Arthritis & TCM Treatment

TCM has a threefold strategy for treating Bone Bi syndrome:

  • Resolve the Bi syndrome and expel the Wind, Cold, Damp, and Heat.
  • Treat any underlying factors contributing to the development of Bi.
  • Provide symptomatic relief by stopping pain.

This comprehensive strategy addresses the symptoms of arthritis and the underlying causes.

The three modalities provide a powerful treatment option for individuals diagnosed with arthritis and all three are commonly employed simultaneously. Each may also be used alone.

Acupuncture is most useful for treating the pain syndromes that accompany arthritis; herbal medicine for treating the Wind, Cold, Damp, or Heat Bi factors and underlying imbalances in the body; and Qi Gong for treating contributing psychological or emotional factors and for providing gentle exercise.

TCM may be particularly effective when used with conventional treatments and may be used alone when conventional treatments are ineffective or produce severe side effects.

Arthritis & Acupuncture

Bi and other pain syndromes account for more than half of all acupuncture treatments in the United States each year. Arthritis patients frequently use acupuncture to control pain once or twice a week, which is an effective complementary treatment.

As a type of Bone Bi, arthritis is treated with a combination of acupuncture and moxibustion. Three different kinds of points are used:

  • Local points are needled in areas of tenderness and pain. For example, pain in the knee might be needled with points such as Stomach 35 (Du Bi) and Gallbladder 34 (Yang Ling Quan), while pain in the elbow might be needled with points such as Large Intestine 11 (Qu Chi) and Lung 5 (Qi Ze). Because of the inflammation, acupuncture needles are commonly used for Heat Bi; for other types of Bone Bi, moxibustion, electrical stimulation, if appropriate, diathermy (heat lamp), and Tui Na applied to specific acupuncture points or joints may prove useful.
  • Specific acupuncture points are associated with the type of Bi syndrome diagnosed. Patients with a predominance of Wind Bi may have Urinary Bladder 17 (Ge Shu) and Spleen 10 (Xue Hai) needled; with Cold Bi, points such as Urinary Bladder 23 Shen Shu) and Ren 4 (Guan Yuan); and with Damp Bi, Stomach 36 (Zu San Li) and Spleen 5 (Shang Qiu). Heat Bi may require the addition of Du 14 (Da Zui) and Large Intestine 11 (Qu Chi).
  • If other underlying factors are contributing to the development of Bi, these are treated as well. Liver Qi Stagnation might be treated by adding Liver 3 (Hun Men), Kidney and Spleen Deficiency might indicate the use of Stomach 36 (Zu San Li) and Spleen 6 (San Yin Jiao). Blood Stasis may be treated by adding Spleen 10 (Xue Hai), and Phlegm by adding Stomach 40 (Feng Long). Any treatment for Bone Bi, regardless of the cause, may be strengthened by adding points such as Urinary Bladder 11 (Da Zhu) and Gallbladder 39 (Xuan Zhong).

Arthritis & Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine treatment for arthritis uses many specific herbs for addressing each of these three levels of treatment, but focuses specifically on herbs that address Bi. Symptomatic relief of pain and discomfort often is also a function of these herbs.

An efficient approach to individualizing herbal prescriptions is to use herbs that stop pain and expel the pathogenic factors responsible for Bi. For example, while all of the following herbs help relieve pain, each focuses on a different type of Bi:

  • Sang Zhi (Ramulus Mori) for Wind Bi
  • Wei Ling Xian (Radix Clematidis Sinensis) for Cold Bi
  • Mu Gua (Frucus Chaenomelis) for Damp Bi
  • Han Fang Ji (Radix Stephaniae Tetrandrae) for Heat Bi

Because Wind, Cold, and Damp are intertwined in these Bi conditions, all three can be treated through herbal combinations. Doses and herbs are determined on the basis of predominant symptoms. A diagnosis of Heat Bi generally focuses on using herbs to treat the Heat Bi primarily and, once Heat is cleared, other syndromes are taken into account.

Specific herbs for treating Bi syndrome also affect different areas of the body and can be used to make the formula more efficient. Examples follow:

  • Qiang Huo (Rhizoma et Radix Notopterygii) for the upper part of the body, in particular the neck, shoulders, and upper back
  • Du Huo (Radix Angelicae Pubescentis) for the lower back and legs.

Herbs to treat Wind, Cold, Damp, or Heat in the body also may be added to the formulas. These additions are particularly important in Heat Bi, because there is inflammation. Furthermore, Heat-clearing herbs such as Sheng Di Huang (Radix Rehmanniae Recens) and Zi Cao (Radix Arnebia seu Lithospermi) have a regulating effect on autoimmune disorders and inflammatory conditions.

Herbs that affect predisposing factors may be used:

  • Chai Hu (Radix Bupleuri) for Liver Qi Stagnation
  • Dang Gui (Radix Angelicae Sinensis) for Blood Deficiency
  • Huang Qi (Radix Astragali) for Qi Deficiency

Herbs to treat factors such as Phlegm and Blood Stasis may be added as well. This comprehensive approach to treating Bone Bi takes into account the complex and individual nature of the syndrome in each patient.

Arthritis & Qi Gong

Qi Gong exercises offer significant potential for individuals with arthritis. Qi Gong exercises such as the Eight Brocade exercises and Tai Qi Quan encourage gentle physical movement and stretching, thus reducing pain, eliminating obstruction in channels, and maintaining movement. Mindful Qi Gong massage may help relieve pain and increase the flow of Qi.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 02 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 03 Jun 2011