Diagnosis of arthritis simply means inflammation of the joints, and rather than being one disease, arthritis is a complex disorder comprising a multitude of conditions that can affect people at any stage of life. There are two main types of arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, which while having very different causes, risk factors, and effects on the body, are both marked by the common symptom of persistent joint pain.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the United States, affecting an estimated 21 million adults. It is characterized by degeneration of articular cartilage, hypertrophy of bone at the margins and changes in joint lining, called the synovium, leading to pain, weakness, and deformities of the joints, typically affecting the fingers, knees, hips, and spine. Less frequently affected joints include wrists, elbows, shoulders, and ankles, and in these cases there is usually a history of physical trauma, repetitive injury, or unusual stress to the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disorder thought to be caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the joints, also characterized by the breakdown of joint cartilage and inflammation of the synovial membranes, resulting in hot, swollen, painful, and sometimes deformed joints with decreased range of motion. Rheumatoid arthritis is usually a chronic condition, marked by episodic flare-ups interspersed with periods of remission with few to no symptoms. In some people, rheumatoid arthritis can affect parts of the body other than the joints, including the blood, lungs, and heart.
Both types of arthritis are common problems for many Americans, especially those 60 and older. Arthritis tends to interfere with daily routines, and to gradually get worse as it progresses, sometimes culminating in severe debilitation and joint deformation. The reason arthritis affects so many people to such a severe degree is that there are very few effective Western medical treatments for it. For the most part, those inflicted with arthritis are prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs that offer limited help with symptoms and do very little to stop the progression of the disease, with surgery and joint replacement being the next option when drugs do not work.
Chinese medicine, on the other hand, has proven extremely effective in treating pain and inflammation associated with all types of arthritis. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy can improve blood circulation to the affected areas, help increase production of synovial fluid to keep joints better lubricated, along with facilitating release of endorphins that inhibit the perception of pain naturally, without any of the long-term side effects associated with most anti-inflammatory Western drugs used for arthritis.
There are some important considerations to keep in mind when considering acupuncture for the treatment of arthritis. The fastest results are seen in patients with a relatively short history of either type of arthritis. In general, the longer a person has been suffering from arthritis, the longer it may take to resolve, and in long-term chronic cases multiple sessions are usually needed to see positive changes. While acupuncture cannot reverse any deformity of the joint that has already occurred, it often can, either by itself or in combination with Chinese herbal therapy, offer arthritis sufferers a legitimate and effective option to reduce symptoms that negatively impact their lives, stop or slow down the progression of the disease, and prevent further damage.
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