Arthritis is one of the most common diseases, affecting more than 40 million Americans, including half of those aged 65 and older. Arthritis sufferers may experience swelling and/or stiffness around the joints, recurring pain or tenderness in joints, warmth and redness in joints, and/or difficulty using or moving a joint normally.
Luckily, more treatments are available for arthritis than ever before. One treatment for arthritis that has gained popularity in recent years is acupuncture.
Chinese medicine as treatment for arthritis
"Chinese medicine is a safe and effective treatment for a variety of arthritic conditions," says Steve Given, LAc, clinical faculty member at Bastyr Center. "The acupuncturist uses a combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, cupping and Tui na (Chinese massage) to reduce pain, increase joint mobility and reduce inflammation. Chinese medicine is also effective in treating the side effects associated with some arthritis medications," he says.
Not only have more and more patients turned to acupuncture to treat their arthritis, but the National Institutes of Health (NIH) now recommends acupuncture.
The NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture, published in 1997, states that "acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program" for a variety of health issues including osteoarthritis. According to another NIH publication, one of the most common reasons Americans use acupuncture is to relieve chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis.
Many studies are currently being done to investigate the benefits of acupuncture. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (a division of the NIH) is funding a study at the University of Maryland in Baltimore to explore the efficacy, safety and cost-effectiveness of acupuncture treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee. According to the NIH, "Preliminary findings suggest that traditional Chinese acupuncture is both safe and effective as an additional therapy for osteoarthritis, significantly reducing pain and improving physical function."
Types of arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, but there are over 100 different types of this disease. When a person has osteoarthritis, the cartilage around his or her joints begins to wear and decay. This results in joint pain, restriction of joint motion and, in some cases, disability. Generally, osteoarthritis is thought to run in families. Osteoarthritis can also result from injuries or overuse of joints.
The next most common and most disabling form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, is an inflammatory disease that causes symptoms similar to osteoarthritis. Yet rheumatoid arthritis also causes tiredness, fever and general feelings of being unwell. The disease often appears in balanced patterns, appearing in both wrists or in both hands.
If you have arthritis, the first thing you should do is find a caring, competent physician. Get plenty of exercise every day, eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and get adequate rest. It is important to research all of your options for easing discomfort, increasing mobility and making life more livable, including complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine.
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