Eastern Remedy for Osteoarthritis: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture Can Help Ease the Pain, Promote Healing


by Kai-Chang Chan

Osteoarthritis is a common disease that affects millions. Osteoarthritis is due to damaged cartilage caused by trauma or gradual destruction over a period of years. This degraded cartilage is found mainly in hand joints and weightbearing joints such as the hip, knee, neck and lower back.

Osteoarthritis in Traditional Chinese Medicine is called Bi syndrome, which means obstruction. According to Chinese medicine, obstruction with pain is mainly caused by pathogenic factors such as wind, cold, damp and heat. These factors also impact blood and Qi circulation. There are four categories of Bi syndrome, and Chinese medicine practitioners determine which of the four categories the patient is suffering from and provide the appropriate treatment plan.

Four Categories

The first of the four categories is “Wandering Bi,” which is the wind agent, with or without cold dampness. This category results in a restricted range of motion and joint pain that moves around (especially in wrists, elbows, hips, knees and ankles). These symptoms are combined with an aversion to wind, feverish sensations and a floating pulse. “Painful Bi” is characterized by severe stabbing pain in the same joints, which is alleviated by warmth and aggravated by cold. This condition also features a tight pulse and white tongue coating that is due to cold often with dampness.

The third type of obstruction is “Fixed Bi,” in which dampness causes numbness, a heavy sensation of the limbs, soreness/fixed pain of joints, white sticky tongue coating, soft pulse and is aggravated by rainy and humid weather. Lastly, “Heat Bi” exhibits local redness, swelling and pain of joints, thirst, yellow tongue coating, rapid pulse, coupled with fever, deformity of joints or limitation in range of motion.

As it progresses, Qi and blood will be affected. If Qi circulation is disturbed, the body will be unable to promote proper blood flow, which results in blood stasis. The main manifestation of Qi stagnation and blood stasis are pain that is stabbing and fixed, local swelling and feeling of distention. In addition, chronic stagnation of Qi and blood damages Qi and blood, which affect both the liver and kidney.


Treating osteoarthritis with Traditional Chinese Medicine consists of various methods, particularly acupuncture, moxibustion, bleeding, cupping and herbal formulas. In the United States, acupuncture is widely accepted by osteoarthritis patients to relieve pain effectively with reduced swelling of joints. Bleeding with cupping is usually performed at the painful area and on a related channel to help with blood circulation.

Modern medical studies attest to the efficacy of treating osteoarthritis with Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques. One such 2011 study by researcher Christos Mavrommatis, M.D., analyzed “the efficacy of acupuncture as adjunctive therapy to pharmacological treatment of knee osteoarthritis for pain relief, stiffness reduction, amelioration in physical functioning, and improvement in quality of life.” A total of 120 patients with knee osteoarthritis were randomly divided into three groups. The first group was treated with acupuncture biweekly for eight weeks while taking etoricoxib (an anti-inflammatory painkiller). The second group received sham acupuncture and etoricoxib simultaneously, and the third group took etoricoxib alone. At the end of the study, the first group experienced significantly better results in alleviating pain, stiffness and physical function than the other groups.

If you or someone you know is suffering from osteoarthritis, consider a different approach to your treatment and consult a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner.

Kai-Chang ChanKai-Chang Chan, L. Ac., M.A.O.M, was born in Taiwan and teaches in the San Antonio classrooms of Texas Health and Science University and is a practitioner at the new Acupuncture Health Clinic, 9240 Guilbeau Rd., 210-901-1234, www.acupuncturehealthsa.com. For more information about THSU classes in San Antonio and Austin, visit www.thsu.edu.

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