Joint pain according to Chinese Medicine

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Joint pain can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like joint pain here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here joint pain is often associated with swollen joints, numbness of the muscles and stiff neck in the pattern “Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause joint pain.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of joint pain we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat joint pain.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause joint pain

In Chinese Medicine joint pain is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles

Pulse type(s): Tight (Jin), Floating (Fu)

In addition to joint pain, other symptoms associated with Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles include swollen joints, numbness of the muscles and stiff neck.

Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles is often treated with Wu Tou Tang, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Prepared Sichuan Aconite - Zhi Chuan Wu - as a key herb). Wu Tou Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that warm the meridians and disperse cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms the channels and remove obstruaction".

Read more about Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles here

Dampness invading the Channels joints and muscles

Pulse type(s): Slow (Chi), Soggy (Ru)

In addition to joint pain, other symptoms associated with Dampness invading the Channels joints and muscles include swollen joints.

Dampness invading the Channels joints and muscles is often treated with Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang, a herbal formula made of 16 herbs (including Dong Quai - Dang Gui - as a key herb). Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Expels Wind Damp from the Channels".

Read more about Dampness invading the Channels joints and muscles here

Korean Mint (Huo Xiang) is the king ingredient for Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San, a formula used for Damp-Heat

Damp-Heat

Pulse type(s): Soggy (Ru)

In addition to joint pain, other symptoms associated with Damp-Heat include dizziness, fever and irregular menstruation.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Damp-Heat is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps, Intermenstrual Bleeding or Abnormal Vaginal Discharge.

Damp-Heat is often treated with Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San, a herbal formula made of 11 herbs (including Korean Mint - Huo Xiang - as a key herb). Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San belongs to the category of "formulas that transform dampness and harmonize stomach", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Releases the Exterior".

Read more about Damp-Heat here

Peach Kernels (Tao Ren) is the king ingredient for Tao He Cheng Qi Tang, a formula used for Blood Stagnation

Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Wiry (Xian), Firm (Lao)

Tongue color: Reddish-Purple

Blood Stagnation, like the name indicates, is when Blood flow becomes Stagnant. It can happen in the whole body or in specific Organs.

It is one of the most important diagnostic conditions in Chinese Medicine because it is frequently the cause of intractable pain syndromes anywhere in the body.

In addition to joint pain, other symptoms associated with Blood Stagnation include dizziness, abdominal pain and dark clots in menstrual blood.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Scanty Menstruation, Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

Blood Stagnation is often treated with Tao He Cheng Qi Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Tao He Cheng Qi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dispels Heat and".

Read more about Blood Stagnation here

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

Liver Blood Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Fine (Xi)

Tongue color: Pale

The Liver stores Blood, that is the reason any Blood Deficiency often involves the Liver. This pattern has an impact on areas the Liver relates to, such as the tendons, eyes, nails and menstruation. It arises from the same causes of general Blood Deficiency, such as poor diet, hemorrhages or Kidney Qi or Essence Deficiency.

In addition to joint pain, other symptoms associated with Liver Blood Deficiency include dizziness, amenorrhea and blurred vision.

Liver Blood Deficiency is often treated with Si Wu Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Si Wu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify blood", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Restores and nourishes Blood".

Read more about Liver Blood Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with joint pain

Wu Tou Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Warms the channels and remove obstruaction. Disperse Cold and Dampness. Warms the joints. Relieve joints pain.

Why might Wu Tou Tang help with joint pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles' of which joint pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Cold Invading The Channels Joints And Muscles include swollen joints, numbness of the muscles and stiff neck.

Read more about Wu Tou Tang here

Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang

Source date: 1587 AD

Number of ingredients: 16 herbs

Key actions: Expels Wind Damp from the Channels. Invigorates Blood. Unblocks the channels.

Why might Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang help with joint pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Dampness invading the Channels joints and muscles' of which joint pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Dampness Invading The Channels Joints And Muscles include swollen joints.

Read more about Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang here

Ba Zheng San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Clears Heat and Fire. Promotes urination. Unblocks painful urinary dribbling.

Why might Ba Zheng San help with joint pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Heat' of which joint pain is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Damp-Heat can contribute to many health issues, including Intermenstrual Bleeding.

Read more about Ba Zheng San here

Si Wu Tang

Source date: 846 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Restores and nourishes Blood. Stimulates Blood circulation.

Why might Si Wu Tang help with joint pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood Stagnation' of which joint pain is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Blood Stagnation can contribute to many health issues, including Intermenstrual Bleeding.

Read more about Si Wu Tang here

Bu Gan Tang

Source date: 1742 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies and regulates the Blood. Nourishes the Liver Yin.

Why might Bu Gan Tang help with joint pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Blood Deficiency' of which joint pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Liver Blood Deficiency include dizziness, amenorrhea and blurred vision.

Read more about Bu Gan Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat joint pain

Why might Akebia Stem (Mu Tong) help with joint pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat joint pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat joint pain as a symptom (such as Ba Zheng San for instance).

Akebia Stems is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Heart, the Lung and the Small intestine.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and clears Heat. Clears Heat and inflammation of the Heart. Promotes lactation. Moves and smoothes the flow of Blood. Used for painful obstruction associated with either Dampness, Blood Stagnation, Wind or Heat.

Read more about Akebia Stems here

Why might Prepared Sichuan Aconite (Zhi Chuan Wu) help with joint pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat joint pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat joint pain as a symptom (such as Wu Tou Tang for instance).

Prepared Sichuan Aconite is a Hot herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Heart, the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Dispels Wind and Dampness. Warms the meridians and relieves pain caused by Cold

Read more about Prepared Sichuan Aconite here

Why might Black Atractylodes Rhizome (Cang Zhu) help with joint pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat joint pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat joint pain as a symptom (such as Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang for instance).

Black Atractylodes Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Dries Damp and tonifies the Spleen. Relieves the Exterior for invasion of Wind-Cold-Damp. Relieves Wind-Damp painful obstruction. Dries Damp for either Damp-Cold or Damp-Heat when combined with the correct herbs. Clears the eyes and improves sight.

Read more about Black Atractylodes Rhizomes here

Why might Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di Huang) help with joint pain?

Because Prepared Rehmannia is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat joint pain as a symptom, like Si Wu Tang or Bu Gan Tang for instance.

Prepared Rehmannia is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Tonifies the Yin of the Kidneys.

Read more about Prepared Rehmannia here

Why might Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with joint pain?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat joint pain as a symptom, like Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang or Qi Ju Di Huang Wan for instance.

Poria-Cocos Mushrooms is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and drains Dampness. Tonic to the Spleen/Stomach. Assists the Heart and calms the Spirit.

Read more about Poria-Cocos Mushrooms here