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 five 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 five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause swollen joints

In Chinese Medicine swollen joints 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 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

Heat invading the Channels joints and muscles

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

In addition to swollen joints, other symptoms associated with Heat invading the Channels joints and muscles include fever, anxiety and aversion to wind.

Heat invading the Channels joints and muscles is often treated with Xuan Bi Tang, a herbal formula made of 9 herbs (including Stephania Roots - Fang Ji - as a key herb). Xuan Bi 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: "Clears and resolves Damp-Heat".

Read more about Heat invading the Channels joints and muscles here

Painful Obstruction Syndrome

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

In addition to swollen joints, other symptoms associated with Painful Obstruction Syndrome include joint pain, stiff neck and lumbar 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

Five herbal formulas that might help with swollen joints

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

Xuan Bi Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Clears and resolves Damp-Heat. Unblocks the meridians. Disbands painful obstruction.

Why might Xuan Bi Tang help with swollen joints?

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

Read more about Xuan Bi 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 swollen joints?

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

Read more about Da Fang Feng 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 Notopterygium Root (Qiang Huo) help with swollen joints?

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

Notopterygium Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Bladder and the Kidney.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold and Dampness. Relieves Wind-Damp-Cold painful obstruction. Directs Qi to the Greater Yang (Tai Yang) channel and the Governing Vessel.

Read more about Notopterygium Roots here

Why might White Peony Root (Bai Shao) help with swollen joints?

Because White Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen joints as a symptom, like Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang or Wu Tou Tang for instance.

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

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 Achyranthes Root (Niu Xi) help with swollen joints?

Because Achyranthes Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen joints as a symptom, like Da Fang Feng Tang or Shu Jing Huo Xue 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 Stephania Root (Fang Ji) help with swollen joints?

Because Stephania Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat swollen joints as a symptom, like Xuan Bi Tang or Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang for instance.

Stephania Roots is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Bladder and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination. Allays pain and dispels Wind-Damp painful obstruction (Bi Pain).

Read more about Stephania Roots here