Musculo- skeletal pain

Arthritis and Traditional Chinese Medicine

How Chinese Medicine Addresses Arthritis and Stiff Joints

In Chinese medicine, there are several different patterns and underlying conditions that can lead to arthritis. The organ systems according to Chinese medicine are interrelated, and when one becomes imbalanced it affects the other organs. Therefore, one condition such as arthritis can manifest itself in many different syndromes.


Many believe that osteo-arthritis is a degenerative condition that is inevitable with aging; this characterizes a lack of knowledge concerning healthy aging strategies in our culture. It is wholly realistic to expect to maintain flexibility and mobility in to our senior years.

Development of Osteo-Arthritis

In addition to trauma or genetic disposition (Ancestral Qi), Chinese medicine delineates the progression and causes of arthritis in great detail.Osteo-arthritis will develop in different ways and at different rates for each individual; however, this is a general guide to describe the development of this chronic condition.

Stage 1

Initially, Qi Deficiency develops due to overwork or poor eating habits and the body is unable to circulate adequate Qi to all of the organ systems, and is unable to help usher Blood to the joints. The Lungs circulate wei , or Defensive Qi on the exterior of our bodies to protect us from the invasion of exterior pathogens. Qi Deficiency and the deterioration of Wei Qi leads to the invasion of wind, cold, and damp evils that lodge in the joints. Typically, the development of arthritis also indicates a long standing imbalance in the Liver Energetic Organ System according to Chinese medicine, as the Liver govern over the joints.

Stage 2

Chronic exterior pathogens lodged in the joints create obstructions and cause Qi and Blood stagnation. When Qi and Blood are unable to circulate freely, they area begins to heat up and creates redness and swelling. If the arthritis is not addressed and treated correctly, the condition oscillates between wind invasions with wandering pain, Dampness with achy joints during wet weather, cold invasions causing stiffness, especially in the winter, and pain and swelling.

Stage 3

Chronic Qi stagnation and Blood stagnation indicate an impediment of the circulation; the joints are not moistened or nourished and become brittle, malformed, and deteriorate.

Chinese Medical Patterns Associated with Osteo-Arthritis

In Chinese medicine, there are several different patterns and underlying conditions that can lead to arthritis. The organ systems according to Chinese medicine are interrelated, and when one becomes imbalanced it affects the other organs that are most vulnerable. Therefore, one condition such as arthritis can manifest itself in many different syndromes. Herb formulas would be combined depending on indications. Here are some of the common patterns associated with arthritic conditions:

Liver Imbalances with Arthritis

Most arthritic conditions have an underlying Liver disorder, as the Liver organ system governs over the tendons. It is important to keep the Liver nourished so that it can produce abundant “Liver Blood” to keep the tendons and ligaments moist and flexible. Also, if the Liver energy becomes stagnant, often referred to as Liver Qi (Chi) Stagnation, the Liver begins to heat up and attack other vulnerable organs leading to other diseases. Soothing the Liver with herbs such as bupleurum is a common strategy when treating oseo-arthritis with Chinese medicine.

Qi Deficiency and Arthritis

Qi, or Chi, is the vital energy that flows through our bodies. Where Qi goes, Blood follows. Qi is Yang in nature, therefore, we feel cold if we are Qi deficient. Organs depend on abundant Qi for nourishment that allows them to function properly. Muscles and tendons rely on Qi and Blood for nourishment so they do not become weak and susceptible to disease. Because Qi Deficiency causes coldness in the body, arthritic conditions due to, or partially due to, Qi Deficiency may be aggravated by the cold conditions in winter.

Liver-Kidney Imbalances and Arthritis

In Chinese medicine, the Liver and Kidney are closely interrelated, as the Kidney is the mother of the Liver according to the Supporting (Shen) Cycle. This type of syndrome typically leads to gout-type arthritic conditions that are due to improper water metabolism. Look to Great Pivot formula and Free and Easy Wanderer formula used together.

Liver-Spleen Imbalances and Arthritis

The Liver and Spleen organ systems are closely related through the Controlling (Ko) Cycle in Chinese medicine. The Spleen is one of the energetic organ systems, when deficient, that is responsible for Internal Dampness. This type of arthritis would be aggravated with damp conditions and changing weather conditions. Often, rheumatoid arthritis has elements of pathogenic Dampness and Damp Heat. Look to Bamboo Bend formula, Peaceful Warrior formula, and Restore the Middle Way formula used together together.

Ancestral Qi, or Genes and Arthritis

While DNA was only discovered in Western medicine in the 1950’s, Chinese medicine has recognized for thousands of years the influence of familial disease patterns they call Ancestral Qi. Many people feel as though they are simply destined to suffer when a disease is due to genetic abnormalities, but lifestyle can play a large role in offsetting chronic diseases due to heredity. As with any chronic disease, genetically based arthritis can be improved using the herbs listed above, Qi Gong Exercises, and a whole foods diet.

Trauma or Injury and Arthritis

According to Chinese medicine, if an injury is not properly treated Qi Stagnation can occur at the sight of the injury. You can see this happen in muscles and joints often occurring with stiffness. Pain is a common sign of Blood Stagnation that develops as a result of the Qi Stagnation. As the sight of the injury becomes more chronic without the proper application of herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, or other therapies that move Qi and Blood, an accumulation of calcium, uric acid crystals, or other substances can occur. It’s much like a sticky spot on the floor; if you do not mop it up, more and more debris accumulates there. The longer the arthritis is left untreated, the longer it will take to reverse the condition and permanent deformation can occur..

Essential Oils for Topical Application for Arthritis

Pure essential oils should be diluted to 5% in a carrier oil or cream before applying to the skin to avoid burns. There are many ways to improve osteo-arthritis using essential oils applied topically to the joints. Rosemary and frankincense essential oils are two of the best essential oils for increasing circulation and blood flow to the joints. Palmarosa and marjoram essential oils are natural anti-inflammatory substances. Black pepper essential oil, clove essential oils and camphor essential oil all work as counter-irritants that bring pain relief to joints. Ginger essential oil is especially warming for stiff joints and increases blood flow to the joints.

Lifestyle Practices that Help to Prevent and Resolve Osteo-Arthritis

Pent up resentment leading to suppressed anger and frustration would relate to the Wood Element, and could likely lead to Liver Qi Stagnation. In Chinese medicine, emotions play a central role in disease processes; the mind and body cannot be separated. Working through anger with flower essences, breathing exercises, and forgiveness work can be vital in the reversal of arthritic conditions. Liver Qi Stagnation can also cause a general feeling of being stuck, or stuck emotions. Look to Free and Easy Wanderer formula to dispel Liver Qi Stagnation.

Diet and Osteo-Arthritis

Chinese food therapy. Processed foods and fast foods laden with saturated and hydrogenated fats increase the inflammatory response in the body and should be avoided. Most whole foods are appropriate to utilize with osteo-arthritis, but some people have sensitivities to vegetables in the nightshade family such as eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes, and these vegetables may increase inflammation in those individuals.

Exercise and Osteo-Arthritis

Movement increases blood flow to the joints and is vital in the prevention and treatment of osteo-arthritis. Gentle Qi Gong exercises such as Tai Qi can be performed by those at any stage of osteoarthritis, even if restricted movement is presenting. Yoga also improves flexibility through stretching and can improve the range of joint movement and local classes are common. A brisk walk helps to alleviate Liver Qi Stagnation, and 9-12 miles of walking per week would be ideal.

Traditional Chinese medicine does not recognize arthritis as one particular syndrome. Instead, it aims to treat the specific symptoms that are unique to each individual using a variety of techniques such as acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations and energetic exercises to restore imbalances found in the body. Therefore, if 10 patients are treated with Oriental Medicine for joint pain, each of these 10 patients will possibly receive 10 unique therapies with different herbal recommendations therapy combinations as discussed above.

The imbalances that manifest as arthritis develop in the body over many years and the symptoms of joint pain and stiffness occur in the later stages of the disease according to Chinese medicine. You may find immediate temporary relief utilizing herb formulas, but expect 10 months or more of herbal use before the underlying core issues are resolved.

General Acupressure Points for Arthritis and Joint Pain with the Four Gates Combination:

Acupressure points that address arthritis are located all over the body, not just directly over the affected area. In Chinese medicine, arthritis is a complicated internal condition that involves many possible causes. According to Chinese medical theory, arthritis arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes blocked. This blockage is called, “bi” syndrome type pain and is widely studied and successfully treated using a combination of acupuncture/acupressure and/or Chinese herbs.


Rheumatoid Arthritis and TCM

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has many differences from osteoarthritis; for starters, it is often found in younger people then osteoarthritis, and symptoms of RA can manifest quickly. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), disease patterns that move quickly are typically due to the invasion of ‘Wind’ combined with other pathogenic influences; most commonly in the case of RA, Wind combines with Dampness causing stagnation and pain.

Gout is another type of arthritis causing joint pain and is sometimes confused with RA. While gout is the result of the buildup of uric acid in the joints, RA is a result of a malfunction of the immune system. It is differentiated from RA as gout is more common in men, and RA is more common in women. Additionally, gout rarely affects the hands, whereas RA is often seen with inflammation in the joints of the hand.

Those who suffer with RA often experience changing symptoms that occur during flare ups with indications of pain and inflammation of the joints. This is because the disease tends to cycle through the following patterns :

Wei Qi Insufficiencies and Rheumatoid Arthritis

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the Wei Qi circulates at the surface of the body and protects the body from external pathogens, such as Wind-Damp, in gaining access to internal levels of the body. If the Wei Qi is strong, the body’s defenses will prevent the original assault setting up an environment where RA is able to manifest. While Wind and Damp can also manifest internally, RA with a sudden onset suggests the influence of external Wind factors and Wei Qi insufficiency.

Low Back Pain and TCM

Qi Stagnation Causing Lower Back Pain

Qi is pronounced “Chee” and is sometimes spelled Chi; Qi is basically the energy that circulates throughout your body. Qi is Yang in nature and is responsible for animation of the human form. Qi travels through the 12+ meridians (channels) very much like blood through vessels. Chinese medicine works to insure that Qi is able to move freely, that it is moving in the correct direction, and that there is an abundant availability of Qi. If Qi does not move freely through the channels, pain can develop..

Blood Stagnation Causing Lower Back Pain

There are two main causes of Blood Stagnation; one is that there was some local trauma. This could be caused by heavy lifting, a sport’s injury, or perhaps even an automobile accident. Any specific trauma to the back will give rise to what we call Blood Stagnation. The treatment principle is the same as with Qi Stagnation. Blood Stasis is the local inflammation, bruising, and purple thick blood that is found at the site of the trauma. The other cause of Blood Stagnation is a long history of Qi Stagnation. The Qi is said to move the Blood. Should the Qi remain Stagnant for long enough, then the local body fluids that are supposed to be flowing begin to stagnate as well.

Liver Qi Stagnation Causing Lower Back Pain

There may also be an emotional component in this particular pathology; for instance, a long history of frustration, resentment or some other really bitter emotional pathology can lead to Liver Qi Stagnation. As it turns out, the Liver governs over the movement of Qi throughout the body. We all get frustrated once in a while and that can give rise to the Qi Stagnation type of back pain, but if it goes on for long enough muscles becomes tighter and more reactive. In this case, the body begins to manifest that stagnation in the form of lumps, tumours, sharp pains or other blood circulation problems.

Kidney Deficiency Causing Lower Back Pain

With Kidney Deficient pathology, lower back pain is not necessarily related to nerve impingement syndrome but can be due to weakness of the lower back. Yin deficiency tends to include lower backache that is a long-term problem with no history of trauma; it just started hurting one day and never went away. With this said, it is important to understand that longstanding Kidney Deficiency can produce weaknesses that make one susceptible to injury and trauma. Other symptoms of Yin deficiency include hot flashes, night sweats, tinnitus, irritability, restlessness and the feeling that your hands and feet are too hot. Herbal tonics are consistent with TCM strategies of re-enforcing the Kidney Energetic Organ System to treat the root cause of the pain.

A deficiency of Kidney Yang could also give rise to lower back pain. Other symptoms of Kidney Yang deficiency would be early morning diarrhea, cold hands and feet, lack of energy, pale face, hearing loss, feeling cold all the time, frequent urination, low libido.

Liver-Kidney Imbalances Causing Lower Back Pain with PMS

Lower back pain is sometimes found in women with painful periods and PMS. Dull achy pain is typically experienced just before the onset of menstruation. Additionally, women may notice a bout of very loose stools at the onset or just before menstruation begins.

Natural Lower Back Pain Strategies

Our typical image of pain killers and analgesics are drugs that block nerve conduction signals to the brain; natural pain treatments work much differently and optimally initiate true healing and long term relief from pain. Chinese medicine recognizes these common causes of lower back pain:

  1. Trauma-Trauma due to a car accident, improper lifting, or strains, is the most common cause of lower back pain and results in Blood Stagnation, Qi Stagnation, and inflammation. This type of lower back pain is acute, and is typically sharp and severe in nature, especially in the early stages.
  2. Deficiency-Overworking, poor lifestyle habits and aging lead to ‘Kidney Deficiencies’ in Chinese medicine. This condition is typically chronic in nature with dull, achy pain and progresses gradually. Other Kidney Deficient symptoms such as knee pain, tinnitus, coldness, and low energy could also present with this type of lower back pain. This is probably the most important aspect of attaining true and lasting relief from lower back pain. Chinese Kidney Tonic Herbs can be taken over a number of months to restore vitality and strength naturally. The concept of the Organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine is radically different from that of contemporary Western medicine. Understanding this difference is very important because the physiology and pathology of the Organs is fundamental to the understanding and treatment of disease.
  3. External Invasions-In Chinese medicine, environmental factors can have a dramatic effect on our health, especially if we are run down. Many people recognize that their pain syndromes are exacerbated with cold or damp weather. This type of lower back pain is often dull, achy and heavy in nature, improving with heat.
  4. Often, those with lower back pain have a combination of all three causes; someone with a weak back from deficiency would be more susceptible to injury. Similarly, if your back were injured and weak, you would be more susceptible to an external invasion of Cold and Damp.

Healing Strategies for Lower Back Pain in Chinese Medicine

Stimulating the Free Flow of Blood and Qi:

Blood in Chinese medicine is similar to the western medical concept, as it circulates nutrients and healing agents in the body. Where Qi goes, Blood follows. If a person’s Blood and Qi are flowing freely, he/she will be pain free; good blood circulation to the lower back will speed healing. Natural herbs such as Red Sage, acupuncture, massage, and essential oils such as cinnamon and rosemary all improve Blood and Qi circulation.

Reduce Inflammation and Clear Heat Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process; however, excessive swelling can cause additional tissue damage in cases of trauma and strain. Cold therapy is often applied immediately after an injury to stop the inflammation, as cold is quite restricting. This restricting quality of cold therapies will cause increased Blood and Qi stagnation if it is used after the initial 24 hours of an injury. Although cold therapies applied to the lower back, even in deficient conditions, will provide temporary pain relief, it essentially aggravates the condition and delays lower back pain relief.

Acupuncture for Lower Back Pain

Backaches are a common pathology among people everywhere. Tthanks to the westward expansion of Traditional Chinese medicine, people are coming to appreciate the age old medical wisdom of the Orient. This is especially true with regard to the alleviation of back pain.

One of the most common reasons that people seek out an acupuncturist is because of lower back pain. Back pain is commonly considered a nerve impingement syndrome. The way it works is that there’s some kind of structural problem that prevents the nerves from exiting the spinal cord through the spinal vertebrae and out into the body. When there is something pinching one of these nerves as it exits the spine it causes pain. The common term for this problem is a ‘pinched nerve’.

Qi flows through a network of channels or meridians. This sounds much like our neurological system and some try to relate Qi stagnation as a pinched nerve syndrome; however, this is not entirely accurate because Chinese medicine is able to address back pain without mechanical adjustments to the body, manipulation of the spine, surgery to remove a herniated disc, or any other invasive procedure. Never the less, pain is relieved through Chinese medicine utilizing herbs that break up Qi Stagnation. This begs the question: Is the nerve impingement theory the correct explanation for back pain?

While debating the cause is interesting for theorists, it does little for the sufferer. Left untreated, Qi Stagnation can lead to Blood Stagnation, and what was a dull ache that radiates outward from the central location can become a very sharp fixed pain. Qi and Blood are actually inseparable; this means that prolonged Qi Stagnation will inevitably result in Blood Stagnation since Qi moves the Blood.

One way in which doctors determine if there is a nerve impingement is by having the patient lean to the right, and then to the left in order to see if that movement has any effect on the pain. If it does, then a nerve is being pinched. If that pinching can be relieved, then, presumably, the pain will go away along with it. It is important to note that this is just one way of testing for a nerve impingement syndrome. This test isn’t always an end-all diagnostic tool.

While removing the obstruction to the nerve should remove the nerve pain, it doesn’t always work. Surgery, which is expensive at best and dangerous at worst, may be considered. Chinese Medicine sees these pains as having several possible etiologies with many possible strategies that are low risk.

Sciatica and TCM

Chinese Medicine states that the body is interconnected; no one part can be separated from another. The diagnosis and treatment is based upon identifying specific imbalances in the body as a whole. Correcting the imbalance does not just treat the symptoms or mask the condition, but rather corrects the root of the problem by encouraging self-healing of the body.

Qi and Blood Stagnation with Wood Element Imbalance Causing Sciatica

The most common imbalance in acute sciatica is Qi Stagnation and Blood Stagnation of the Gall Bladder channel. This is often caused by long standing Liver Qi Stagnation, or a Wood Element imbalance according to Chinese medicine. This type of sciatica would likely include pain that radiates down the side of the leg, possibly in to the little toe. Neck stiffness and headaches ar also common with this type of sciatica.

Qi and Blood Stagnation with Kidney Deficiency Causing Sciatica

Sciatica occurs when something pushes on the sciatic nerve. This can be a muscle
spasm, the spinal discs, and sometimes even the spine itself. Most often this pain is due to muscle spasms or a slipped disc associated with lower back pain.

Spinal Disc herniation or subluxation, often referred to as a slipped disc, is when a small portion of the spinal disc bulges out of the spinal column. This disc then pushes on the sciatic nerve causing pain. Kidney Deficient sciatica would have lower back pain radiating down the back of the leg.

In some severe cases, spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal canal, can push on the nerve and cause pain. Another serious cause of sciatica is spinal tumors, which require immediate medical attention.

An effective course of TCM therapy may include acupuncture, cupping, electric stimulation, and tai-qi. Overall, the treatment should relax and stretch the tendons and fascia while strengthening the muscles. This will help release the spastic muscles and strengthen them, allowing the back to naturally heal. It can even encourage an out of place disc to go back into place, depending on severity.

Acupuncture will help to reprogram the muscles to stay relaxed. In effect, this is working to help the body heal itself. Chinese massage, or tuina, works to foster the acupuncture by releasing any extra tension in the fascia and connective tissue around the muscles. The technique called rolling is very important to deeply relax the muscles and improve circulation at the same time.

The sciatic nerve can be a huge pain in the butt when it is inflamed. It is the largest nerve in the body, which consists of a large bundle of smaller nerves that begin in the lumbar spine, travel down the buttocks, and move through the leg ending in the little toe. Roughly, 90% of the time, acupuncture and herbal therapies can completely resolve sciatica.

Technically, sciatica is not a disease, but a group of symptoms that affect the region of the sciatic nerve. Radiating pain is one of the more common and intense symptoms associated with sciatica. There can also be numbness and tingling starting in the lower back radiating down the leg and sometimes into the ankle and foot.

The sciatic nerve runs under or, in some people, through the piriformis muscle. This muscle is located in the pelvis. It is connected to the bottom of the spine and the top of the femur, or thighbones. If the piriformis muscle starts to spasm or becomes tight, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause the pain as well as the radiating symptoms. This persistent spasm of the piriformis muscle is called piriformis syndrome. It can be caused by an injury or sedentary lifestyles in people who don’t stretch or exercise. Particularly if you sit all day at a desk or computer, this can be the problem.

After the pain is gone, it is important for you to properly maintain your back. This includes stretching, yoga, tai chi, and/or weight training. Once the back is back to its correct position and you are feeling healthy it is important to do something to maintain it.

Muscle & Joint Pain Relief & Chinese Medicine

Pain Relief and Chinese Medicine

All of us have experienced pain in our lives; it can be the result of a burn on the stove, or a twist of the ankle when running, or during child birth. However, when pain issues are not treated correctly and becomes something more than a normal red flag that notifies us that we are in danger of some greater trauma, it may become chronic in nature. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has many ways of delineating and alleviating pain syndromes; thus, TCM can provide more specific solutions for pain syndromes than simple pain relievers that block pain signals. In Chinese medicine, pain in the body cannot occur without the presents of Qi Stagnation and/or Blood Stagnation.

Pain Due to Qi Stagnation

Qi is the vital energy that animates us and makes us vital beings. Qi circulates through the acupuncture channels, or meridians; acupuncturists are manipulating Qi flow with needles located along these channels a breaking up stagnation or stimulating the free flow of Qi to alleviate pain. Burning pain, associated with nerve pain, is often attributed to Qi Stagnation.

Pain Due to Blood Stagnation

If Qi Stagnation persists, Blood Stagnation can develop. This type of pain tends to be sharp and fixed. Blood Stagnation can also be caused by trauma such as a fall, a sports injury, or an automobile accident. As it turns out, Blood goes where Qi goes, so the two are typically seen together. Traumatic pain due to injury would result in Qi and Blood stagnation, and would only be considered abnormal in TCM if the injury is mismanaged and not addressed directly after the injury.

Natural Herbal Therapy: With Qi and Blood Stagnation, consider Great Mender Formula.

Pain Due to Internal Dampness

Internal Dampness can develop when the body does not manage fluids well, likely due to Spleen Qi Deficiency. This type of pain tends to be deep and dull pain in the muscles or joints, and is aggravated with wet weather or damp conditions. This type of pain would likely be deep, achy, muscular pain with a heavy feeling in the body. Viscous, sticky Internal Damp Phlegm blocks the free flow of Qi.

Pain Due to Kidney Deficiency

Kidney Deficiency is associated with lower back pain and knee pain most specifically. If Kidney Deficiency is present, the lower back and knees are more susceptible to injury, but this type of pain can develop without any type of trauma at all and can be deep and achy.

Increasingly, people are looking for more natural approaches to help relieve painful conditions. Chinese medicine, Chinese medicinal herbs, and acupuncture are natural approaches that continue to grow in popularity in the United States. TCM can have possible solutions for all types of pain, regardless of what is causing the pain or where the pain is located. The theory behind acupuncture and Chinese medicine states that there is an energy that flows through the human body called Qi, or Chi. This energy can become obstructed for a variety of different reasons. When this occurs, the obstruction results in pain or discomfort. The goal is to alleviate obstructions that are called Qi Stagnation.

Herbal therapy can be effective at addressing all types of pain including headaches, strains, injury due to trauma, PMS cramps, ear aches, foot pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, joint pain, knee pain, rheumatoid arthritis, shoulder pain, neck pain, digestive pain or stomach aches.