Arthritis is one of the most common conditions in America

So common in fact, that about one in seven people have it. While it’s considered to be a disease of the elderly, the reality is that people of all ages suffer from arthritis. The term arthritis is used to describe over 100 different illnesses, but most types of arthritis fall into two general subsets, based on their underlying cause.

-Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by inflammation in the joints, and can affect people of all ages. It is often associated with autoimmune issues.

-Osteoarthritis is most commonly related to the aging process, and is caused by the deterioration of the cartilage in your joints from age, overuse, or injury.

Conventional treatments for Rheumatoid arthritis may include anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications, and dietary and lifestyle changes. For Osteoarthritis, treatment includes pain medications, controlled exercise, and for some, joint replacement surgery.

Arthritis is painful and can negatively affect your quality of life, and in many cases conventional Western treatments don’t offer much relief. As a result, many people who suffer from this condition turn to acupuncture and Chinese medicine for help—for good reason. Recent research, including that done at the Mayo Clinic, has documented that acupuncture can offer pain relief for a variety of conditions, including joint pain.

The Chinese medicine approach to arthritis

In the realm of Chinese medicine, your arthritis is considered to be something called a Bi Syndrome—a term that describes the obstruction of circulation, loss of range of motion, and pain in the joint. To your acupuncturist, not all Bi Syndromes are created equal, and your treatment plan would depend on the underlying cause of the problem. For example, if your arthritis feels more painful and heavy in the cold and damp weather, your treatment would involve a different strategy than if your arthritis was producing hot and swollen joints. In addition, your achy joints don’t exist in a vacuum; the overall state of your health is also considered when being treated by Chinese medicine. Treatment for arthritis depends on your specific set of symptoms, and may include acupuncture (with or without electric stimulation), Chinese herbs, dietary therapy, heat therapy, and lifestyle changes.

In addition, there are some things that you can do at home to help you feel better, based on the philosophy of Chinese medicine. They include:

  1. Move your body. For most people, exercise keeps your joints moving and improves your range of motion. Also, being in better physical shape helps decrease your pain. One caveat: if the exercise you’re doing aggravates the pain, stop and find an activity that’s gentler on your joints.
  2. Warm it up. In Chinese medicine, pain relief is all about increasing your circulation. When you apply heat, it opens up the blood vessels in the area and loosens up the surrounding muscles. Try applying a heating pad or a warm moist towel to your painful joints for about ten minutes.
  3. Pay attention to stress. High levels of chronic stress aggravate your pain, tense up your muscles, and increase your levels of inflammation. Do whatever it takes—meditation, music, or an enjoyable hobby—to help manage the stress in your life.
  4. If you’re overweight, think about slimming down. The pressure from excess weight can aggravate your pain and increase the damage to your joints, and is considered to be a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis in the first place.