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Insomnia, Palpitations, Poor memory, Lower back pain, Knee pain, Night sweats, Constipation, Menopausal hot flashes... see more Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan
Detailed description of the cause

Liver

In TCM the Liver is viewed as the organ responsible for the smooth flow of Qi, Blood, and emotions throughout the body. It plays a key role in regulating mood, storing blood, supporting digestion, and ensuring the health of tendons and eyes. When the Liver malfunctions or is imbalanced in TCM, it can lead to a range of issues such as irritability, mood swings, menstrual irregularities, eye problems, and muscular stiffness or pain. A malfunctioning Liver in TCM reflects not only physical disturbances but also emotional and mental disharmony, emphasizing the holistic approach of TCM in addressing health and wellness.... see more

Liver Patterns That Can Lead to Knee Pain

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency Knee pain, Primary amenorrhea, Lower back pain, Generalized fatigue, Dizziness, Depression, Amenorrhea, Low energy, Chills, Dark face, Xerostomia... see more Dang Gui Di Huang Yin | Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | He Che Da Zao Wan
Detailed description of the cause

Spleen

In TCM the Spleen plays a vital role in digestion and transformation, converting food into energy and nutrients, and overseeing the distribution of Qi and Blood. It's also crucial in maintaining the health of muscles and limbs and ensuring the blood remains within the vessels. When the Spleen malfunctions in TCM, it can lead to a variety of issues such as digestive disorders, fatigue, weak muscles, bloating, and a feeling of heaviness. It can also cause a pale complexion, poor appetite, and a tendency to bruise easily. Emotionally, a Spleen imbalance is often associated with excessive worry or overthinking, reflecting its role in the interplay between physical and mental health.... see more

Spleen Patterns That Can Lead to Knee Pain

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency Knee pain, Abdominal pain that worsens with cold, Urinary dysfunction, Deep pain and heaviness in limbs, Dizziness, Heavy sensation in the head, Edema, Diarrhea, Palpitations, Coughing, Vomit... see more Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Heart

In TCM the Heart is considered the "emperor" of all organs, primarily responsible for governing Blood and housing the mind, known as "Shen." It plays a crucial role in maintaining mental-emotional equilibrium and controlling the circulation of Qi and blood throughout the body. When the Heart is imbalanced or malfunctions in TCM, it can lead to a range of issues like heart palpitations, insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep, anxiety, and a flushed complexion. Emotional disturbances such as excessive joy or lack of joy are also seen as signs of Heart disharmony. These symptoms reflect not just physical heart conditions but also the state of one's Shen, indicating the interconnectedness of physical and emotional well-being in TCM.... see more

Heart Patterns That Can Lead to Knee Pain

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Disharmony between Heart and Kidneys Weakness and aching in the knees, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Insomnia, Palpitations, Poor memory, Lower back pain, Knee pain, Night sweats, Constipation, Menopausal hot flashes... see more Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan

TCM Herbal Formulas for Knee Pain

The TCM pharmacopeia offers a range of formulas and herbs specifically selected to counteract the patterns causing knee pain. For Kidney Yang Deficiency, a practitioner might recommend warming herbs such as Cuscuta Seeds, found in Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan, known for its Yang-boosting properties.

For Blood Deficiency related pattern causing dull pain and weakness, a formula like Dang Gui Di Huang Yin, rich in Dong quai, can nourish and invigorate the Blood, promoting healing and strength.

Explore below some TCM herbal formulas used to address knee pain, organized by cause and by formula type.

  • By Cause
  • By Formula Type
  • Yang Deficiency
  • Yin Deficiency
  • Blood Deficiency
  • Essence Deficiency
  • Qi Deficiency
  • Heat
  • Formulas that warm yang and tonify
  • Formulas that tonify yin and yang
  • Formulas that secure essence and stop enuresis
  • Formulas that tonify blood
  • Formulas that nourish yin and tonify
  • Formulas that tonify qi and blood
  • Formulas that warm the meridians and disperse cold
  • Formulas that dispel wind-Damp
  • Formulas that dredge and disperse external wind
  • Formulas that nourish the heart and calm the mind

All Formulas Recommended for Knee Pain Caused by Yang Deficiency

Formula Patterns Suitable For
You Gui Wan Kidney Yang Deficiency
Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan Kidney Yang Deficiency
Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency

All Formulas Recommended for Knee Pain Caused by Yin Deficiency

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Dang Gui Di Huang Yin Kidney-Deficiency
He Che Da Zao Wan Kidney-Deficiency
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Disharmony between Heart and Kidneys
Shi Quan Da Bu Tang Kidney-Deficiency
Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan Disharmony between Heart and Kidneys

All Formulas Recommended for Knee Pain Caused by Blood Deficiency

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Dang Gui Di Huang Yin Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency
He Che Da Zao Wan Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency

All Formulas Recommended for Knee Pain Caused by Essence Deficiency

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Dang Gui Di Huang Yin Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency
He Che Da Zao Wan Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency

All Formulas Recommended for Knee Pain Caused by Qi Deficiency

Formula Patterns Suitable For
You Gui Wan Kidney Qi not Firm
Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan Kidney Qi not Firm
Fu Tu Dan Kidney Qi not Firm
Qing E Wan Kidney Qi not Firm
Tu Si Zi Wan Kidney Qi not Firm

All Formulas Recommended for Knee Pain Caused by Heat

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Disharmony between Heart and Kidneys
Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan Disharmony between Heart and Kidneys

All "formulas that warm yang and tonify" recommended for knee pain

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
You Gui Wan Kidney Qi not Firm, Kidney Yang Deficiency
Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan Kidney Yang Deficiency
Qing E Wan Kidney Qi not Firm
Tu Si Zi Wan Kidney Qi not Firm

All "formulas that tonify yin and yang" recommended for knee pain

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
He Che Da Zao Wan Liver Blood and Kidney Essence Deficiency, Kidney-Deficiency
Shi Quan Da Bu Tang Kidney-Deficiency

All "formulas that secure essence and stop enuresis" recommended for knee pain

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan Kidney Qi not Firm
Fu Tu Dan Kidney Qi not Firm

Acupoints for Knee Pain

TCM's intricate map of meridians leads to specific acupoints for treating knee pain. Dubi ST-35, located just below the knee cap, is often stimulated to clear obstructions from the channel. Yanglingquan GB-34, near the fibula's head, serves to harmonize the flow of Qi and alleviate pain. These points, among others, are part of a strategic approach to encourage the body's natural healing processes.

Explore below some acupoints used to address knee pain, organized by meridian.

  • By Meridian
  • Stomach Channel
  • Gall Bladder Channel
  • Bladder Channel
  • Extra Points: Lower Extremities (EX-LE)
  • Kidney Channel
  • Spleen Channel
  • Lung Channel
  • Liver Channel
Biguan ST-31

Biguan ST-31

Directly below the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS), at the level of the lower border of the pubic symphysis, in the depression on the lateral side of sartorius muscle when the thigh is flex.

Futu ST-32

Futu ST-32

6 cun superior to the upper-lateral border of the patella, on the line connecting the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) and upper lateral border of the patella.

Yinshi ST-33

Yinshi ST-33

3 cun above the upper-lateral border of the patella, on a line between the lateral patellar border and the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS).

Liangqiu ST-34

Liangqiu ST-34

2 cun above the upper-lateral border of the patella, on a line between the upper lateral patellar border and the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS).

Dubi ST-35

Dubi ST-35

In the depression below the patella and lateral to the patellar ligament.

Zusanli ST-36

Zusanli ST-36

3 cun below Dubi ST-35, one finger breadth lateral to the anterior crest of the tibia, on the tibialis anterior muscle.

Xiyangguan GB-33

Xiyangguan GB-33

When the knee is flexed, Xiyangguan GB-33 is above Yanglingguan GB-34, in the depression between the shaft of the lateral epicondyle and the tendon of the biceps femoris muscle.

Yanglingquan GB-34

Yanglingquan GB-34

In the depression anterior and inferior to the head of the fibula.

Yangjiao GB-35

Yangjiao GB-35

7 cun above the tip of the external malleolus, on the posterior border of the fibula, within the distance between the tip of the external malleolus and Yanglingquan GB-34. It is also at the same level as Waiqiu GB-36.

Guangming GB-37

Guangming GB-37

5 cun directly above the tip of the external malleolus, on the anterior border of the fibula.

Shangliao BL-31

Shangliao BL-31

In the 1st posterior sacral foramen, about midway between the posterior superior iliac spine (PSIS) and the midline.

Weizhong BL-40

Weizhong BL-40

At the midpoint of the popliteal crease, between the tendons of biceps femoris and semitendinosus muscle.

Heyang BL-55

Heyang BL-55

2 cun directly below Weizhong BL-40, between the medial and lateral bellies of gastrocnemius muscle, on the line joining Weizhong BL-40 and Chengshan BL-57.

Jinmen BL-63

Jinmen BL-63

Anterior and inferior to Shenmai BL-62, in the depression lateral to the cuboid bone.

Heding EX-LE-2

Heding EX-LE-2

In the center of the upper border of the patella.

Neixiyan EX-LE-4

Neixiyan EX-LE-4

With the knee flexed, inferior to the patella, in a depression medial to the patellar ligament. Dubi ST-35 is at the same level, in a depression lateral to the patellar ligament. Both points form the Extra point of Xiyan EX-LE-5.

Xiyan EX-LE-5

Xiyan EX-LE-5

This is a group of 2 points, composed of Dubi ST-35 and Neixiyan EX-LE-4. Both are located inferior to the patella, medial and lateral to the patellar ligament. Dubi ST-35 is the lateral one, while Neixiyan EX-LE-4 is the medial one.

Taixi KID-3

Taixi KID-3

In the depression between the medial malleolus tip and Achilles tendon (Calcaneal tendon), level with the tip of the medial malleolus.

Fuliu KID-7

Fuliu KID-7

2 cun directly above Taixi KID-3, on the anterior border of Achilles tendon.

Lougu SP-7

Lougu SP-7

6 cun above the tip of the medial malleolus, 3 cun above Sanyinjiao SP-6.

Yinlingquan SP-9

Yinlingquan SP-9

On the lower border of the medial condyle of the tibia, in the depression between the posterior border of the tibia and gastrocnemius muscle.

Chize LU-5

Chize LU-5

On the cubital crease, on the redial aspect of the biceps tendon. It can be easily identified when the elbow is slightly flexed.

Xiguan LIV-7

Xiguan LIV-7

Posterior and inferior to the medial condyle of the tibia, in the upper portion of the medial head of the gastrocnemius muscle, 1 cun posterior to Yinlingquan SP-9.