Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Using Acupuncture for Arthritis Pain Relief

Acupuncture is known for its pain relieving benefits, but many people don't think of it for use with managing the chronic pain of osteoarthritis (OA). In 2004 a landmark study was done that showed the efficacy of using acupuncture to relieve pain of OA of the knee, but acupuncture can be used to relieve osteoarthritis pain in any part of the body. Unlike pharmaceutical options, which can have side effects like liver or kidney toxicity or stomach damage, acupuncture is a safe, non-toxic option. The most common side effect with acupuncture is relaxation.

Chinese Medicine considers OA in the family of conditions call Bi Syndromes, or Painful Obstruction Syndromes. All pain is seen as a stagnation of energy, or Qi (pronounced "chee"). It is this obstruction in the flow of Qi that causes the joint and referred muscle pain of arthritis. There are many types of Bi Syndrome: Heat Bi, Cold Bi, Damp Bi, Wind Bi and then combinations, like Wind Cold Damp Bi or Damp Heat Bi. Each type of Bi presents with different symptoms, so each person with arthritis is treated differently according to their specific Bi condition. This is also why not all Western arthritis treatments work the same for all people. Unless you do what is right for your type of arthritis (Bi) pain, you are not going to find significant relief.

  • Wind Bi: Pain that moves around to different joints and is worse with exposure to wind. The joint(s) can feel stiff, achy and vague. This type of Bi is not usually seen by itself, but is often combined with other forms.
  • Damp Bi: Joint is often swollen or edematous. Pain is usually achy and stiff and worse when it rains or in periods of high humidity. Your body telling you when it is going to rain is common with this condition. Damp Bi often responds well to heat treatments like Moxa. This type of Bi often combines with Wind Bi, Cold Bi and/or Heat Bi.
  • Cold Bi: Fixed pain that is better with heat and worse during the winter or in cold climates. Ice will make this pain feel worse. Many times this type of Bi Syndrome is combined with Wind and/or Damp Bi.
  • Heat Bi: Joint feels hot, either to the touch or internally. Joint feels inflamed and often responds positively to ice and feels worse in the warm climates or during the summer. Acupuncturists don't typically use ice for treatments since it brings cold into the body which causes stagnation (since cold contracts), but diagnostically, the response to ice can help determine this condition. Heat Bi is often combined with Wind and/or Damp Bi.

 Acupuncture approaches each type of Bi Syndrome differently according to the dominant presentation. The needles help move the Qi so it is no longer obstructed and will get rid of the Wind, Cold, Heat and/or Damp by using various acupuncture points in the body. Moxa is also used to help get rid of Damp swelling, to warm and expel the Cold and to release the Wind. 

There is one more type of Bi is called Boney Bi and that is where you see changes to the bone structure in the joint. The bone itself becomes swollen and misshapen, often causing significant limitations in range of motion in the joint. Osteoarthritis responds best in its earlier stages when bony changes are at a minimum. Once there are significant changes and visual deformations to the bones it is much harder to treat; this takes more frequent treatments, and often the use of Chinese herbal medicine, to see any positive results. The treatments won't undo the bony changes, but can relieve and help you manage the pain.

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