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Acupuncture for Arthritis

What is arthritis?

Elder woman's hands suffering from arthritis.Arthritis is a general term for a variety of conditions which produce painful, swollen, and/or stiff joints. There are over 100 different types of arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and gout. The most common forms are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA), sometimes called degenerative joint disease, affects an estimated 21 million people in the United States. OA begins with the breakdown of joint cartilage and results in pain and stiffness. It commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, knees, hips, and spine.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory form of arthritis which attacks the lining of joints (called the synovium). This causes swelling which can eventually lead to deformity.

Arthritis in Traditional Chinese Medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we categorize arthritis as an obstruction in the flow of qi and blood. This obstruction is evidenced by the presence of pain and reduced range of motion. We refer to it as “Bi Syndrome” (pronounced “bee”) and believe that is caused by pathogenic wind, cold, dampness, and/or heat which lodge in the muscles, tendons and joints. The predominant symptoms depend on which pathogenic factor is the strongest:

  • Wind Bi: Joint pain is widespread and moves from one area of the body to another. Patient may also present with a fever and aversion to wind.
  • Cold Bi: Severe pain in a fixed location that is worse with cold and better with heat.
  • Damp Bi: The pain is in a fixed location and is accompanied by swelling and a feeling of heaviness in the limbs. This condition is aggravated by damp weather.
  • Heat Bi: The area of pain is red and swollen and the pain increases upon contact. Heat Bi can occur when a wind, cold, or damp pattern bi syndrome causes a greatly reduced flow of Qi (pronounced “chee”) and blood. This stagnation can then lead to heat. Other symptoms which may present are fever, thirst, and constipation.

Osteoarthritis often falls within the categories of wind, cold, or damp Bi. Whereas, rheumatoid arthritis is often associated with heat Bi. Acupuncture, used alone or in conjunction with western therapies, is very effective in reducing the pain associated with arthritis.