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Health Education Articles

Arthritis and Chinese Medicine

By Kimberly Guorong Du

Arthritis is not a single disease, it is an umbrella term that covers a number of different diseases and conditions with similar symptoms and varied causes. What all of these conditions have in common is an inflammation of joints, resulting in limited movement and pain.

Conventional western medicine differentiates arthritis into three primary forms. The first, and most common, form is osteoarthritis. The second is rheumatoid arthritis and the third is gouty arthritis.

In traditional Chinese medicine, arthritis is called “Bi syndrome” with “bi” indicating blood and Chi stagnation. When the interstices of the flesh, channels and network vessels are invaded by external climatological factors such as wind, cold and dampness, the chi and blood will be blocked. As a result, a person may experience pain, soreness,heaviness, tingling, and numbness in sinews, bones, muscles, and joints. It may also manifest as joint swelling with limited movement while bending or stretching.

The four main types of “Bi syndrome” are described and differentiated below:

  • Xing Bi: With this migratory arthritis, the pain moves around the body, and does not usually remain stationary. The patient often dislikes wind and has a white coating on the tongue.

  • Tong Bi: This is a painful type of arthritis. The pain stays in one or more joints. The pain prohibits daily activities such as bending and stretching. A cold climate can make it worse, but applied heat often provides relief. There is no inflammation or redness at the afflicted joint. The patient often has a thin, white coating on the tongue. The pulse is wiry or tight.

  • Zou Bi: This type of arthritis is characterized by the affected limb or joint feeling heavy, numb or swollen. Pain stays in the afflicted parts. A patient’s arms and legs may also feel heavy and have limited movement. The pain is worse on rainy and cloudy cold days. The patient has a greasy, white coating on the tongue and the pulse could be soggy and slacken.

  • Re Bi: This hot type of arthritis is caused by the conversion of pre-existing problems into heat. The pain is characterized by redness, heat, swelling and tenderness in one or more joints. Ice packs can reduce some pain. Patients may have fever or thirst. The tongue’s coating is yellow and dry. The pulse may be slippery and fast.

Chinese medical treatments:

  • Knowing the type of arthritis is important in choosing acupoints and herbal formulas. This also has a great impact on determining whether the use of moxibustion or cupping is appropriate.

  • After identifying the type of arthritis, the practitioner will give a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine to relieve the symptoms. Moxibustion, cupping or Tui Na method may be used as well, along with certain topical herbal medicines and diet advice as necessary.

  • Chinese medical treatment for arthritis has provided relief for thousands of years. With the help of a Chinese medicine doctor, rheumatoid arthritis may not be a medical condition that lingers for years.

  • Caution: bone tuberculosis, osteoma (benign bone tumor), osteocarcinoma (cancer of the bone) etc. need to be differentiated. Therefore, you should first be examined by your conventional doctor and then seek Chinese medical treatment once you are diagnosed. Even for patients who eventually have a joint replacement, acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help relieve pain, speed rehabilitation, and correct complications of surgery.


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