Clearing Dampness and Heat: A Unique Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach to Treating Knee Pain

Young blond man suffering for knee injury sitting on bed at bedroom

Knee pain is a prevalent concern among older individuals, often arising from the natural wear and tear that accompanies advancing age. As we grow older, our knee joints become increasingly susceptible to discomfort and fragility. This discomfort often stems from arthritis which has been stated to affect over 350 million people and contribute to disability, reducing quality of life. There are many types of this condition but the common one is osteoarthritis. Patients with knee osteoarthritis are usually caused by cartilage damage in the joint resulting in knee pain and difficulty in movement. However, Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offers a unique holistic approach to treating this condition by addressing its underlying energetic imbalances from the accumulation of dampness and heat. This article will explain the TCM perspective on how dampness and heat contribute to arthritis, as well as detailing multiple techniques to clear these factors and Traditional Chinese medicine for arthritis.

Understanding Arthritis in the Context of TCM

In TCM,  arthritis is viewed as a result of imbalances within your body, particularly the accumulation of dampness and heat. Dampness refers to an excess of moisture or fluids in the body, which can lead to stagnation and blockages in the flow of Qi (vital energy) and blood. On the other hand, heat represents an excess of Yang energy, leading to inflammation, swelling and pain. TCM principles emphasise the necessity of harmony among Qi, Yin, and Yang for optimal health. When there is disruption or imbalance in these energies, ailments such as arthritis can occur. Additionally, TCM also believes that arthritis may be attributed to imbalances or disharmonies within the Five Elements system. The Five Elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, where each element is associated with specific organs, seasons and emotions.

The Role of Dampness in Arthritis

TCM views dampness as one of the pathogenic factors that can affect the body’s balance and lead to various health issues. It’s considered a type of excessive moisture or fluid accumulation in the body, and it can manifest in different forms. Dampness can arise from both internal and external factors. Internal causes such as a weakened spleen can lead to the accumulation of dampness because the spleen is responsible for transforming and transporting fluids in the body based on TCM.  External factors may include living in a damp environment, exposure to damp weather or consuming damp-inducing foods such as dairy, greasy and raw foods. When dampness accumulates in the body, it tends to obstruct the smooth flow of Qi and blood, leading to stagnation. This obstruction can manifest in various symptoms such as heaviness, swelling, lethargy and aching joints, which are common symptoms of knee pain.

Ways To Clear Dampness

Clearing dampness in the body according to TCM involves a multifaceted approach incorporating dietary adjustments, herbal remedies and lifestyle changes. Dietary adjustments typically focus on avoiding damp-inducing foods such as dairy, greasy or fried foods, and excessive raw or cold foods, while emphasising warm, cooked foods and aromatic herbs like ginger and cinnamon that help strengthen your spleen and promote digestion. Next, you may consume Chinese herbal medicine that includes formulas containing herbs like Cordyceps and Tangerine Peel, which have properties to drain dampness, promote diuresis and strengthen your spleen. 

But the journey doesn’t stop there. Incorporate regular physical movement into your routine, whether it’s a soothing session of Tai Chi or a moment of mindfulness in meditation. These practices help to promote circulation and metabolism in your body. And don’t forget to create a sanctuary of serenity in your living space. Rid your surroundings of excess dampness and cultivate an environment that nurtures balance and harmony.


The Role of Heat in Arthritis

The concept of heat in TCM is often referred to as fire or Yang. This heat can originate from both external and internal sources. External sources of heat can include exposure to hot weather, excessive sun exposure or consuming spicy and hot foods. These factors can lead to the accumulation of heat in the body, affecting various organs and systems. Conversely, internal sources of heat often stem from imbalances within the body’s internal organs and systems. This can be due to factors such as emotional stress, overwork or constitutional factors. The accumulation of heat within the body can adversely affect various organs and systems, ultimately manifesting as inflammation, chronic pain and stiffness in the joints. This phenomenon highlights the intricate relationship between heat and arthritis in TCM, where excess heat exacerbates the symptoms associated with this condition.

Ways To Clear Heat

There are various methods to TCM clear heat in your body, which involve herbal remedies, acupuncture and dietary adjustments. Firstly, you must consume specific herbs with cooling properties, such as chrysanthemum, mung bean and honeysuckle, which are commonly used to clear heat. These herbs can be prepared as teas, soups, or herbal decoctions to help cool your body’s internal systems. Acupuncture also plays a significant role in clearing heat in Chinese medicine by stimulating specific points in the body to regulate Qi and blood flow, which helps to rebalance internal heat. Additionally, dietary adjustments focus on consuming cooling foods such as cucumber, watermelon and leafy greens, while avoiding spicy, greasy and fried foods that can exacerbate heat symptoms. By incorporating these approaches, you can effectively reduce heat accumulation in your body,

Chinese Herbal Remedies for Arthritis

High angle shot of different chinese herbs on a wooden table

Traditional Chinese herbal remedies have been used for centuries to relieve pain and improve and improve overall joint health. Here are some commonly used herbs in TCM for treating arthritis:

Du Huo (Pubescent Angelica Root)

Du Huo, known scientifically as Radix Angelicae Pubescentis, is a warm and bitter herb primarily targeting the kidneys and bladder meridians. Its actions include dispelling wind, eliminating dampness, and alleviating pain. This herb is particularly effective for chronic arthritis conditions, treating knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, especially when symptoms worsen in cold or damp weather. It’s used to reduce pain and stiffness, particularly in the lower back and knees.

Huang Qi (Astragalus Root)

Huang Qi, known as astragalus root, is a warm and sweet herb primarily targeting the lung and spleen meridians. Its actions include tonifying Qi, raising Yang and strengthening the spleen. Huang Qi is commonly used to boost the body’s immune system and enhance overall vitality, which can be beneficial for individuals with arthritis. It’s often included in arthritis formulas to support the body’s energy levels and promote healing, especially in cases of chronic fatigue and weakness associated with arthritis.

Huang Qin (Scutellaria Root)

Huang Qin, also known as Scutellaria Root, is a bitter and cold herb. Renowned for its ability to clear heat and dampness, Huang Qin effectively reduces inflammation and relieves joint pain and dysfunction. Typically prepared as a decoction for knee osteoarthritis by simmering the dried root in water, the resulting tea can be consumed warmly multiple times daily. Alternatively, it’s available in pill or capsule forms for easier consumption.


Boswellia is referred to as Indian frankincense and is a famous Chinese remedy for knee pain. This herb has gained recognition for its therapeutic properties, particularly in traditional Chinese medicine systems. This herb is renowned for its anti-inflammatory effects, making it a valuable natural remedy for conditions such as arthritis. It contains active compounds called boswellic acids, which inhibit pro-inflammatory enzymes, thereby reducing knee pain and stiffness. Boswellia is commonly used in the form of supplements, which are typically standardised extracts containing concentrated levels of boswellic acids. It can also be found in topical preparations such as creams or ointments for direct application to affected joints.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Techniques for Knee Pain Relief

Full shot of 3 women practising tai chi together on yoga mats in a studio

Acupuncture, Tai Chi and Qigong are other TCM treatments for knee pain that have been used for centuries to manage arthritis symptoms and promote overall well-being. Let’s delve into each of these techniques and discuss how they can help restore balance, clear dampness and heat, and promote overall health in individuals with arthritis.


The effects of acupuncture on arthritis vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. However, studies have reported that acupuncture helps relieve knee pain. For example, a review based on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) provides evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment for pain reduction and physical dysfunction associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.  Another overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses also supports the efficacy of acupuncture for knee pain. In TCM theory, arthritis is often associated with blockages or imbalances in Qi and blood circulation. Acupuncture aims to restore these imbalances, thereby reducing pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. By targeting specific acupuncture points related to joints and meridians associated with the affected areas, acupuncture can help alleviate pain, improve joint mobility, and promote relaxation. Additionally, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals, which can further alleviate knee pain.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a mind-body practice that combines slow, gentle movements with deep breathing and meditation. It’s often described as meditation in motion. Tai Chi has been shown to improve balance, flexibility and muscle strength, which are important for individuals with arthritis to maintain joint function and prevent falls. The slow, flowing movements of Tai Chi can also help reduce stress and tension in the body, which may contribute to arthritis pain. Moreover, Tai Chi incorporates principles of TCM, such as the concept of Yin and Yang balance and the circulation of Qi, which can help restore harmony within your body and help improve overall well-being.


Qigong is a holistic system of coordinated body postures, movements, and breathing exercises designed to cultivate Qi and promote health and vitality. Like Tai Chi, Qigong is based on the principles of TCM and emphasises the flow of Qi throughout the body. By practising Qigong regularly, you can improve joint flexibility, reduce stiffness, and enhance overall physical and mental well-being. Qigong exercises often include gentle stretching and twisting movements that can help release tension in the muscles and joints, as well as deep breathing techniques that promote relaxation and stress reduction. Additionally, Qigong incorporates meditation and visualisation exercises, which can help individuals with arthritis manage pain and restore their quality of life.


TCM offers a unique approach to treating arthritis by addressing underlying imbalances of dampness and heat in the body. Through dietary adjustments, herbal remedies and therapeutic techniques like acupuncture, Tai Chi and Qigong, you can find relief from pain and inflammation while restoring harmony to your overall health. However, it’s important to note that when you are consuming any herbal medicine, it’s essential to consult or get an accurate prescription from a certified TCM distributor like Tong Jum Chew. With over 50 years of history as a wholesaler and distributor of TCM based in Singapore, we provide a trusted source of Chinese herbal medicines tailored for knee pain treatment or arthritis. Explore our online store today to discover the solutions for your relief.