What is Arthritis?
Inflammation and arthritis
Inflammation is part of your body’s healing process. It commonly happens as a defence against viruses and bacteria or as a response to an injury such as a burn. But in people with inflammatory arthritis the inflammation usually arises for no obvious explanation. Instead of helping to mend the body, inflammation causes the tissues in and around the damaged joints to become impaired, causing pain, stiffness and swelling.
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints (the points where bones meet) in one or more areas of the body. There are far more than 100 types of arthritis, all of which have different causes and treatment methods. The symptoms of arthritis usually appear progressively but they may also occur suddenly. Arthritis is most commonly seen in people over the age of 65 but it can also develop in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis is more common in ladies than in gentlemen and in those that are too heavy (CDC).
It may be preceded or accompanied by a period of tiredness and a feeling of stiffness. This shows up more often in rheumatoid arthritis than in osteoarthritis.
Arthritis can affect children
Sometimes wrongly dismissed as an ‘old woman’s problem’, arthritis can and does affect individuals of all ages and / or gender. So pervasive is the ailment, that it even affects whales and dolphins – and dinosaur fossils have been discovered showing signs of arthritis. The inflammation in the joints, which characterises arthritis, causing painful swelling and stiffness, can be caused by more than 100 diseases. The most common forms of arthritis, however, are osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gout.
Long-term inflammation of one or more articulations, or “arthritis”, is among the most common of health problems. Affected joints are generally painful, rigid and have less mobility than normal. The usual cause is osteoarthritis, the so-called ‘wear and tear’ type. Second commonest is rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that can also affect parts of the body other than the joints. Arthritis Care, the main charity, estimates the total number of people in the UK with arthritis to be 9 million.
There are two major kinds of arthritis. Osteoarthritis, the most frequent variety, is a gradual, degenerative ‘wear and tear’ condition. Rheumatoid arthritis is more uncommon and less understood. It affects younger persons and might be related to a malfunctioning immune system, perhaps caused by genetic factors and infections as well as diet and lifestyle.
The word arthritis takes its origins from the Greek words arthron (joint) and itis (inflammation) and is the term for an inflammatory change of the joint. Several arthritis disorders are known such as rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. They differ in terms of different involved joints, the number of affected joints, the age at onset, or additional involved organs.
Definition of Arthritis
Arthritis is therefore defined as inflammation of the joints (almost any joint can be affected) and often results in pain, swelling, stiffness and exhaustion. People with arthritis can experience loss of strength and grip, which can consequently make movements more difficult, and disrupt the performance of daily tasks. In the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis, it is more common in females than in males, yet it can affect people of all ages, including children. While there is no known cure for arthritis, there are many ways to help to control the development and improve symptoms and quality of life through medication and lifestyle changes.
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage (connective tissue) between the bones progressively wastes away (degenerates), leading to painful rubbing of bone on bone in the joints. It may also cause joints to fall out of their natural positions (misalignment). The most frequently affected joints are in the hands, spine, knees, and hips.
Can acupuncture help arthritis?
Yes, in many cases. Pain is the primary complaint of arthritis sufferers, and acupuncture is a very efficient tool for pain control. It relieves pain in three ways. First, it causes the body to produce chemicals called endorphins, which can temporarily lessen the perception of pain. Endorphins are comparable to morphine, which is given in Western medicine. The big difference is that endorphins are produced naturally by the patient’s own body. Hence, there are minimal side effects. Second, acupuncture works through the nervous system by preventing the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Third, it deactivates trigger points. Trigger points are sensitive and very reactive areas that manifest in the muscles and fascial sheaths of the body. They are often responsible for chronic pain and are often located around arthritic joints. Acupuncture also has a very relaxing effect on the mind and body. Since much illness is the result of stress, this relaxation helps to promote the healing process.
Acupuncture is extremely successful at relieving pain, but it can also have a beneficial impact on other symptoms that occur in the three primary forms of arthritis. The first form, rheumatoid arthritis, is characterized by inflammation (swelling, heat, redness and pain) in and around joints. The level of inflammation varies, probably following changes in the stress levels. Acupuncture stimulates the adrenals to yield natural steroids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect. Since they are produced by the body, they do not cause side effects. Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by periods of exacerbation and remission, but pain usually remains after the inflammation has gone away. Acupuncture is also very effective at alleviating this pain by deactivating trigger points in the region of the joints.