How to Treat Osteoarthritis with TCM

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a 3000+ year old system of diagnosis and therapeutcs which works primarily in stimulating the body’s natural “vital force” (known as Qi – prnounced chee). There are several areas of TCM, including diet and nutrition, acupuncture and moxibustion (a stick of copressed mugwort which is burned and held close to the body to insert Qi into the area of distress), Qi Gong (slow breth and movement exercises) and medicinal herbs. Chinese medicinal herbs to be considered to prevent or perhaps even remedy osteoarthritis are listed below. Please consult with a qualified acupuncturist (certified from the NCCA) or Chinese herbalist.

  • Licorice and Aconite C.; Cinnamon, Aconite and Ginger C. (Gui Zhi Fu Zi Tang): Qi Xu (Deficiency) with Qi Stagnation: Severe pain, redness and swelling, chillphobia, heat in the joints, tenderness to touch, decreased range of motion: use Cinnamon, Aconite and Ginger if less severe
  • Ma Huang and Coix C. (Ma Xing Yi Gan Tang): Wind-Damp: after the acute stage, joint swelling
  • Coix C. (Yi Yi Ren Tang): Xue (Blood) Stagnation: more severe: every joint swollen with painful movement, especially upper body
  • Cinnamon and Anemarrhena C. (Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang): Wind-Cold Damp Bi, with warmth in joints due to localized constraint: chronic articular rheumatism with swollen and emaciated fingers, worse at night, weak constitiution, chills
  • Stephania and Astragalus C. (Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang): Deformed knee joints in overweight women
  • Tu huo and Vaeicum C. (Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang); Feng Shi Pian (patent): Wind-Damp Bi with Liver and Kidney Xu (Deficiency): chronic low back pain, heavy and painful sensations at fixed locations in low back and lower extremities with weakness and stiffness, aversion to cold; may be paresthesias or numbness
  • Juan Bi Tang (see modifications in materia medica): Wind-Damp Bi Syndrome: early stage Bi, joint pain worse cold and better warmth
  • Du Huo Ji Sheng Wan (patent): in weak patients: fatigue, cold sensations, lumbago, tremor.
  • Shen Rong Hu Gu Wan (patent): Chronic, with deformity and dull or no pain.
  • Kang Gu Zeng Sheng Pian (patent): spinal inflammation
  • Te Xiao Yao Tong Pian (Specific Lumbagalin) (patent): Bi Syndrome with Kidney Yang Xu (Deficiency) causing low back pain (Zhu, p. 112)
  • Clematis 19 (patent): Wind-Damp Bi Syndrome with Xue (Blood) Stagnation; plus Alisma 16 (patent) with joint swelling; plus Clerodendron 6 (patent) with Heat signs
  • Bao Zhen Gao (patent plaster); Yun Xiang Jing (patent lotion): external application.

The Qi of the body travels through 12 major and two “extra” meridians. The energy of each meridian congeals in tiny “pools” along the course of the meridian which can be tapped into to move sluggish energy or draw out excess energy. These pools of Qi are where the acupoints are located. The more than 400 primary acupoints are located in very specific locations on the surface of the skin and are useful for treating not only local complaints, but tap into an organ system, an emotional state, a sensory pattern (sucy as vision or hearing) and may also have other special applications. TCM acupoints to consider for osteoarthritis,after having a thorough constitutional assessment, are located largely after the two Urinary Bladder meridians (which travels twice up and down the spine) and the Kidney meridians (running from the inner ankles, up the inside of the legs, and across the chest to just under the collarbone).

The following TCM diagnositic “patterns” relate to oesteoarthritis, and the acupoints will be chosen according to your particular diagnosis. Kidney Xu (Kidney Deficiency); Jing Xu (Essence Deficiency); Liver Xu (Liver Deficiency); Qi Xu (Qi, or “vital force”, Deficiency) with Qi Stagnation; Xue (Blood) Stagnation; Wind-Damp Bi; dysfunction of the Yang Wei Mai (Yang Linking Vessel). Moxibustion (“moxa”) applied above the specific site of pain or discomfort works well in treating oesteoarthritis. With instruction from your TCM doctor or acupuncturist, this is something you can effectively do at home. Moxa or needling on points at or around the joints are often used to treat oesteoarthritis. Expect your acupuncturist to choose points around your knees, elbows, wrists, ankles according to your particular symptoms and personality. You are a unique individual; and so your treatment plan should be individualized for you!