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TCM for the Fibromyalgia, Pain & Swelling of Arthritis

By Dr. Hong Chen (over 20 yrs experienced)

People with long-standing fibromyalgia and arthritis pain know well the unpleasantness of aches, stiffness, and local swelling, all of which are aggravated by temperature and weather changes. Stiff, painful joints and muscles protest when asked to sit, stand, climb stairs, carry parcels, or open jars and packages. The most visible signs of long-standing arthritis can be seen in hands whose fingers are deformed by enlarged knuckles.

  There are tests available to distinguish the various types of arthritis, for example ESR (arythrocyte sedimentation rate), and rheumatoid factor in the blood.

  Pharmaceutical painkillers for fibromyalgia and arthritis - by prescription or over-the-counter - have numerous side effects including ulcers, fatigue, dizziness, memory loss. In her book Asian Health Secrets, Letha Hadady, D.AC., say: "Long-term use of blood-thinning or anti-inflammatory medicines damages vitality. For example, prolonged use of cortisone results in wasting of bone and connective tissue, and depresses the immune system."

  The good news is that the pain of fibromylgia and arthritis can be relieved by using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapies such as acupuncture, moxibustion, and Chinese herbs for external use and oral administration. "Asian herbal treatment," says Hadady, "avoid weakening side effects because ingredients are combined in order to treat specific problem areas without weakening the entire body.They combine herbs that take the painkiller to the pain. Besides the body accepts herbs like food, so that dietary wastes that aggravate pain can be eliminated. This is uniquely a property of herbal cures."

  In terms' of Chinese medicine, when we talk about the cause of fibromylgia and arthritis, we always involve four basic factors related to nature and our environment - wind, cold, damp, and heat - and their effect upon the body, so as to understand between body and nature. The agents of fibromylgia and arthritis are:

  1. Weather changes: When  autumn turns to winter, bringing cold temperatures and damp, windy days, then our body is easily invaded by one or more of three elements - cold, wind and damp.
  2. Living environment: Some people live and work in homes (perhaps a basement) and offices that are both cold and damp.
  3. Stress: Mental or emotional stress, and/or fatigue,  plus sweating, leading to invasion by cold, wind or damp, or a combination of these three elements.

  When the body's auto-immune function is lowered, it is subject to invasion by any of the above-mentioned causes. Blockages of meridians leading to joints and muscles lead to loss of Chi (energy) while blood circulation stagnates.

  As a result, nutrition in the foods we eat fail to reach affected body parts, leading to the occurrence and developnent of fibromylgia and arthritis symptoms. In addition, some people have a Yan (hot) constitution, as opposed to Yin (cold). If cold, wind and damp invade deeply into the dody, the meridians flowing through affected joints and muscles can experience further blockage, leading to swelling, burning and pain.

  It is important to distinguish between "cold with wind and damp" (a.k.a. rheumtoid arthritis), and "heat with wind and damp" (inflammatory joint pain) types of fibromylgia and arthritis in order to treat the condition effectively. The former presents symptoms of pain, heaviness, stiffness, numbness and cold in the affected parts, with pain alleviated with by hot compresses. The pain can migrate from the shoulder to the wrist, or down the leg. The "heat with wind and damp" presents symptoms of swelling, burning and pain, with pain symptoms alleviated by cold compresses or ice.

Typical methods of diagnosis used by Chinese medicine practitioners includes a combination of pulse diagnosis (wherein the pulse of each organ is assessed at the wrist), tongue diagnosis (the tongue is examined for colour, shape, and types of coating), and assessment of presenting symptoms.

Acupuncture ~ Herbs ~ Moxi ~ Cupping

  1. The use of acupuncture in treatment of pains, fibromylgia and arthritis serves to clear blocked meridian channels and drive away stagnant Chi and restore circulation. Acupuncture also enhances liver and kidney function, for bone strength is dependent on strong, healthy kidneys, while tendons and muscles depend on the liver and blood for nourishment. A patient undergoing acupuncture treatment for arthritis may experience some tingling, distension, numbness, soreness and heaviness which spreads through the local, affected area, indicating that the energy channels are open and working once again. Sometimes the symptoms will worsen temporarily as energy surges through meridians, but this usually clears within hours of treatment.
  2. Chinese herbs work to eliminate the symptoms of pains, fibromylgia and arthritis. For "cold with wind and damp" we will use warming herbs such as ginger, basil, cloves and cinnamon to remove cold and eliminate wind and damp symptoms, both internally and externally. For "heat with wind and damp" type, we employ herbs, internally and externlly,  to clear heat, remove toxins and eliminate "wind and damp." Examples of these cooling herbs include cumin, lemon, peppermint and dill.
  3. Moxibustion is another aid to relieve fibromylgia and arthritis pain. Moxa is a soft, downy herbal material burned on the skin as a counter-irritant, or on the end of an acupuncture needle to draw blocked energy from deep inside the body. It is used to warm meridians and remove cold, wind and damp. It also enhances the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment.
  4. Cupping involves the use of glass cups from which the air has been removed by fire, creating a vacuum. The practitioner holds the flame inside the cup for a moment to remove air, and then the cup is quickly applied to the skin in order to draw the blood to the surface. This therapy is effective in driving away damp and stagnant Chi and blood in the affected joints and muscles. It, too, enhances the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment. ( Cupping often leaves black bruises on cupped areas for a few days, but it works very well to warm up the body and boost circulation.)
  5. Shiatsu and Tuina therapy, a specialized form of massage which works on the energy meridians, along with Chi Gong, a form of energy meditation, allows muscles to relax and relieve pains, and at the same time helps restore harmony and balance to the body, thereby strengthening the auto-immune system.  

Case Histories

  1. At 22, Linda had suffered from arthritis for two years. Her symptoms included pain, stiffness, swelling and defomity of small joints in hands, feet and ankles, making walking painful and difficult. She was, however, able to alleviate pain with ice packs. This "heat with wind and damp" arthritis responded well to the internal and external use of Chinese herbals. Chinese herbs that have a cooling effect include coriander, fennel, mint and burdock root. For acupuncture treatment I used very specific points for pain in her hands, feet and ankles. Following each course of treatment Linda's symptoms abated and then disappeared. Now she can walk and work without pain.
  2. At 60, Amy had had "heat with wind and damp" type arthritis for 10 years. It was painful to bend, sit down, stand up, walk and climb stairs. For her, I used acupuncture, cupping and Chinese herbs. The herbs used externally on her kness included Rhubarb root and Golden Thread, both known to clear heat and drive away toxins, wind and damp. After two treatments, the pain and swelling in both knees had been alleviated. After the eighth treatment, all arthritis symptoms had disappeared.
  3. Marion 55, had been plagued with fibromylgia for 20 years. Her "cold with wind and damp" type included pain, heaviness, numbness and stiffness in affected parts of whole body muscles. In particular, her shoulders were painful and "frozen". All symptoms got worse when the weather changed drastically. I treated this deep-seated, long-standing fibromylfia condition using acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, shiatsu and Tuina therapy, and Chinese herbs, both internally and externally. Externlly, the herbs I used for the moxibustion therapy included wild ginger and clematis, both designed to warm meridians and drive away cold, wind and damp. Marion responed well to this combination of therapies and following her symptoms are relieved.

In general, Chinese medicine has enjoyed much success in relieving the pain and other symptoms of pain, fibromylgia and arthritis. However, sufferers who wish to experience a complete and long lasting recovery must also become vigilant about changing their diet (to remove allergenic foods) and lifestyle (avoiding dampness, exercising, etc.).

Note: this article has been published on September 1999, issue of Vitality magazine. For more information please contact Dr. Hong Chen at Chen Acupuncture Herbs Shiatsu Centre, 33 Lowbank (Steeles. E/ Bestview(between bayview and Leslie) /Harrington/Lowbank). Tel: 416 221-9074

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