Osteoarthritis according to Chinese Medicine

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In Chinese Medicine, osteoarthritis can be associated with five so-called "patterns of disharmony". Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted. It is not equivalent to the Western concept of "disease", as a matter of fact here osteoarthritis can be caused by five different patterns.

To understand whether someone's osteoarthritis might be caused by a given pattern, one needs to look for signs and symptoms associated with the pattern beyond what one might typically experience from osteoarthritis alone. For instance when osteoarthritis is caused by the pattern Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency, patients also experience symptoms such as abdominal pain that worsens with cold, urinary difficulty, deep aching and heaviness in the extremities and dizziness. Similarly, patients with Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency typically exhibit deep (Chen) or fine (Xi) pulses as well as a pale tongue.

We've listed below a description of the five patterns associated with osteoarthritis so that you can start to get an understanding of the various possibilities according to Chinese Medicine.

Once identified, patterns are often treated using herbal formulas. Drinking herbal infusions is the most common remedy in Chinese Medicine, together with acupuncture. Here we detail below three formulas that can help treat the various patterns associated with osteoarthritis, depending on which pattern fits your profile.

The five "patterns of disharmony" associated with osteoarthritis

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Fine (Xi)

Tongue color: Pale

Tongue shape: Tooth-marked, Swollen

Recommended herbal formula: Zhen Wu Tang

Symptoms: Edema Coughing Vomiting Dizziness Loose stools Palpitations Urinary difficulty Heavy sensation in the head Abdominal pain that worsens with cold Deep aching and heaviness in the extremities

Osteoarthritis might be due to Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as abdominal pain that worsens with cold, urinary difficulty, deep aching and heaviness in the extremities and dizziness. Similarly, patients with Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency typically exhibit deep (Chen) or fine (Xi) pulses as well as a pale tongue.

Read more about Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency here

Exterior Cold invading the Interior

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Fine (Xi)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Recommended herbal formula: Zhen Wu Tang

Symptoms: Dizziness Unsteadiness Generalized twitching Palpitations in the epigastrium Sweating that doesnt reduce fever

Osteoarthritis might be due to Exterior Cold invading the Interior if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as sweating that doesnt reduce fever, palpitations in the epigastrium, dizziness and generalized twitching. Similarly, patients with Exterior Cold invading the Interior typically exhibit deep (Chen) or fine (Xi) pulses as well as a tongue with thin white coating.

Read more about Exterior Cold invading the Interior here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Spleen Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Recommended herbal formulas: Zhen Wu Tang, Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, Yi Huang Tang

Symptoms: Edema Fatigue Cold limbs Weak Limbs Loose stools Poor appetite Feeling of cold Vagina discharge

Generally speaking, Spleen Yang Deficiency often develops from Spleen Qi Deficiency, but it is more extensive and severe, with additional Cold symptoms, such as a cold feeling and cold limbs. It is because Spleen Yang fails to warm the body and Organs. Because of that, the body metabolism get slower and some food are not digested properly and passes directly into the stools. Since the Spleen fails to perform the function of transforming and transporting fluids, the circulation of Body Fluids is disturbed, causing symptoms such as Oedema, vaginal discharge and Lung mucus.

The causes are similar to these of Spleen Qi Deficiency, along with surplus consumption of cold, raw foods and drinks and overexposure to cold damp environments and climates.

Read more about Spleen Yang Deficiency here

The Kidneys is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Painful Obstruction with Liver and Kidney Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo), Fine (Xi)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

Recommended herbal formula: Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang

Symptoms: Palpitations Aversion to cold Shortness of breath Attraction to warmth Weakness and stiffness Heavy and painful sensations in the lower back and lower extremities

Osteoarthritis might be due to Painful Obstruction with Liver and Kidney Deficiency if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as heavy and painful sensations in the lower back and lower extremities, weakness and stiffness, aversion to cold and attraction to warmth. Similarly, patients with Painful Obstruction with Liver and Kidney Deficiency typically exhibit slow (Chi), weak (Ruo) or fine (Xi) pulses as well as a pale tongue with thin white coating.

Read more about Painful Obstruction with Liver and Kidney Deficiency here

The Triple Burner is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Triple Burner in Chinese Medicine

Damp-Heat in the Lower Burner

Osteoarthritis might be due to Damp-Heat in the Lower Burner if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as scanty and yellow urine, lower back pain, weakness of the lower extremities and red and swollen feet.

Read more about Damp-Heat in the Lower Burner here

The three herbal formulas that might help with osteoarthritis

Zhen Wu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies the Yang and Qi of the Spleen and Kidneys. Eliminates Dampness.

Why might Zhen Wu Tang help with osteoarthritis?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help with the patterns Spleen or Kidney Yang Deficiency, Exterior Cold invading the Interior and Spleen Yang Deficiency which are sometimes associated with osteoarthritis. If any of these patterns look like something you might suffer from, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Zhen Wu Tang here

Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 15 herbs

Key actions: Anti-rheumatic, clears Wind, Cold and Damp Stagnation. Strengthens the function of the Liver and Kidney. Tonifies Qi and Blood.

Why might Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang help with osteoarthritis?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Painful Obstruction with Liver and Kidney Deficiency, a pattern sometimes associated with osteoarthritis. If it looks like you might suffer from Painful Obstruction with Liver and Kidney Deficiency, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang here

Er Miao San

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Key actions: Expels Dampness from the Lower Burner. Drains Heat from the Lower Burner.

Why might Er Miao San help with osteoarthritis?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Damp-Heat in the Lower Burner, a pattern sometimes associated with osteoarthritis. If it looks like you might suffer from Damp-Heat in the Lower Burner, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Er Miao San here