Comprising over 100 diseases and disorders that affect joints, cartilage and the surrounding connective tissues, arthritis is considered a leading cause of pain, functional disability and long-term physical and mental health issues.
The right arthritis treatment plan can help reduce symptoms and maintain or regain freedom of movement, preventing further damage or disabilities.
How can we help?
Chinese Medicine, either on its own or alongside Western medicine, can help not only relieve common symptoms of arthritis such as pain, inflammation and stiffness but also keep the joint tissues strong and healthy.
According to a review of 43 clinical studies, Chinese Medicine helps reduce pain and inflammation while also improving overall health and regulating immune system function. Results are promising as they show that Chinese Medicine’s treatment modalities and approach could provide effective and long-term solutions also for those forms of arthritis that stem from autoimmune disorders.
Treatments for arthritis, tailored to the patient’s specific condition and presentation of symptoms, will usually consist of a blend of Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, ointments, plasters and oils, alongside personalized diet and lifestyle recommendations.
How quickly will I see results?
The minimum course of treatment we recommend to see improvements is usually about 4 weeks although most people will notice a reduction in pain, discomfort and emotional distress in a few sessions.
As everyone responds differently to treatments, the number of sessions needed also varies. For a complex, long-standing condition such as arthritis, one or two treatments a week for a few months is not uncommon.
Arthritis is an umbrella term that refers to over 100 degenerative conditions affecting people of all ages worldwide. They progressively damage joints, cartilage and their surrounding tissues, resulting in inflammation, swelling, redness, stiffness and an increasingly limited range of motion.
Among the most common forms, all with different causes and treatment methods, are Osteoarthritis (OA), also called degenerative arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Fibromyalgia, a syndrome that often accompanies rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA) and Gout, among many others.
Arthritis typically causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints alongside fatigue, general discomfort and difficulties carrying out daily tasks. Chronic, long-term arthritis can even cause permanent physical changes in the structure of bones affected, often leading to one of the most known visible signs of the condition: knobby knuckle joints.
The primary site of damage is in the articular cartilage. This is the white, shiny material on the ends of the bone. Normally, this material allows the joint to function smoothly without pain, catching, or grinding. When the articular cartilage becomes damaged, the cartilage breaks down and tiny particles are released into the joint. This can lead to inflammation in the synovium, or lining of the joint.
If the cartilage is worn, roughened cartilage or bone may be rubbing together in the joint. These surfaces are no longer protected by healthy cartilage and the result can be pain when the joint is used. This pain may be felt in the joint or at a site distant from the joint. This is called referred pain and is seen frequently in the hip and knee.
Symptoms of arthritis usually develop over time, but they may also appear suddenly and sometimes be dismissed as a normal part of ageing. While It is true that over time cartilage and bone tissue tend to wear down and stiffness and pain in the joints (hip pain, shoulder pain) can be common, it is important to pay close attention to potential signs of arthritis, and take steps to prevent them from worsening.
In fact, when left untreated, arthritis can end up affecting day-to-day life with a wide range of possible complications, increasing chances of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease, alongside anxiety and depression and mental health issues due to ongoing pain, inflammation, and social isolation.
Around 8.5 million people in the UK have long-term health problems due to arthritis or a related condition. Osteoarthritis affects 80 per cent of people over the age of 55. One child in every thousand has arthritis. Arthritis is the second most common cause of time off work in both men and women.
Western Medical View
In the Western medicine view, there’s no cure and no single cause for arthritic pain. The most common contributor to arthritis is considered to be the normal wear and tear on the joints that gradually reduce the amount of cartilage, the firm but flexible connective tissue between the bones that act as a shock absorber.
Risk factors increasing the possibility of developing some form of arthritis are many, from age, gender and genetics, to poor lifestyle, diet and extra weight which can put more strain on weight-bearing joints such as knees and hips. Infections, repetitive stress injuries, and sports injuries may also damage or exacerbate the natural breakdown of cartilage tissue.
Another key factor is autoimmunity, an abnormal response of the immune system that ends up attacking its own healthy tissues. With arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the synovium, the tissues that produce synovial fluid, designed to nourish the cartilage and provide lubrication to the joints. Such immune response progressively damages and can eventually destroy both bone and cartilage inside the joint.
Arthritis can be diagnosed by imaging scans and specific blood tests, alongside physical exams to check for warm or red joints, fluid around the joints, and range of motion.
With no clear cause and currently no cure for it, conventional treatment for arthritis mainly focuses on symptoms management aiming at alleviating pain, reducing inflammation and possibly preventing additional damages and limitations.
Treatments usually involve a combination of analgesics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), injectable medications, immunosuppressants, together with heat and cold compresses, topical creams and physical therapy.
In some cases, though, these medications aren’t enough to control pain or to bring back people’s former mobility. Many of these medications also come with unwanted side effects which can be greatly minimised through an integrative, coordinated approach.
Chinese Medical View
Clinical trials have shown that acupuncture is effective at treating rheumatoid arthritis*.
In Chinese medicine, arthritis is caused by a blockage in the network of channels and pathways of the body.
Arthritis, therefore, is referred to as a Blockage or Bi Syndrome. The aim of Chinese medical treatment for arthritis is to unblock the system whether the blockage is affecting the bones, blood vessels, tendons, or muscles.
According to Chinese Medicine, the most common cause of arthritis is a combination of Wind and Cold, which also explains why arthritis is more common in damp and wet climates and tends to aggravate in Winter.
Based on the symptoms manifested there are 5 main patterns of Bi Syndrome that might cause arthritis:
- Wind Bi – where the pain is not fixed but moves to different joints in different areas.
- Cold Bi – where the pain is fixed. It is characterised by stiffness that improves with the application of heat and is accompanied by reduced circulation and pale skin.
- Sore Bi – pain more dominant, feels better after applying heat, feels worse when it gets cold.
- Damp Bi – where limbs and joints feel heavy, numb and swollen and the pain is in a definite spot, painful to the touch.
- Heat Bi – where the pain is severe and the joints are red, swollen, and inflamed, and the face is flushed.
Mainly herbs and acupuncture will be used to target the blockage imbalance in the whole body while relieving pain and, also, regulating the immune system to address the auto-immune aspects of this condition.
In addition to the treatments recommended, there are a number of lifestyle changes that may also help patients manage their arthritis.
- Losing any excess weight and maintaining a moderate weight reduces the risk of developing arthritis or can reduce symptoms for those who already have the condition.
- Focus on eating food rich in antioxidants like fresh vegetables and fruits.
- Top up on inflammation-reducing foods such as fish, nuts and seeds, good quality olive oil, and avocados. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Try to avoid or limit processed foods, dairy products and sugar.
- Stay active and exercise regularly to keep your joints flexible. Try to vary your exercise routine as different types of physical activity provide different sorts of benefits for your joints.
- Stay hydrated. This is important for keeping the joints lubricated.
- Look after your mental health. Practising relaxing activities, such as yoga or meditation, Can help manage the emotional difficulties that often come with long-term health conditions.
+ *CLINICAL TRIALS:
Man SC et al. Preliminary clinical study of acupuncture in rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Rheumatology, 1974, 1:126-129.
Ruchkin IN et al. [Auriculo-electropuncture in rheumatoid arthritis (a double-blind study).] Terapevticheskii Arkhiv, 1987, 59(12):26-30 [in Russian].
Sun LQ et al. [Observation of the effect of acupuncture and moxibustion on rheumatoid arthritis in 434 cases.] Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1992, 12(1):9-11 [in Chinese].