Arthritis in Chinese Medicine

Arthritis is one of the most common ailments that afflicts especially a person advancing in years.  Usually, it starts with mild and bearable pain that worsens as time progresses until the pain is too much that it has already incapacitate the sufferer.  Arthritis in truth is a general term that is being used to refer to a myriad of conditions which often involve stiff swollen and very painful joints.   Two of the most common types are the rheumatoid arthritis which debilitates almost 6.5 million people in the US alone and osteoarthritis – a common disorder among older individuals as it is usually an age-related degeneration of the joints, often through wear and tear.  Other types include gout, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, infectious arthritis, temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), chemically-induced arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

The Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have different ways of alleviating the pain brought by this disease.  As there is really no cure to arthritis, what is commonly prescribed in Western Medicine are anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the swelling and the pain that comes with it.  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or aspirin and gold compounds; and steroid-based drugs such as corticosteroids and immuno-suppressive drugs are usually the source of comfort of arthritic sufferers.  However, these drugs have side effects when taken long term which includes stomach irritation, gastritis and ulcers

But in the East, the use of Chinese Herbal medicine and/or acupuncture is the usual remedy for arthritic pain.  This has been the method used for more than a thousand year because of its claim of being effective.  It has stood the test of time and it is now challenging the methods in the West.

In TCM, it is believed that the condition related to arthritis is what they call the Bi syndrome which come about as soreness or pain or numbness in the muscles, joints and tendons.  It is believed that the body has been afflicted by climactic factors including Wind, Cold, Heat, and/or Dampness and what the sufferer feel would depend on the type which “invaded” the body.

  • Wind Bi or Wind Pattern arthritis is a result of being exposed unprotected to wind for a relative amount of time.  The symptom that the patient feels in this case are joint pain and soreness which transfer from one joint to the other.  The symptoms include limited movement of joints and fever which worsens when exposed to windy weather.  The usual herbs used for this are ledebouriella (Fang Feng), and ephedra (Ma Huang)
  • Cold pattern of arthritis on the other hand involves a severe joint or muscle pain usually in a fixed area.  Relief includes applying hot compress in the affected area.  The suggested herb for this in TCM are aconite (Wu Tou), and ephedra (Ma Huang)
  • If the pain, swelling and soreness in the joints and muscles includes numbness and heaviness in the limbs, then is it the Damp pattern arthritis.  The pain is usually in a fixed location only which gets worse when the weather is damp.  Coix (Yi Yi Ren), and lancea atractylodes (Cang Zhu) are the prescribed herbs for Damp Bi arthritis.
  • Heat Bi could be the worse among all the patterns of arthritis.  Severe pain is accompanied with red hot swollen joints plus thirst, fever and anxiety.  To relieve the pain, cold compress could be applied to the affected area and anemarrhena (Zhi Mu), gypsum (Shi Gao), and cinnamon (Gui Zhi) herbs could be used.

These herbs, as opposed to the conventional medications in the West are usually side effects free even for long term use.