Many people in San Francisco are looking for a natural, drug-free way to treat their arthritis pain. We boast an incredibly active population in the Bay Area, and people don’t want to give up on being involved in life just because they now have arthritis. However, the desire to stay active can lead to a daily regimen of anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs are primarily over the counter, so other than being bad for your stomach, most people assume they are safe.
If you were watching the news in 2004, you probably remember Vioxx being pulled off the market due to its connection with heart attacks. The FDA then recommended all similar medications be labeled as possibly dangerous to heart health. What most people don’t know is that medications like Advil (Ibuprofen) fall in this category as well. In fact multiple studies have shown that ibuprofen increases risk of death from heart disease in healthy people. It also interferes with the effectiveness of aspirin therapy in those with cardiac risk. Other studies have shown that NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) make arthritis worse! That’s right, they have been shown to impede tendon, cartilage and bone repair. “Wait!” you say, “I thought I was supposed to take these drugs for these problems, and now you’re telling me that I am making the problem worse?” Sadly, yes.
So now you want to remain active, even with your arthritis, but you don’t want to risk your stomach, heart and the cartilage you are trying to protect. What now?
Acupuncture has been shown to be wildly effective in the treatment of Arthritis pain. And the reason, in this author’s opinion, comes down to circulation. Arthritis basically consists of two problems: inflammation and low blood flow. The major types of arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis and Psoriatic arthritis have varying degrees of the two issues with Rheumatoid and Psoriatic being more inflammatory and Osteo being more related to poor circulation.
In Chinese Medicine, the terminology was determined before we had all of these medical explanations. Therefore we often use simple words to explain these conditions. A more inflammatory condition would be called “heat,” and a problem with lack of circulation would be called “cold.” In fact, if you take a thermal scan of a joint, you can, in fact, see that inflammatory conditions are hot (red) and low circulation conditions are cold (blue). We treat these problems with opposite methodology, therefore it is very important to properly evaluate the condition.
Once your arthritis has been properly diagnosed as hot, cold or some combination of the two, treatment can commence. That treatment will focus on correcting the issue. The answer to both problems is in the circulation.
Blood performs two basic roles:
1. To bring nutrients and oxygen to an area
2. To take debris or waste away and eliminate it
Let’s call #1 the milk man and # 2 the garbage collector.
Now the problem with the cold condition (low circulation) is that the milk man can’t get in to deliver the milk. Now the joint is starving. It doesn’t have the proper nutrient flow it needs to stay healthy. This results in a degradation of the tissue. Just like a lack of food would cause you to waste away over time.
With the inflammatory condition (heat), we have too much stuff stuck in one place (usually fluid), and we need the garbage collector to come and take it away. If the garbage collector is not removing the garbage, it will build up and rot. Believe me, your joints are not good place to store the garbage of your body, and your body will revolt if you leave it there.
While this is a vast oversimplification, it is a good illustration of the importance of blood circulation. So what does Acupuncture have to do with this?
Acupuncture’s entire job is to manipulate the circulation of the body. We (Acupuncturists) choose points that are designed to increase or reduce fluid, blood or oxygen in a certain area. That’s all we do. Through thousands of years of experimentation, protocols for affecting the circulation in specific areas (whether that be a joint or an organ) have been developed. As long as the condition is correctly analyzed and the practitioner is trained in the proper treatment approach, the chosen points will work to correct the circulation problem.
So what will this mean in the case of arthritis? How will you know your circulation has been brought back to normal? We could take a thermal scan, and these scans have been used to show the immediate effects Acupuncture has on circulation. But the most important issues to most people with arthritis are pain level and mobility. It turns out that these indicators are quite effective in determining the success of treatment. In other words, if you feel better and can move better we can assume that the Acupuncture is working to correct the circulation problem in your joints.
Link: what to expect at your first visit
For more on how to know when you’re better: link to Acupuncture Done Correctly Gets Results
Vioxx recall: http://www.fda.gov/drugs/drugsafety/postmarketdrugsafetyinformationforpatientsandproviders/ucm103420.htm
Articles on Acupuncture and Arthritis:
Beware of herb suggestions in this one, they’re not entirely accurate: https://www.acufinder.com/Acupuncture+Information/Detail/Acupuncture+for+Arthritis
I’d ignore the insurance coverage advice here. Often insurance coverage of Acupuncture is not what it appears to be: http://www.arthritistoday.org/treatments/alternative-therapies/complementary-therapies/acupuncture-gets-respect.php
We really don’t put all these needles in your face. They just love these pictures, because they are so dramatic: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14316-2004Dec20.html
More on the heart and stroke dangers of ibuprofen:
Ibufprofen interferes w/ aspirin effectiveness: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-attack/DS00094/DSECTION=prevention
Ibuprofen causes cartilage damage:
You can find thousands more references on the internet if these are insufficient!
Thanks to Bob Doane, LAc and his office manager Kim for changing my understanding of Acupuncture and circulation. http://www.acupuncturewellness.net/robert-doane/