Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the lining of the joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually lead to bone erosion and joint deformity. This condition is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues.
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause symptoms of joint pain, swelling and tenderness, as well as red and puffy hands, firm bumps of tissue under the skin on the arms (rheumatoid nodules), and morning stiffness that may last throughout the day. It can also affect the whole body with fevers, fatigue, and weight loss.
Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect the smaller joints first, such as the wrists, hands, ankles and feet, but as the disease progresses, the shoulders, elbows, knees, hips, jaw and neck can also become involved. Symptoms may vary in severity and may come and go. Flare-ups of disease activity alternate with periods of relative remission, during which the swelling, pain, difficulty sleeping and weakness lessen or disappear.
Doctors don’t know what causes rheumatoid arthritis, though it may have a genetic factor that is triggered by environmental factors such as a bacterial or viral infection. There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, and treatment involves managing symptoms to prevent flare-ups and further progression of the disease. Western medical treatment may involve medications to reduce joint inflammation, relieve pain and prevent or slow joint damage; physiotherapy to teach better movements to protect the joints; and in severe cases, surgery.
In Chinese medicine, rheumatoid arthritis is considered a “bi syndrome”. “Bi” means obstruction or blockage, and bi syndromes are characterized by an obstruction of qi-energy and blood by wind, cold, dampness, or heat. This causes symptoms of aching, pain, heaviness, numbness, stiffness, redness, and swelling. Bi syndromes usually arise because of an underlying weakness or imbalance in the body that makes us vulnerable to injury or disease.
Bi syndromes that lead to rheumatoid arthritis typically arises from an imbalance of the kidneys, because of their role in the functioning of the bones and marrow, and the spleen, because problems with the spleen can lead to internal dampness in the body, as with joint swelling during a flare-up. The liver is also often involved with rheumatoid arthritis, because liver dysfunction can lead to blockages of qi-energy and shortage of blood, and the liver is also closely tied into the health of the tendons and ligaments.
However, rheumatic arthritis may have different causes depending on the person, and determining the organs involved is done by looking at the specific symptoms for each person. In this way, treatment is tailored to the individual’s symptoms and constitution, to better target the causes and relieve the symptoms.
Acupuncture has a lot to offer those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. It offers a healthy way to manage the symptoms of the condition, helping to reduce pain and inflammation and prevent flare-ups from occurring. Acupuncture improves the body’s healthy functioning, including the immune system. It is also very effective for the relief of pain and inflammation- in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, relieving joint pain and stiffness and helping the joints to function more healthily.
For those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, acupuncture offers a safe and healthy option to help manage the condition, prevent further progression, and enjoy life symptom-free.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.