Osteoarthiritis and Acupuncture
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative process beginning in the articular cartilage. The irritation caused by this degeneration eventually leads to inflammation.
Pathology (or what goes wrong?)
The cartilage becomes generally undernourished and wears down most in the areas of the joint which are under the most stress. The cartilage becomes irregular and pitted and eventually becomes calcified, with pieces breaking off and becoming embedded in the synovium (this is the membrane that lines a joint and releases fluid allowing for joint movement). Underlying bone becomes sclerosed (hardened and thickened). The joint capsule becomes increasingly fibrous leading to shrinkage of the joint spaces and a reduced range of movement at the joint.
What symptoms do people have?
How is it treated?
NSAIDS Conventional treatment is usually with NSAIDS or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Whilst these are often effective, they do cause problems when taken over a long period of time (ie more than a few weeks). The main well-documented problem with NSAIDS is that they cause stomach problems when taken for more than a few weeks.
Since osteoarthritis is so often of a chronic (ie long term) nature, stomach problems due ensue when people have been taking NSAIDS for months and even years. To combat these stomach problems patients are often prescribed strong antacids, notably PPIs or proton pump inhibitors (such as Lansoprazole).
Again these are effective but they are also powerful medications which affect our health when taken over extended periods.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the majority of those affected by osteoarthritis are beyond middle age. Consequently, these people are often taking a number of other medications such as those for blood pressure, cholestrol and thyroid issues. Taking NSAIDS and PPIs in addition to these often leads to a ‘toxic load’ on the body with organs such as the liver and kidneys having to work very hard to deal with processing these drugs. Two of the most common symptoms of this are fatigue and dizziness.
How can acupuncture help?
Traditional acupuncture appears to be particularly successful in treating chronic slow degenerative symptoms; exactly the type of osteoarthritis which does not suit medication. It does this by using needles to stimulate the flow of Qi through the affected arthritic joints. The Qi nourishes the joint. This is one of the key functions of Qi which classical acupuncture has noted for thousands of years. When we look back on the pathology section of this article we can see similar words: undernourished calcified sclerosed (hardened/thickened) fibrous shrinkage.
All these terms indicate that the joint becomes dry and brittle and hardened and inflexible.
A good analogy for this is a chamois leather with which we shine a car. With the addition of moisture (though not too much) the hard, almost brittle leather becomes supple, fluid and efficient.
Acupuncture relieves the symptoms of arthritis not by blocking pain but by unblocking Qi to in the meridians and allowing it to flow to the joints where it can nourish and lubricate them.
“Illnesses may be identical but the people suffering from them are different.” Unschuld.
Ten people may come for acupuncture all with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis. Whilst my treatment may involve points common to all or some of these people, it is important to realise that each person is an individual and their Qi is unique. Thus, the number of needles and the amount of time those needles are retained are tailored to each person in a precise way which is difficult for medication to achieve.