Chinese Herbs for Arthritis

Kathleen Roberts
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
A prescription written in Chinese.

Chinese herbs for arthritis may alleviate some of the pain associated with this debilitating disease. Patients who used to take COX-2 inhibitor drugs, such as Vioxx and Bextra, may find relief by using herbal remedies in their pain management programs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Before prescribing Chinese herbs for arthritis, a Chinese herbalist determines what the causes are of the arthritis. Chinese herbalists view the causes of arthritis differently from traditional medical doctors (MDs). Chinese herbalists consider the following examinations before determining a course of action:

  • Bi Syndrome - Determined by the types of weather conditions that make the symptoms worse
  • Liver Not Smoothing the Qi - Since the liver affects the functioning of the joints and tendons, it needs to be working properly and treated if it is not
  • Third Stage Injury - Injuries to the joints and tendons must also be treated

Once these problems are assessed, the herbalist can then prescribe the proper herbs and treatment program for the patient to follow.

Some Chinese Herbs for Arthritis

There are several herbal remedies that can be used as part of a pain management program for arthritis. As with all herbal remedies, they should be taken only after you have consulted with your physician, especially if you are taking prescription medications to treat your disease, as in rheumatoid arthritis. It is always best to consult with a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine before medicating with these herbs.

  • Lei gong teng - Also known as Thunder God Vine, this herb is used as an anti-inflammatory and is commonly used in TCM for treating autoimmune illnesses such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It can be taken orally or topically. Lei gong teng can produce side effects such as headache, nausea and diarrhea. It may also affect male fertility so use under the guidance of a TCM practitioner.
  • Du huo - Called Angelica root by Westerners, Du hou is also an anti-inflammatory as well as an analgesic herb that provides pain relief from arthritis.
  • Hai tong pi - Erythrina bark is used to treat joint pain and is typically taken as a decoction or a poultice.
  • Papaya - Known as Mu gua in TCM, papaya has enzymes that are useful in treating inflammation.
  • Clematis root - Also called Wei ling xian, a tea made from clematis root is a useful anti-inflammatory used in treating arthritis. Raw roots are poisonous so be sure to only use prepared powdered clematis root. Do not take in large amounts as some tocxicity can remaid after it is dried and prepared. Follow your practitioner's guidance.
  • Astragalus (Huang qi or Huang Ch') - The dried root of the plant can be used in tea to boost the immune system. It is also a useful anti-inflammatory herb.
  • Ginger (Gan Jiang) - Used as an anti-inflammatory, ginger also reduces pain. Fresh roots are used in a tea or compress.
  • Boswellia - Another anti-inflammatory and pain relieving herb, boswellia extract had been proven helpful in treating arthritis symptoms. Gum resin extract is used in topical creams or may also be made into a tea to be taken internally.
  • Hops (Lu-ts'ao) - Fresh flowers of the plants are made into a poultice to be placed on inflamed joints or taken internally when made into a tea. Hops have not only been shown to reduce pain but they also have a slightly sedative affect that promotes relaxation.
  • Curcumin (E-Zhu) - Used to treat inflammation, an extract from the root of the plant can be used to make a tea. It's anti-inflammatory effect is thought to rival that of NSAIDs.

Traditional Western Medicine

The treatment for arthritis in traditional western medicine is to treat the pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter medications are typically prescribed for treating these conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are treated quite differently. Their condition is not only one of pain and inflammation, but their autoimmune system is attacking their joints. Typical medications in pill form that are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis are prescriptions such as COX-2 inhibitors, methotrexate and quinine. There are also drugs on the market for rheumatoid arthritis that can be injected, which include Humira and Enbrel.

Since the difference in the ways these two types of arthritis are treated, it is important to discuss any herbal remedies with the treating physician first. Chinese herbs for arthritis can counteract prescription medications while others may intensify them or cause undesirable side effects.

Purchasing Chinese Herbs

Be sure you purchase your Chinese herbs from reputable resources. A few sources of high quality herbs include:

  • Mountain Rose Herbs: A reliable source of bulk herbs and spices.
  • Life Extension: Offers a wide array of herbs and supplements of the highest quality and backed by science.
  • iHerb: Offers a large selection of the top brands.

Use Safely

As with all herbs, Chinese herbs for arthritis should be used under the guidance of your healthcare provider. It is important to note that these herbs and herbal products are not FDA approved, nor are they usually covered by insurance. Always discuss any herbs and medications you are taking with your doctor because interactions can occur. If your doctor agrees that Chinese herbs are a good option for you, you may find that you can control your arthritis pain with fewer medications and their side effects.

Chinese Herbs for Arthritis