Osteoarthritis is an extremely common form of arthritis. It occurs when cartilage (the flexible shock absorbing tissue found at the end of bones and inside joints) begins to deteriorate over time. As it deteriorates, the cartilage fails to provide cushioning between the ends of the bones that meet inside the joint, which can result in damaged bone endings and pain inside the joint.
Any joint in the body can be affected by osteoarthritis but typically the knee, hip, lower back, neck and joints of the hand are most affected. When a joint is affected sufferers can experience: local joint pain, stiffness, tenderness, swelling, loss of mobility, and symptoms that can be affected by changes in the weather.
Traditional Chinese medicine views osteoarthritis as a “bi syndrome”, meaning that it is caused by a blockage that prevents circulation of blood and nutrients to the affected joint. Overtime this blockage can result in the weakening and deterioration of the joint which leads to local joint pain and stiffness.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine focus on removing the obstruction to the joint and promoting circulation so that the joint can receive the nourishment it requires. With this treatment approach the joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness may be reduced. We must keep in mind these treatment approaches are reactive to the condition as there is no cure for osteoarthritis, however acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine may be alternative options that help manage osteoarthritis pain and help reduce flare ups.
Having osteoarthritis does not necessarily mean that the person must be resigned to pain and suffering - steps can be taken to minimize or prevent symptoms. The key to living with a condition such as this is to take steps towards healthy management through exercise, lifestyle changes, and therapies which relieve symptoms and help manage the condition. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are certainly worth considering as part of this routine.
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Ryan Samuels - Registered Acupuncturist & Chinese Herbalist
Robinson, Bruce H, Biomedicine: A Textbook for Practitioners of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, (Blue Poppy Press, 2007)
Dutton, Mark, Dutton’s Orthopaedic Examination, Evaluation and Intervention (McGraw-Hill Companies, 3rd ed, 2012)