Arthritis, also known as Bi-syndromes in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), is joint inflammation, and is often a misunderstood condition. While it may be labeled with one name, it is not a single disease. There are around 200 various types of arthritis that affect the joints and other related conditions. It is usually a condition that happens in people 65 and older, however, people of every age, gender, and race are affected by it. If we are looking at numbers, more than 54 million adults and 300,000 children suffer from some type of arthritis according to arthritis.org. We will take a look the different types of arthritis as well as the ways acupuncture and herbal formulas can help this condition.
Western Medicine Symptoms and Common Types
Joint symptoms can happen quickly or appear gradually over time. There are common symptoms that patients show across all forms of arthritis, but can affect different parts of the body.
Common symptoms of arthritis include:
- Poor range of motion
Symptoms will vary and are important to know when going to your acupuncture appointment. Your acupuncturist will be able to identify what acupuncture points would best suit your particular condition and symptoms. The most common forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis, affecting 6.5 million people in the U.S. alone; and osteoarthritis in which one in seven Americans are affected.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – The most severe and well-known type of joint disease. It is an auto-immune disorder that causes inflammation in the joints, and the body’s immune system, which usually protects itself by attacking bacteria and viruses, incorrectly attacks the joints. This results in painful damage to the joints and the surrounding soft tissue usually affecting and deforming joints of the hands, arms, feet, and legs.
- Osteoarthritis – Sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis, the pain in this type is primarily due to gradual degeneration of cartilage and the underlying bone. The protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones so that they don’t rub against each other wears down, commonly affecting the joints in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. Most typically onset from middle age onward.
Other types of arthritis include infectious arthritis, temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. In Western medicine, anti-inflammatory drugs are most commonly prescribed for patients to ease the painful symptoms. Long-term use of these types of medicines, and over the counter anti-inflammatory medicines like Ibuprofen and Aspirin, can produce some potentially harmful side-effects like gastritis and ulcers.
Acupuncture and Arthritis
In Eastern medicine, arthritis is known as Bi-syndrome also known as the obstruction of blood and qi (energy). The main cause is usually environmental including Wind, Cold, and Dampness which penetrate the body’s protection and anchor themselves in the joints. An obstruction develops, which ultimately causes pain and other symptoms of arthritis. Having chronic Bi syndrome for a long stretch of time untreated can lead to qi and blood stagnation causing joint deformation and swelling which is far more difficult to treat.
The main categories of Bi Syndrome are:
- Painful Bi Syndrome – Cold– presents itself with sharp stabbing pain in the joint, joints not able to flexed or extended, pain is worse at night and better during the day, and the pain is intense but short lived.
- Wandering Bi Syndrome – Wind– presents itself with pain in joints such as fingers, knees, elbows, wrists, shoulders, upper back, and neck. Many of these joints will be affected at the same time.
- Fixed Bi – Damp– presents itself with pain is usually stationary, soreness and fixed pain of joints, stiffness or numbness in muscles or skin, limited movement, and edema
- Febrile Bi – Heat– presents itself with redness and heat with swelling and agonizing pain, knee swelling, movement limitation, dry mouth, and irritability.
There are also secondary bi syndromes which affect the organs including everything from the skin to the lungs and heart. There is also is deficiency bi which includes yin, yang, and qi/blood deficiencies. Eastern medicine shows a lot more in-depth and individualized treatment classifications which allow for a better healing process for the individual.
How Can Acupuncture and Herbs Help?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are many natural treatments that have been evaluated in the care for arthritis. Each specific type of arthritis calls for a new potential herbal remedy, and specific acupuncture points to treat each separate condition/pain-type which is best for creating a one-of-a-kind experience.
The goal of TCM is to find the underlying factors which contribute to the painful symptoms of arthritis. When you go to your acupuncturist, they will determine the TCM diagnostic pattern (how your ailments came to be), which will be essential in your acupuncture and herbal treatment.
In TCM, unlike in Western medicine, it is not the symptom that is treated, but the cause.
The goal of acupuncture is to relieve pain and pressure in the mind and body by increasing blood flow, therefore healing the affected area. Acupuncture will also boost the body’s natural pain killers to allow for natural healing.
Beneficial herbs for arthritis pain include*:
- Ginger – this is one that may already be in your pantry and is an essential one in eastern medicine herbal remedies. It has strong anti-inflammatory properties. It is used to increase blood circulation allowing the affected area to better heal.
- Green Tea – a popular drink everyone has heard of gaining popularity for its weightloss benefits, it is also used to reduce inflammation.
- Turmeric – used in the form of yellow powder from a flowering plant and is packed with major anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests that taking turmeric in capsule form to fight the joint pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis being as effective as over the counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen making the use of this herb very promising.
- Eucalyptus – what can’t this herb do? We all know and love eucalyptus and it is most certainly widely available in U.S. markets. It is used orally or topically to treat a wide variety of conditions, not least of which being arthritis pain. The topical form is used for arthritis, because the leaves contain tannins which reduce pain and swelling. Using this herb with heat only amplifies its benefits.
- Frankincense – also known as Boswellia, like the herbs above, also is known for its anti-inflammatory capabilities. It is thought to block substances that attack healthy joints.
- Aloe Vera – last, but certainly not least we have one of the most commonly used herbs in eastern medicine. We all keep some in the house during the summer in case of sunburn, but that is is just the tip of the iceberg as to what this herb is capable of. It is usually applied topically to soothe painful joints and is available in the form of gel, cream, orally, or the entire plant itself. In the case of arthritis, the topical version of any variety is the way to go.
Acupuncture as an Effective Treatment for Arthritis
When you go to your acupuncture appointment, your acupuncturist, depending on your TCM diagnosis, may recommend you a customized herbal formula to help your condition. Acupuncture along with its herbal remedies could be the new frontier of arthritic remedies.
According to a systemic review study done in 2018, the results show acupuncture used alone or combined with other treatments to be effective in treating the conditions of Rheumatoid Arthritis, which, as we remember is one of the most common types. It also showed in its participants an improved quality of life and function day to day.
There are promising results coming from the research world in favor of both acupuncture and herbal formulas for arthritis.
Connect with an acupuncturist near you today with Best Acupuncture Near Me to learn more about how acupuncture and oriental medicine may help with your health.
*Please consult with your doctor before starting a herbal formula or before discontinuing any medication.
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