Updated: May 22, 2019
Osteoarthritis in Western Medicine
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which the cartilage, or protective tissue, at the end of the bones wears down and creates pain. Due to wear and tear, repetitive movements, and overuse, this condition worsens over time and may eventually result in bone on bone contact. The weight-bearing joints in the body such as the low back, hips, and knees are most commonly affected. In the early stages, exercise or movement could feel worse and rest makes the pain better. In other cases, a person may experience morning stiffness, and movement makes the joint feel better.
Osteoarthritis in Chinese Medicine
From a Chinese medicine perspective, osteoarthritis arises from several causes. The first cause of OA is due to external conditions such as wind, cold, or damp that enters the body and lodges in the joint that is aged and weakened. For example, repetitive movements leave the joints weak, if the body’s defenses are down and cold attacks, the joint may feel cold, and the pain is like a sharp knife. If wind is the main attacker, then the joint pain will move from joint to joint. If damp is the attacker, the pain will feel fixed and heavy. It is a good indicator if the joint feels worse in the rain that dampness is associated with the pain. If the joint feels worse in the cold, then cold is related to the discomfort in the joint. The external conditions block the flow of qi and blood. The blocked flow of qi may later lead to qi stagnation and blood stasis. As a result, pain and discomfort worsen, and the joints range of motion may decrease.
OA can also result from qi, blood, and yin deficiency. The fluids in the body move with the qi and the blood. If there is not enough qi or blood, then there is not enough fluid to lubricate the joints. Yin deficiency is a sign that the fluids are burning up. Therefore, there may be a slight burning sensation. Again qi, blood, and yin deficiency lead to pain because the flow of qi and blood are blocked resulting in qi stagnation and blood stasis.
How to Feel Better
Acupuncture is helpful in pain relief because it helps restore the flow of qi and blood in the body and affected joints. Acupuncture can also help expel the exterior conditions that block the flow of qi and blood. Exterior conditions affecting the joints are not recognized by western medicine and is one reason why acupuncture patients may find much more relief than those who do not partake in regular acupuncture treatments. It should be noted that once arthritis has worn down the tissue to where there is bone on bone rubbing, pain is more difficult to manage. It is essential to start treatment early to prevent further degeneration of the joint and increased pain.
Yoga helps gently move the body and joints to support the movement of qi, blood, and fluids. Yoga can also help increase the range of motion. Private yoga is a great way to receive a customized yoga plan tailored to a person's specific needs.
For some, arthritis can be emotionally exhausting. Emotions too can block the flow of qi and blood and result in increased pain. “Your physical symptoms will influence the feelings you experience. And your emotions can change the way you perceive physical symptoms and make them worse.” Having a way to deal with emotions such as acupuncture, a mindfulness practice, support group, counseling, etc., is essential. Acupuncture can help smooth the flow of qi and blood which in turn helps smooth emotions.
Qi and blood deficiency is one reason why OA may occur. Qi and blood are made from the foods we consume. Pain and joint discomfort increase with excess weight. Excess weight also increases inflammation and speeds up the process of the protective tissues breaking down. Therefore, an anti-inflammatory diet is often recommended. It is essential to eat a healthy, balanced diet as well as stay hydrated.
Arthritis and Emotions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/life-stages/coping-with-change/emotions-and-feelings.php
Flaws, B. (2011). The Treatment of Modern Western Medical Diseases with Chinese Medicine. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press, Inc.