Arthritis in Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, the condition that is congruent with arthritis is called "Bi syndrome." Bi syndrome manifests as pain, soreness, or numbness of muscles, tendons and joints, and is the result of the body being "invaded" by the external climatological factors of Wind, Cold, Heat, and/or Dampness. The symptoms manifested by the individual depend on which external pathogenic factor is strongest. The four main patterns of Bi syndrome are differentiated below.


Wind Pattern. Exposure to wind, especially when one is unprotected and exposed to the wind for a long time, is an important cause of the Wind pattern of arthritis. Any Wind pattern is characterized by movement of symptoms from place to place. In the case of Wind Bi, there is joint soreness and pain which moves from joint to joint. Movement of joints is limited, and there is often fever, as well as an aversion to wind, or windy weather. A thin white tongue coating and a floating pulse are signs that help Chinese medicine practitioners diagnose Wind Bi.

Cold Pattern. The Cold pattern of arthritis (Cold Bi) is characterized by severe pain in a joint or muscle. This pain has a fixed location, rather than moving about (as in Wind Bi). The pain is relieved by applying warmth to the affected area, but increases with exposure to cold. Movement of joints is limited. A thin white tongue coating, combined with a wiry and tight pulse are signs of Cold Bi.

Damp Pattern. The Damp pattern of arthritis (Damp Bi) is characterized by pain, soreness and swelling in muscles and joints, with a feeling of heaviness and numbness in the limbs. The pain has a fixed location and is aggravated by damp weather. A white, sticky tongue coating and a soggy, slow pulse are signs of Damp Bi.
Heat Pattern. The Heat pattern of arthritis (Hot Bi) can develop from any of the above three patterns. It is characterized by severe pain and hot-red-swollen joints. The pain is generally relieved by applying cold to the joints. Other symptoms include fever, thirst, anxiety, and an aversion to wind. A yellow, dry tongue coating and slippery, rapid pulse are seen with Hot Bi.

Support for Acupuncture
Joint pain, back pain, and headaches constitute a large percentage of all the visits paid to doctor’s offices and acupuncture clinics in any country at all times. In traditional Chinese medical theory, it is believed that the pathogenic factors that cause Bi syndrome (Wind, Cold, Damp, Heat) lodge in the body’s meridians (energy pathways) and obstruct the free flow of Chi and Blood in those meridians. When blood and energy are not able to flow naturally, they stagnate, causing pain, heat, and other symptoms of illness. Acupuncture and herbal therapy help to open the blockage, balance the energy, and harmonize Chi and Blood.

Scientifically proving the validity of these ancient concepts is challenging, but promising. More and more scientifically-designed clinical studies support the use of acupuncture for arthritis. One study examined the effects of acupuncture on 32 osteoarthritis patients waiting for knee replacement surgery. After nine weeks, patients receiving acupuncture treatments reported a decrease in pain, while pain increased in untreated patients. The patients with acupuncture treatments were able to walk farther and faster, compared with the untreated group. Another study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that 12 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee improved significantly after acupuncture treatments. These results encouraged the researchers to do a larger study which is currently under way.

Modern scientific research has also revealed the mechanisms which provide relief for arthritis patients. Studies show that acupuncture can stimulate the production of endorphins (natural pain-killing hormones in the brain), and the anti-inflammatory hormone adrenalcorticotropin. Somehow, the acupuncture needles trigger the body to heal it by producing hormones that reduce pain and inflammation. Acupuncture can then be used on an ongoing basis to prevent re-occurrence of arthritis once it has been successfully cured.


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