If you have arthritis, you might be exploring natural treatment options -- especially since the recent withdrawal of Vioxx from the market. The heart problems caused by Vioxx have sparked a debate about the safety of FDA-approved drugs in general, and the COX-2 inhibitors prescribed for arthritis in particular -- including Celebrex. Scientists are now finding that these new drugs received insufficient testing and have been over-prescribed to patients who would have benefited from older, less expensive treatments. Certainly this raises an eyebrow, and may direct your gaze toward alternative options.
Even those in the conventional medical community are questioning the prescription drug protocol. In a January 24 editorial in the Archives of Internal Medicine, scientists wrote, “The dramatic withdrawal of such a widely used and widely promoted drug five years after it was introduced to the market raises many questions concerning drug policy, scientific evidence, and treatment alternatives.”
An Arthritis Alternative
What viable treatment alternatives to Vioxx exist? One of the most popular non-drug alternatives for treating arthritis is acupuncture, which has successfully alleviated pain and inflammation in China for thousands of years. More and more arthritis sufferers in the United States have turned to acupuncture in recent years, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) now recommends acupuncture for arthritis. The NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture, which was published in 1997, stated 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.
Underscoring acupuncture’s effectiveness is a study summarized in the December 21, 2004 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. Funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (a division of the NIH) and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), this largest and longest clinical trail of acupuncture ever conducted evaluated acupuncture treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee. Stephen E. Straus, M.D., NCCAM director, states in a press release, “For the first time, a clinical trial with sufficient rigor, size, and duration has shown that acupuncture reduces the pain and functional impairment of osteoarthritis of the knee. These results also indicate that acupuncture can serve as an effective addition to a standard regimen of care and improve quality of life for knee osteoarthritis sufferers.”
Steve Given, MS, LAc, an acupuncturist and clinical faculty member at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, doesn’t find this news surprising. Over the years, he has helped many patients with arthritis feel better. “Chinese medicine is a safe and effective treatment for a variety of arthritic conditions,” he says. “The acupuncturist uses a combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, ‘cupping,’ and Tui na (Chinese massage) in order 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.
A Profile of Arthritis
Arthritis is one of the most common diseases, affecting more than 70 million Americans (1 in 3 adults). Arthritis is one of the most prevalent chronic health problems and the nation’s leading cause of disability among Americans over age 15. Arthritis sufferers fall in all age groups: half of sufferers are now under 65, with baby boomers now at prime risk. 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.
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.
Reach Out for Help, Find Answers
According to the Arthritis Foundation, half of those with arthritis don’t think anything can be done to help them. This is not true. If you have arthritis, the first thing you should do is to 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. To make an appointment for acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine treatments at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, call 206.834.4102. To discuss your arthritis with a naturopathic physician (who may prescribe supplements as well as dietary and lifestyle measures), call 206.834.4101. Or for additional information, call the Arthritis Foundation at 800.283.7800 or e-mail
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