Rates of gouty arthritis with hyperuricemia have increased recently as it has become a lifestyle-related disease. We reviewed historical treatments for pain due to gouty arthritis in traditional Chinese medical books, with special interest in pathological causes, including dietary and drinking habits, as well as the frequency of crude drugs used in historical prescriptions. From the present historical survey, we showed that six traditional terms may be equivalent to modern gouty arthritis and that the "Manbyokaishun," a formulary edited in the 16th century in China, included medical information for gouty arthritis. Furthermore, the 46 prescriptions, including Sokeikakketsuto, mentioned in the "Manbyokaishun," were selected as likely treatments for gouty arthritis. The most common crude drugs in the 46 prescriptions were aconite root, angelica root, cinnamon bark, peony root and saposhnikovia root. The inhibitory activity of these crude drugs extracts against xanthine oxidase was investigated. Angelica root and saposhnikovia root showed more potent inhibitory activity (20% at 250 microg/mL) than aconite root (16%), notopterygium rhizome (15%) and cinnamon bark (12%).