Joint pain according to Chinese Medicine

aching bones and joints, arthralgia, heat and pain in the joints redirect here

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 dizziness, night sweats and back pain in the pattern “Kidney Yin Deficiency”. 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.

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

Kidney Yin Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Empty (Xu), Floating (Fu)

Tongue coating: Complete absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

Tongue shape: Cracked

Kidney Yin Deficiency causes false Heat symptoms, such as night sweats, thirst and five palm heat. These signs are from a depletion of Body Fluids and Essence. It can be caused by prolonged overwork, excessive sexual activity, chronic long term illnesses, consumption of Body Fluids by Heat, prolonged blood loss, overdosage of Kidney Yang tonics herbs, smoking and Kidney depleting foods such as coffee, alcohol, sugar, and fruit juices.

In addition to joint pain, other symptoms associated with Kidney Yin Deficiency include dizziness, night sweats and back pain.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Kidney Yin Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Menopausal Syndrome, Prolonged Periods or Irregular Menstruation.

Kidney Yin Deficiency is often treated with Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Liu Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nutritive tonic for the Liver and Kidney Yin Essence (nourishes the parasympathetic nervous system)".

Read more about Kidney Yin Deficiency here

Empty-Heat caused by Yin Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Fine (Xi)

Tongue coating: Complete absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

When Yin Deficiency lasts for a long it may lead to Interior Heat

In addition to joint pain, other symptoms associated with Empty-Heat caused by Yin Deficiency include night sweats, irritability and insomnia.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Empty-Heat caused by Yin Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Lupus.

Empty-Heat caused by Yin Deficiency is often treated with Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Softshell Turtle Shells - Bie Jia - as a key herb). Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear heat from deficiency", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nourishes the Yin and clears Heat".

Read more about Empty-Heat caused by Yin Deficiency here

Phellodendron Bark (Huang Bo) is the king ingredient for Er Miao San, a formula used for Damp-Heat

Damp-Heat

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red

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

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 Er Miao San, a herbal formula made of 2 herbs (including Phellodendron Bark - Huang Bo - as a key herb). Er Miao San belongs to the category of "formulas that expel dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Expels Dampness from the Lower Burner".

Read more about Damp-Heat here

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

Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency causing Heat in the Blood

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Empty (Xu), Fine (Xi), Floating (Fu)

Tongue coating: Complete absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

In addition to joint pain, other symptoms associated with Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency causing Heat in the Blood include dizziness, night sweats and back pain.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency causing Heat in the Blood is associated with health issues such as Intermenstrual Bleeding.

Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency causing Heat in the Blood is often treated with Liang Di Tang, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Unprepared Rehmannia - Di Huang - as a key herb). Liang Di Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nourishes Yin".

Read more about Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency causing Heat in the Blood here

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

Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Fine (Xi)

Tongue coating: Partial absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

In addition to joint pain, other symptoms associated with Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency include dizziness, night sweats and tinnitus.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Absence Of Menstruation, Menopausal Syndrome or Vaginal Itching.

Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency is often treated with Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Liu Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nutritive tonic for the Liver and Kidney Yin Essence (nourishes the parasympathetic nervous system)".

Read more about Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with joint pain

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

Gui Shao Di Huang Tang

Source date: 1706 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Blood. Nourishes Yin.

Why might Gui Shao Di Huang Tang help with joint pain?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Menopausal Syndrome.

Read more about Gui Shao Di Huang Tang here

Qi Ju Di Huang Wan

Source date: 1350 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Kidney and Liver Yin. Improves vision.

Why might Qi Ju Di Huang Wan help with joint pain?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Kidney Yin Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Menopausal Syndrome.

Read more about Qi Ju Di Huang Wan here

Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes the Yin and clears Heat.

Why might Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang help with joint pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Empty-Heat caused by Yin Deficiency' of which joint pain is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Empty-Heat caused by Yin Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Lupus.

Read more about Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang here

Liu Wei Di Huang Wan

Source date: 1119 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Nutritive tonic for the Liver and Kidney Yin Essence (nourishes the parasympathetic nervous system).

Why might Liu Wei Di Huang Wan help with joint pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency causing Heat in the Blood' of which joint pain is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency causing Heat in the Blood can contribute to many health issues, including Intermenstrual Bleeding.

Read more about Liu Wei Di Huang Wan 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 White Peony Root (Bai Shao) help with joint pain?

Because White Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat joint pain as a symptom, like Zhen Wu Tang or Juan Bi Tang for instance.

White Peony Roots is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sour. It targets the Spleen and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood and preserves the Yin. Nourishes the Liver and assists in the smooth flow of Qi. Regulates the meridians and eases the pain.

Read more about White Peony Roots here

Why might Yam (Shan Yao) help with joint pain?

Because Yam is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat joint pain as a symptom, like Gui Shao Di Huang Tang or Qi Ju Di Huang Wan for instance.

Yam is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen and Stomach. Tonifies the Lung Qi and nourishes the Lung Yin. Nourishes the Kidneys and consolidates Jing.

Read more about Yam here

Why might Mudan Peony Bark (Mu Dan Pi) help with joint pain?

Because Mudan Peony Bark is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat joint pain as a symptom, like Gui Shao Di Huang Tang or Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang for instance.

Mudan Peony Bark is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Cools the Blood, activates Blood circulation and resolves Blood stasis.

Read more about Mudan Peony Bark here

Why might Water Plantain (Ze Xie) help with joint pain?

Because Water Plantain is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat joint pain as a symptom, like Qi Ju Di Huang Wan or Liu Wei Di Huang Wan for instance.

Water Plantain is a Cold herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Bladder and the Kidney.

Its main actions are: Causes urination and removes Damp-Heat

Read more about Water Plantain here