Chinese herbal medicine as an effective, low cost treatment for chronic joint pain. Here is some expert advice on how to start.
- seek out treatment with a licensed acupuncturist
- take your herbs consistently
- utilize topical herbal products
- regularly consume ginger and turmeric
- use inappropriately or without guidance
- use cheap or unknown products using Chinese herbs
- ignore your health management responsibilities
- expect miracles
The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is directly related to the training of the practitioner. As with acupuncture, Chinese herbs are best administered by licensed acupuncturists, L.Ac.’s, who have advanced medical degrees and clinical training in Chinese herbal medicine. Even among L.Ac.’s there are variances in aptitude with herbal medicine, so when searching for a practitioner to work with make sure to ask them about how active they are in working with Chinese herbs in their clinical practice.
Chinese medicine recognizes and diagnoses several types of joint pain depending on the clinical symptoms. For example, joint pain can be hot, swollen, and red, or achy, puffy, and cold; the pain can be worse in damp weather or move to different joints seemingly at random. A skilled L.Ac. can properly diagnose your type of chronic joint pain in order to prescribe a formula of herbs that relieve your specific type of pain.
Chronic joint pain requires ongoing care, which is why we use the term pain management. As with NSAID’s, Chinese herbal medicine must be taken on a consistent, usually daily, basis for managing chronic pain. Chinese herbs can be prepared in a variety of ways In order to make achieving this regularity as convenient as possible, such as in capsules or pills, tea, alcohol tinctures, or topical applications such as ointments or patches and poultices.
Chinese herbal medicine has some very effective topical products available to the public that are recommended for managing joint point. The first is called 701 plaster, widely available at Chinese herbal pharmacies or online. 701 is a fabric-backed sticky adhesive that contains several Chinese herbs that relieve inflammation, disperse stagnating fluids and blood, and help repair damaged tissue. There are also many types of tinctures and ointments that are alcohol based and infused with Chinese herbs. Two of the most famous are Po Sum On for joint pain that is worse with cold or damp weather, and Plum Flower Oil for pain that feels hot or is worse with heat. Tinctures are easier to use than the patches on certain joints, so it is good to use all three clinically.
Ginger and turmeric are Chinese herbs known as Sheng Jiang and Yu Jin, both of which are members of the same family. The chemicals within these herbs (gingerols and curcumin, respectively) are converted into ibuprofen-like compounds once ingested, and both are potent anti-inflammatories. Regular consumption of ginger and turmeric effectively reduces pain and inflammation in the joints and musculature, and many people have found them effective for helping manage their chronic pain.
Many herbs can cause harm if incorrectly used, so the wisest course of action is to seek a guiding hand when incorporating herbal medicine into your health management protocol. Some herbs, like Ma Huang (Ephedra Herba) have been banned because of their abuse by those using herbal medicine outside their intended use.
It’s not only about safety, but also about achieving the results you’re really after. As mentioned prior, Chinese medicine recognizes several sub-categories of joint pain, so you must first receive an accurate diagnosis of your specific type of joint in order to select which Chinese herbs/product to use.
There are many types of products on the market that use Chinese herbs claiming to help chronic pain and joint wellness. The Chinese herbal market is growing rapidly and there is a problem with products that are imposters, ineffective, and/or contain unsafe ingredients like heavy metals and herbicides. Stick with brands with established reputations, and seek out the advice of a professional Chinese herbalist when choosing which products are real and safe for use. Your health is worth the investment, and going for cheap with your herbs (and other supplements) is often ineffective and potentially hazardous.
Inadequate sleep prevents your body from repairing itself, too much stress and an unhealthy diet will inflame your joints, and a lack of exercise will weaken your musculature and hasten joint degradation.
Chinese herbal medicine is only one piece of a larger, comprehensive self care protocol that must also include aspects such as sufficient amount and quality of sleep, stress management, healthy (anti-inflammatory) diet, and proper stretching and exercise. Concerning exercise, chronic joint pain in particular will greatly benefit from activities such as yoga, Tai Qi, Qi Gong, and even simple home callisthenics.
Chinese herbal medicine is an effective means of managing painful conditions like joint pain, however be careful to maintain realistic expectations. Chronic joint pain is often a degenerative process, so the degree to which any treatment can help is directly limited by the degree of joint degradation – such as bone spurs from arthritis, missing cartilage, or joint deformity.
If the condition is caught early enough then the prognosis is good; if the joint is permanently damaged, then the focus turns toward palliative care to improve quality of life and keep pain levels as reduced as possible. That is why it is important to use curative medicines like acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine early in the painful process in order to decrease inflammation and cellular damage, increase blood flow and cellular regeneration, and restore normal mechanics and prevent permanent joint and tissue breakdown.
Chinese herbal medicine can be an effective element when incorporated into a comprehensive pain management program for chronic joint pain.