East Asian Medicine & RA

RA or rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that results in inflammation of the synovial joints of the body. Common symptoms include swelling, warmth, painful & difficult movement of the joint, and eventual breakdown of the joint cartilage. Rheumatoid arthritis has a number of inflammatory effects on other organs and parts of the body beyond the joints, but pain in the joints, and most especially in the fingers & wrists, is the most common presentation.

Standard Treatments for RA
The most common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include physical therapy and the use of anti-inflammatory medications. Physical therapy is good to maintain ease of movement and strength in the affected joints but will not prevent or reverse any damage to the joint itself.

Anti-inflammatory medications, beyond simple NSAID use, are primarily cortisone shots. Cortisone is a steroid hormone (corticosteroid) that is produced by the body during periods of stress, and suppresses the immune system temporarily – this is why it is useful for rheumatoid arthritis. Corticosteroids are not without side effects, however. In the quantities used in shots they destroy muscle and ligament tissue, and because of this there is a limitation on the number of times you can get a shot in a particular joint. Cortisone shots also only act in a local area, and the duration of relief can be short.

Alternative Treatments for RA
To properly manage rheumatoid arthritis, you have to be proactive. The standard care given above is useful to help a person keep moving but it doesn’t address the systemic nature of RA. Luckily, both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine do.

Acupuncture is useful in the treatment of RA in multiple ways. It helps to regulate the immune system and can reduce the occurrence of flare-ups. Acupuncture’s ability to regulate local blood circulation also means that it can help reduce inflammation by dissipating heat & reducing swelling. An adjunctive technique also used by acupuncturists is cupping, which involves creating a vacuum inside small glass jars and placing them on the skin. The vacuum pulls on the skin surface and helps to dislodge toxic metabolites and waste products trapped in inflamed areas. For local symptom management, acupuncture and cupping are both excellent.

Chinese herbal medicine is also useful in the treatment of RA because it can address the systemic nature of the disorder. Herbs can help to keep the immune system in check without overly suppressing it, and can reduce systemic inflammation in organs, small joints, and other locations hard to treat with acupuncture or other methods. For systemic care, herbal medicine is excellent.

Acupuncture & Chinese herbal medicine are great methods to help with rheumatoid arthritis. I encourage you to speak with your acupuncturist if you have any questions about how these methods can improve on any care you are already receiving.