Swollen joints according to Chinese Medicine

Swollen joints 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 swollen joints 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 swollen joints is often associated with joint pain, stiff neck and numbness of the muscles in the pattern “Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles”. As you will see below, we have in record three patterns that can cause swollen joints.

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

The three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause swollen joints

In Chinese Medicine swollen joints is a symptom for 3 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 swollen joints, other symptoms associated with Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles include joint pain, stiff neck and numbness of the muscles.

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

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

Notopterygium Roots (Qiang Huo) is the king ingredient for Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang, a formula used for Damp-Wind

Damp-Wind

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Floating (Fu)

In addition to swollen joints, other symptoms associated with Damp-Wind include fever, aversion to cold and swollen neck glands.

Damp-Wind is often treated with Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Notopterygium Roots - Qiang Huo - as a key herb). Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dispel wind-damp", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Expels wind and dampness".

Read more about Damp-Wind here

Five herbal formulas that might help with swollen joints

Xiao Huo Luo Dan

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Dispels Wind. Eliminates Dampness and transforms Phlegm . Invigorates the Blood. Removes Stagnation and relieves pain.

Why might Xiao Huo Luo Dan help with swollen joints?

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

Read more about Xiao Huo Luo Dan here

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 swollen joints?

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

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 swollen joints?

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

Read more about Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang here

Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang

Source date: 1247 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Expels wind and dampness.

Why might Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang help with swollen joints?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Wind' of which swollen joints is a symptom.

Read more about Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang here

Jiu Wei Qiang Huo Tang

Source date: 1308 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Induces sweating . Dispels Dampness. Expels Wind-Cold. Clears Interior Heat .

Why might Jiu Wei Qiang Huo Tang help with swollen joints?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Wind' of which swollen joints is a symptom.

Read more about Jiu Wei Qiang Huo Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat swollen joints

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with swollen joints?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen joints as a symptom, like Wu Tou Tang or Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Saposhnikovia Root (Fang Feng) help with swollen joints?

Because Saposhnikovia Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen joints as a symptom, like Da Fang Feng Tang or Jiu Wei Qiang Huo Tang for instance.

Saposhnikovia Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Bladder, the Liver and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Relieves Wind-Damp-Cold painful obstruction. Disperses Wind.

Read more about Saposhnikovia Roots here

Why might Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with swollen joints?

Because Szechuan Lovage Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen joints as a symptom, like Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang or Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang for instance.

Szechuan Lovage Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Gallbladder, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Regulates and moves the Blood. Relieves Wind-Cold and pain. Circulates the Qi in the Upper Burner, relieving headaches.

Read more about Szechuan Lovage Roots here

Why might Angelica Root (Bai Zhi) help with swollen joints?

Because Angelica Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen joints as a symptom, like Hai Tong Pi Tang or Cang Er Zi San for instance.

Angelica Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Wind. Disperses Wind and Cold from the Yang Brightness channels. Relieves Wind-Damp Cold painful obstruction. Dries Dampness and pus and reduces swelling. Opens the nasal passages.

Read more about Angelica Roots here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with swollen joints?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen joints as a symptom, like Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang or Hai Tong Pi Tang for instance.

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

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