Knee pain according to Chinese Medicine

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 joint pain, lumbar pain and shoulder pain in the pattern “Painful Obstruction Syndrome”. As you will see below, we have in record two 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 two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause knee pain

In Chinese Medicine knee pain is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Painful Obstruction Syndrome

Pulse type(s): Tight (Jin), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to knee pain, other symptoms associated with Painful Obstruction Syndrome include joint pain, lumbar pain and shoulder pain.

Painful Obstruction Syndrome 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 Painful Obstruction Syndrome 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

Five herbal formulas that might help with knee 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 knee pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Painful Obstruction Syndrome' of which knee pain is a symptom.

Read more about Wu Tou Tang here

Da Fang Feng Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Key actions: Expel Wind Damp. Relieve pain. Tonify the Liver and the Kidneys. Tonify the Blood and Qi.

Why might Da Fang Feng Tang help with knee pain?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Painful Obstruction Syndrome' of which knee pain is a symptom.

Read more about Da Fang Feng 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 Yang Deficiency' of which knee pain is a symptom.

Read more about You Gui Wan here

Ba Wei Di Huang Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Yang. Warms the Kidneys and lower extremities.

Why might Ba Wei Di Huang 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.

Read more about Ba Wei Di Huang Wan here

Er Xian Tang

Source date: 1950 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Yin and tonifies Yang of the Kidneys. Clears Empty Heat. Regulates the Directing and Penetrating Vessels.

Why might Er Xian Tang 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.

Read more about Er Xian Tang here

Acupuncture points used for knee pain

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 Da Fang Feng Tang 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 Liu Wei Di Huang Wan or Dang Gui Di Huang Yin 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 Fu Tu Dan or Ba Wei Di Huang Wan for instance.

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

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 Yam (Shan Yao) help with knee pain?

Because Yam is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat knee pain as a symptom, like Fu Tu Dan or Ba Wei Di Huang Wan for instance.

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

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