by Rachel Wolf, L.OM.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an idiopathic autoimmune disease that usually affects the membranes around the smaller joints of the hands and feet first, but can progress to other areas of the body. Eventually, the bones of the affected joints can erode and become deformed. On a daily basis some of the symptoms include the following:
● Swollen joints that are tender and warm
● Stiffness in the morning throughout early afternoon
● Nodules under the skin of your arms
● Weight loss, fatigue, and fever
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, and a doctor will usually manage the symptoms with a combination of exercises and medications to reduce inflammation and slow the progression of joint damage. Many of these medications such as NSAID’s, steroids, and immunosuppressant’s can have serious side effects, ranging from an irritated stomach to liver damage or an increased susceptibility to serious infections (the full list can be found at http://www.mayoclinic.com).
Why It’s Important to Manage the Symptoms
If left unchecked, having rheumatoid arthritis can lead to higher risks of osteoporosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and serious heart problems from inflammation of the surrounding tissues and hardening of the arteries, as well as scarred lung tissue. Not only does the disease affect the physical body, but also it can take a toll mentally. Managing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can increase quality of life and ease frustration, making you feel more in control of your life.
How Chinese Medicine Works to Benefit Those with RA
While it is important to follow your doctor’s orders, other approaches can also be taken into consideration. In Chinese Medicine, rheumatoid arthritis is mainly characterized as bi zheng, or impediment syndrome. There are many different kinds of bi zheng in Chinese Medicine, all of which can be treated with a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine. Wind bi is usually characterized by pain that moves to different locations and can be treated with herbal formulas such as Fang Feng Tang (Saposhnikovia Decoction). Cold bi is usually accompanied by more severe pain and might be treated with modifications of Wu Tou Tang (Aconite Main Tuber Decoction). Damp bi often presents with aching in the joints, usually of fixed locations, and worse with humid or rainy weather. One of the most common herbal formulas for this type of bi is Juan Bi Tang (Impediment-Alleviating Decoction). Heat bi is classified by pain with redness and swelling, often feeling hot to the touch, and can be helped through the use of Bai Hu Tang (White Tiger Decoction). Lastly, bi with blood stasis is often the case with illnesses that present with chronic pain and deformity of the joints, treated with formulas such as Tao Hong Yin (Peach Kernel and Carthamus Beverage).
Other factors such as fever or fatigue are layered into the treatment strategy allowing for a practitioner to diagnose each case individually and provide specialized treatments specific to each person. Heat that causes fever or joints that feel hot to the touch can be cleared, fluids can be restored, fatigue is alleviated, and inflammation can dissipate. The mental aspect of the disease is also taken into account if there is frustration, depression, or feelings of being angry or overwhelmed. Depending on your specific presentation, the Oriental Medicine practitioner may develop a treatment plan to include acupuncture, herbal remedies, dietary, and lifestyle advice to suit you and only you. If the symptoms of your rheumatoid arthritis change week to week, so will your treatments.
Rachel Wolf, L.OM. is a graduate of the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. She has a special interest in working with Chinese herbal remedies and food-therapy. Rachel’s intention is to help her patients to actualize their health and potential. She approaches her practice with an open mind and a sense of humor. You can read Rachel’s bio here. You can also schedule an appointment with Rachel here.
Practical Therapeutics of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Wu and Fischer)