Arthritis is a degenerative inflammatory disease that attacks the joints in particular, causing symptoms of stiffness, swelling, pain, and loss of the normal range of motion. It is especially common in elderly people, although rheumatoid arthritis can occur in young people as well.

Causes of Arthritis

In traditional Chinese patterns of disharmony, the various types of arthritis fall typically under the category of "painful obstruction syndrome." Acute painful obstruction can be due to wind, cold, dampness, or heat, although it is usually a combination of wind, dampness, and cold.

In an acute attack of wind, cold, and dampness, symptoms include joint pain that gets worse with cold and is relieved with warmth, a feeling of heaviness or numbness in the limbs, limited mobility of the affected area, and, possibly, a slow pulse. A more chronic arthritis condition is generally associated with an underlying deficiency of the vital substances involving the liver and kidneys, in view of their relationship to the tendons and bones.

Western Treatments for Arthritis

The most common Western treatment for arthritis is non­steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Although these drugs can relieve pain and decrease inflammation, they do nothing to cure the disease. And their common side effect, gastric irritation, can lead to ulcers. In fact, a patient often bounces back and forth between a rheumatologist and gastroenterologist, first receiving treatment for the arthritis and then receiving treatment for the ulcer caused by the medication.

Traditional Chinese Treatments for Arthritis

Traditional Chinese treatments also reduce pain and inflammation, but they focus on eliminating the cause of the arthritis and, thus, the disease itself.

Acupuncture: Arthritis responds very well to acupuncture. When combined with moxa, it can relieve pain and reduce inflammation immediately. Some acute cases require only a few treatments. Needles are typically placed into points surrounding the painful area, bringing circulation to the area and helping relieve the stagnation that causes pain and swelling. A more chronic, long-term arthritic condition can take months or even years to resolve. For this reason, it is essential to begin treating this disorder at the earliest stage possible.

Herbal Therapy: Herbal therapy is especially important as part of the treatment of chronic cases. The treatment strategy varies, depending on whether the condition is due to heat or cold, or if there is a deficiency of any vital substances. Herbal remedies in chronic cases of cold and dampness need to nourish the underlying deficiency as well as expel the cold and dampness. The patent formula for this condition is Du Huo Ji Sheng Wan. The most effective formula is one custom-made for the patient's individual constitution and pattern of disharmony.

Exercise: In any type of arthritis, it is important for the person to get regular exercise to warm the body and get the qi and blood flowing through the meridians. Since arthritis is a disorder involving stagnation, movement is an essential part of the healing process.

Diet: If the pattern involves cold and dampness (the most common pattern), the diet should consist mostly of cooked foods with moderate amounts of warming anti-inflammatory spices such as cayenne and ginger. Although coffee is warming, it should be avoided due to its irritating nature.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Bill Schoenbart has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since 1991, when he earned a Masters degree in TCM. He teaches TCM medical theory and herbalism at an acupuncture school in California, and also maintains a clinical practice.

Ellen Shefi is a licensed massage technician, licensed acupuncturist, and registered dietician. She is a member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the American Herb Association, and the Oregon Acupuncture Association.