Knee pain according to Chinese Medicine

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Knee 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 knee 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 knee pain is often associated with dizziness, back pain and tinnitus in the pattern “Kidney Yin Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause knee pain.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of knee 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 knee pain.

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

In Chinese Medicine knee 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 knee pain, other symptoms associated with Kidney Yin Deficiency include dizziness, back pain and tinnitus.

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

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

Kidney Yang Deficiency

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

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

Tongue shape: Swollen

Kidney Yang Deficiency causes Internal Cold and weakness.

In addition to knee pain, other symptoms associated with Kidney Yang Deficiency include dizziness, back pain and tinnitus.

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

Kidney Yang Deficiency is often treated with Ba Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Ba 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: "Tonifies Yang".

Read more about Kidney Yang Deficiency here

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

Kidney Qi not Firm

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

Tongue color: Pale

Kidney Qi not Firm means Kidney Qi Deficiency. Two characteristics are typical in this pattern. Firstly, it is a type of Kidney Yang Deficiency with the associated Cold symptoms. Secondly, it is a type of sinking of Kidneys Qi, thus with many ‘leaking’ downwards symptoms.

In addition to knee pain, other symptoms associated with Kidney Qi not Firm include back pain, frequent urination and vaginal discharge.

Kidney Qi not Firm is often treated with You Gui Wan, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Prepared Aconite - Zhi Fu Zi - as a key herb). You Gui Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that warm yang and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms and tonifies Kidney Yang".

Read more about Kidney Qi not Firm here

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

Kidney-Deficiency

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

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to knee pain, other symptoms associated with Kidney-Deficiency include dizziness, back pain and tinnitus.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Kidney-Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Scanty Menstruation.

Kidney-Deficiency is often treated with Dang Gui Di Huang Yin, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Dong Quai - Dang Gui - as a key herb). Dang Gui Di Huang Yin 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: "Nourishes Blood".

Read more about Kidney-Deficiency here

Dong Quai (Dang Gui) is the king ingredient for Sheng Yu Tang, a formula used for Blood and Qi Deficiency

Blood and Qi Deficiency

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

Tongue coating: Partial absence of coating

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to knee pain, other symptoms associated with Blood and Qi Deficiency include dizziness, depression and fatigue.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Blood and Qi Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Menstrual Cramps or Absence Of Menstruation.

Blood and Qi Deficiency is often treated with Sheng Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Dong Quai - Dang Gui - as a key herb). Sheng Yu 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: "Tonifies Qi and Blood".

Read more about Blood and Qi Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with knee pain

Dang Gui Di Huang Yin

Source date: 1640 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Blood. Tonifies Kidney and Liver Yin. Regulates the menstrual cycle.

Why might Dang Gui Di Huang Yin help with knee pain?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Kidney Yin Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Abnormal Vaginal Discharge.

Read more about Dang Gui Di Huang Yin here

He Che Da Zao Wan

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies the Kidneys. Strengthens the Directing and Penetrating Vessels. Regulates the periods.

Why might He Che Da Zao Wan help with knee pain?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Kidney-Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Scanty Menstruation.

Read more about He Che Da Zao Wan here

Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan

Source date: 1550 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Kidney Yang. Strengthens the Essence.

Why might Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan help with knee pain?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Kidney Yang Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Abnormal Vaginal Discharge.

Read more about Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan here

Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Source date: 1180 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies Qi. Warms and tonifies Blood.

Why might Shi Quan Da Bu Tang help with knee pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood and Qi Deficiency' of which knee pain is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Blood and Qi Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Absence Of Menstruation.

Read more about Shi Quan Da Bu Tang here

You Gui Wan

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies Kidney Yang. Replenishes the Essence. Tonifies the Blood.

Why might You Gui Wan help with knee pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney Qi not Firm' of which knee pain is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidney Qi Not Firm include back pain, frequent urination and vaginal discharge.

Read more about You Gui Wan here

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

Why might Achyranthes Root (Niu Xi) help with knee pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat knee pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat knee pain as a symptom (such as Dang Gui Di Huang Yin for instance).

Achyranthes Roots is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sour. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Moves Blood and relieves pain in the raw state. Tonic to the Liver and Kidneys and strengthens the bones and sinews. Reduces Damp-Heat in the Lower Burner. Regulates the flow of reckless Blood caused by either ascendant Liver Yang or Yin Deficient Fire.

Read more about Achyranthes Roots here

Why might Goji Berry (Gou Qi Zi) help with knee pain?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat knee pain and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat knee pain as a symptom (such as Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan for instance).

Goji Berries is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Yin of the Liver and Yin of the Kidneys. Brightens the eyes. Moistens the Lungs.

Read more about Goji Berries here

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

Because Prepared Rehmannia is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat knee pain as a symptom, like Dang Gui Di Huang Yin or Shi Quan Da Bu 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 knee pain?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat knee pain as a symptom, like Shi Quan Da Bu Tang or He Che Da Zao 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

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with knee pain?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat knee pain as a symptom, like Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang or Dang Gui Di Huang Yin for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here