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Acupuncture and Arthritis Pain, a Chinese medical perspective

by Maggie Tracey, O.M.D.

Ever wondered if the pain you have in and around, your joints is actually arthritis? Can acupuncture act as a natural arthritis pain relief technique?

The singular term arthritis (from arthron a Greek word for joint) is a group of conditions that involve damage to the joints of the body. Another term that you may also come across is arthralgia (arthron and algos, meaning pain).

So in clinic, consideration is given to discriminating between arthritis (joint inflammation) and arthralgia (joint pain). Arthralgia , for example, can be due to the common cold where the joints are not inflamed. There are various types of arthritis. Recent research reports that there are over 100 different forms of arthritis. You’ll find that the primary types are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gouty arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, infectious, or septic arthritis. However, the most common types of arthritis or osteoarthritis (OA), which is largely due to wear and tear and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which is an autoimmune disease. Another group of arthritis occurs secondary to other diseases, for example, psoriasis or even inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Included also the rare forms of arthritis, for example, reactive arthritis or Reiter’s syndrome, when three seemingly unrelated body parts are affected, such as inflammatory arthritis, or large joints, inflammation of the eyes (conjunctivitis and uveitis), and urethritis, which is inflammation of the urethra. And there are also diseases that mimic arthritis.

Generally it is said that arthritis is an inflammatory condition of the joints that is characterized by pain, swelling, heat, redness, and limitation of movement. That’s the western medical perspective at least. 

However, in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, arthritis is NOT just inflammation and heat. It can be caused by a prior invasion of coldness that damaged the body causing obstruction in the natural flow of both Qi and blood, which then manifest as heat. Treatment includes both of the cause and manifestation of the disease.

The reason for this difference is that acupuncture and medicine offer various diagnosis for arthritis, which treatment protocols to suit each person individually. The treatment is not going to be the same for each person with arthritis. In Asia, and now in other countries, the use of acupuncture and combination with Chinese herbal medicine plus gentle exercise programs, such as tai chi, qi gong, or dao in are the major healthcare modalities to treat joint and musculo-skeletal disorders, including arthritis. These ancient therapies with their thousands of years old history are still used because they empirically effective. They have stood the test of time. Scientific studies are now showing the effectiveness of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in the treatment of arthritis.

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