In western medicine, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is considered an autoimmune disease caused by unknown factors. The onset is usually gradual, effecting inflammation of several joints, mainly small joints in the feet, wrists, elbows, and ankles. These joints will be tender to the touch, and can also become stiff, painful, and swollen. RA is diagnosed by an elevated Rheumatoid Factor through a blood test and X-ray, which will indicate a narrowing of the joint spaces and erosion. The usual treatment is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDS), such as Ibuprofen, corticosteroids, exercise, physical therapy, and rest.
Patients are often frustrated with the lack of relief provided solely by western medicine, and seek alternative and complementary treatments, including acupuncture, to manage their symptoms. Traditional Chinese medicine classifies Rheumatoid Arthritis as “Bi Zheng,” an impediment syndrome caused by the invasion of wind, cold, damp, and heat. These external evils are diagnosed according to the characteristics of how the symptoms are presented in the joints of the body.
If the pain and swelling comes and goes and travels from one area to another, the cause is wind. If the affected area is red or hot, with early morning stiffness, heat is to blame. If the joints are typically cold, pale, and stiff, with symptoms worse in the cold weather, cold weather is to blame. And if you’re experiencing swelling and heaviness, stiffness, and restricted movements of the joints often worse in the damp, humid, and hot weather, dampness is the culprit. These patterns will usually appear in a combination of the four evils and will present themselves in a variety of ways depending on the stage of RA. The condition may also affect proper functioning of the organs, including the liver, kidney, and spleen, as well as blood and overall energy (qi) levels.