Combat Osteoarthritis with Acupuncture and Chinese MedicineCombat Osteoarthritis with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

By Albert Vaca, L.Ac.

Did you know that arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States? It affects about one in every five adults. Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common forms of arthritis, and most often affects the hips, knees and lower back. OA is more common in older adults and affects more women than men. Fortunately, acupuncture and Chinese medicine offer good options for managing it.

OA is caused by the wear and tear of joints that results in a breakdown of joint cartilage. With the loss of cartilage, bones rub against each other, which leads to pain, stiffness and loss of movement in the joint. The role of cartilage is to allow the bones to glide over each other, enabling easy transitions through a range of movement and helping in shock absorption during high-impact activities. Broken-down cartilage can create bone spurs or osteophytes at the joint, leading to inflammation and swelling.

Risk factors for OA include obesity, overuse or injury, and muscle weakness. OA can also be hereditary. Carrying excess weight adds pressure on already unstable joints. High-impact exercise, can put additional strain on the shock absorbers of your knees, for example, wearing down the cartilage, leading to pain and swelling. Patients complain of crackling or achy muscles and joints, difficult movement, stiffness and/or swelling, and of course, pain.

Treatment goals for people with arthritis are to improve joint function, help them maintain a healthy body weight, reduce their level of pain, and get them living and eating as healthfully as possible. We try to accomplish these goals in a few ways. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can reduce inflammation and increase blood circulation. For instance, Achyranthes root helps to increase blood circulation and strengthen bones and tendons. Angelica root helps to stop pain and is slightly warming to the joints. Nutrition consultations can help people adjust their diet to include anti-inflammatory foods and exclude other foods that may be aggravating their arthritis. Tuina, our targeted bodywork, can help alleviate pain and stiffness and also make corrections in muscle imbalances.

Strengthening the muscles that surround a joint capsule is essential for articulation and helps protect the integrity of the joint. Your strength will help to keep you free from injury. Low-impact exercise, such as walking and slow-cadence strength training, is a great way for most people to build strength and relieve pain and stiffness. Studies have shown that Tai Chi has been particularly effective in improving stability, increasing range of motion, and gently strengthening muscles.

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