Photomontage by Joel Schreck
Photomontage by Joel Schreck: joel

Information  on this site is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice of your own physician or other medical professional. We make no claims as to efficacy or safety of herbs or herbal medicine appearing on this site. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Chinese Medicine and Arthritis

At least three different TCM conditions are diagnosed as arthritis by modern physicians. These conditions are Bi-Syndrome, Liver Not Smoothing the Qi , and Third Stage Injuries. These conditions all obstruct flow in the joints and can cause calcification and joint pain. Treating arthritis effectively with Chinese herbs requires diagnosing which of these conditions are the probable causes of the “arthritis”, then choosing the correct course of treatment. In Chinese medicine diagnosis takes a trained practitioner and is made according to the four traditional types of examinations.

Cause of Arthritis # 1, BI SYNDROME
Bi-syndrome, indicates that our defensive energy (wei qi) has become weak,this is part of what we view today as the immune system in the west. When our defenses are down traditional Chinese thought explains that atmospheric conditions can penetrate and influence our bodies, obstructing flow and causing pain or stiffness, and various illnesses. If your arthritis is sensitive to the weather, you likely have a type of ‘bi-syndrome’ in TCM. Four kinds are recognized depending on which kind of weather makes symptoms worse.  Hot-bi, Cold-bi, Damp-bi, and Windy-bi. Treatment involves expelling and countering the pathogenic influence, relieving pain, and boosting the outer defensive Wei Qi.

Hot-bi is usually diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis or gouty arthritis. Putting heat on such an inflamed joint makes it feel worse.

Cold-bi and Damp-bi are usually diagnosed as osteoarthritis. These types feels better when heat is applied. Moxibustion (warming the area or affected channels with heat from smoldering mugwort) is often used as a therapy for this type of bi syndrome.

Damp-Bi syndrome gets worse when the weather is damp. When sufferers go to a warmer or dryer climate, they often feel better.

Windy-Bi acts like the wind, moving around the body from joint to joint. Like gusts of wind, it can spring up and subside quickly. Last week the patient suffers from shoulder pain, this week their knee hurts.

Cause of Arthritis #2: Liver Not Smoothing the Qi
A function of the “Liver “, in Chinese medicine, is to insure the smooth qi flow. When damage to this organ occurs, its ability to insure smooth flow of qi may be impaired.  When qi flow is impaired, pain results. Since the Liver also governs the joints and tendons, various Liver patterns can result in pain in the joints and tendons. The Chinese diagnosis in these cases are deficiencies of the Liver and Kidneys.

Cause of Arthritis #3: Third Stage Injury

Poor flow of qi and blood caused by an old injury is often diagnosed as arthritis.  Whereas most forms of arthritis are improved with exercise, joint pain due to injury usually improves with rest.



Internal Herbs for Arthritis

Low Back Pills
Du Huo Ji Sheng Wan
Chuang Yao Pill
Mobility 2


Topical Herbs for Arthritis

Zheng Gu Shui

Dr. Shir’s Liniment

Herbs are almost always used in combinations (formulae). Most substances used to counter bi-syndrome (arthritis) belong to the category Herbs to Expel Wind and Damp. Commonly used are:



Acupuncture and acupressure massage can both be extremely helpful in treating all conditions called arthritis. Both of these modalities can aggressively promote the movement of qi and blood to relieve pain and promote normalcy.
Moxibustion (heat treatment) is extremely beneficial in treating cold conditions such as cold-bi, damp-bi, and third stage injuries. It is NOT appropriate in hot conditions such as when a joint appears red and  swollen or feels warm to the touch, or in cases of rheumatoid arthritis.


Shen Clinic TCM consultation

Acupuncture for Arthritis & Joint Pain

Acupuncture points to treat Arthritis are located all over the body, not just directly over the affected area. During the acupuncture treatment, tiny needles could be placed along your legs, arms, shoulders, and perhaps even your little toe!

Osteo Arthritis is known as cold or damp Bi-Syndrome. Rheumatoid arthritis is called Hot Bi-Syndrome. Treatments for Osteo-arthritis are different than treatment for Rheumatoid arthritis.

The number and frequency of treatments will vary. Typical treatments last from five to 30 minutes, with the patient being treated one or two times a week. Occasionally, some symptoms are relieved after the first treatment, while more severe or chronic ailments will require multiple treatments.

Research on Acupuncture for Arthritis

Several studies have shown that acupuncture can help people with arthritis and related auto-immune diseases.

In one Scandinavian study 25 percent of arthritis patients who had been scheduled for knee surgery cancelled their operations after acupuncture treatment. In the study, researchers compared acupuncture with advice and exercise for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the hip. Thirty-two patients awaiting a total hip replacement were separated into 2 groups. One group received one 10-minute and five 25-minute sessions of acupuncture, and the other group received advice and hip exercises over a 6-week period.

Patients were assessed for pain and functional ability: Patients in the acupuncture group showed significant improvements, while no significant changes were reported in the group that received advice and exercise therapy. The results of this study indicate that acupuncture is more effective than advice and exercise for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the hip.

Another study at the University of Maryland showed that elderly arthritis patients with knee pain due to arthritis improved significantly when acupuncture was added to their treatment.

The randomized clinical trial, performed at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, determined whether acupuncture was a clinically safe and effective adjunctive therapy for older patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.

The study addressed these questions:
1. Would the addition of acupuncture to conventional therapy produce an added measure of pain relief?
2. Would the effects of acupuncture last for 4 weeks following the end of treatment?
3. Would acupuncture have any side effects?

Seventy-three patients were randomly divided into 2 groups. One group received twice-weekly acupuncture treatments and conventional therapy for 8 weeks, and the other group received conventional therapy only. Patients who received acupuncture had significant pain relief and showed improvement in function. Those who did not receive acupuncture showed no significant change. No patients reported side effects from any acupuncture therapy session.

CHINESE MEDICINE AND ARTHRITIS RESEARCH SAMPLE: Osteo arthrosis of the Knee by Christensen BV; Iuhl IU; Vilbek H; Bulow HH; Dreijer NC; Rasmussen HF. Acupuncture treatment of severe knee osteoarthrosis. A long-term study. Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavia, 1992 Aug, 36(6):519-25. (UI: 92383960) Pub type: Clinical Trial; Journal Article; Randomized Controlled Trial. AT: UCLA siomed W1 AC7175 (PE title: Acta anaesthesiologica Scandinavia.)

Abstract: PURPOSE: Acupuncture treatment of patients waiting for arthroplasty surgery. METHODS: 29 patients with osteoarthritic knees were randomized to two groups. Group A was treated while Group B served as a no-treatment control group. After 9 weeks Group B was treated too. Analgesic consumption, pain and objective measurements were registered. All objective measures were done by investigators who were “blinded” as to Group A & B. In the second part of the study 17 patients (26 knees) continued with treatments once a month. Registration of analgesic consumption, pain and objective measurements continued. Total study period 49 weeks.

RESULTS: Comparing Group A to B there was a significant reduction in pain, analgesic consumption and in most objective measures. In Group A + B combined there was an 80% subjective improvement, and a significantly increased knee range movement – an increase mainly in the worst knees. Results were significantly better in those who had not been ill for a long time. In the second part of the study, it was shown that it was possible to maintain the improvements.

CONCLUSIONS: Acupuncture can ease the discomfort while waiting for an operation and perhaps even serve as an alternative to surgery. Seven patients have responded so well that at present they do not want an operation. (USD 9000 saved per operation).
Rheumatoid Arthritis by Xiao J; Liu X; Sun L; YINg S; Zhang Z; Li Q; Li H; Zhang Z; Jin B; Wang S. [Experimental study on the influence of acupuncture and moxibustion on interleukin-2 in patients with rheumatoid arthritis]. Chen Tzu Yen Chiu Acupuncture Research, 1992, 17(2):126-8, 132. Language: Chinese. (UI: 93169756) Pub type: Clinical Trial; Journal Article; Randomized Controlled Trial.
Abstract: In order to observe the effects of the treatment of RA with acupuncture and moxibustion, 41 patients were divided into warming needle and point injection groups at random, and 19 healthy subjects as control group. IL-2 levels were measured. Generally, IL-2 is considered as a very important signal for regulating immune response. The results showed that the IL-2 levels in two RA groups before treatment were obviously lower than that in control group (P 0.05). After treatment the IL-2 level in control group was unchanged, but increased considerably in two RA groups (P 0.01).
Our results have shown that the decrease of IL-2 in patients with RA should be one of main causes of internal environment disorder, acupuncture and moxibustion as a stress stimulation exerts an influence on the immunity system through neuroendocrine system to improve the IL-2 production.