Rheumatoid arthritis, known as RA for short, is an inflammatory condition which is characterized by arthritis flare ups and periods where symptoms improve or even disappear completely. RA affects twice as many women as men, and usually develops after the age of 50.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
RA is a chronic, inflammatory condition which affects the joints. The joints most commonly affected are the small joints of the hands and feet. However, any joint in the body can be affected by RA.
The most common RA symptoms are hot, swollen joints accompanied by stiffness and pain. However, RA is a systemic disease and a number of other symptoms can also occur.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
RA symptoms primarily affect the joints causing stiffness, swelling, and pain. But RA symptoms can affect other parts of the body too.
Some common RA symptoms include:
- Hot, swollen joints
- Joint stiffness and pain
- Lack of energy
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
RA may also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and cause other complications such as carpal tunnel syndrome, dry eyes, chest pain, or shortness of breath. In severe cases, the joints can become permanently damaged.
One of the key features of RA is that its symptoms can come and go. These arthritis flare ups are thought to be triggered by stress, tiredness, and certain foods.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis? A Western View
RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the immune system does not recognize the body’s own cells and begins to attack them. Autoimmune disorders can affect many different parts of the body, but in the case of RA, the immune system attacks the joints.
When the immune system identifies a potential threat such as an injury or a virus, it creates inflammation. In most cases, inflammation is a normal and healthy immune response. It helps to prevent infections and plays an important role in the healing process. Once the potential threat is gone, the inflammatory response should switch off. However, in RA, this is not the case.
Because the inflammation caused by RA never fully switches off, it can cause chronic swelling and pain. Eventually it can cause the joints to become deformed and affect other parts of the body too.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis? An Eastern View
Eastern therapies such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) see inflammation differently. In TCM, conditions such as RA are said to be caused by stagnant qi and blood.
In TCM, qi and blood are seen as being essential for good health. They have many important roles including nourishing, warming, and protecting us from disease. However, to fulfill these roles, they need to be able to reach every part of the body from head to toe.
If a blockage occurs for any reason, these vital substances cannot circulate freely and may get stuck in one area. This causes symptoms such as stiffness and pain, a condition known as bi syndrome. There are many different types of bi syndrome in TCM. The exact diagnosis depends on whether the pain is fixed in one area or comes and goes, whether it is eased or aggravated by movement, and whether it can be relieved by heat or cold.
In the case of RA, there is almost always an element of excess heat present. This can easily be seen as the joints will look red and feel hot to the touch.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment
There is no cure for RA and treatment is usually focused on arthritis pain management and reducing the risk of flare ups. RA is typically treated with anti-inflammatory medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or steroids, or painkillers such as acetaminophen.
Stronger medication such as disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biological treatments can also be used to keep the immune system under control and reduce the frequency of arthritis flare ups.
Unfortunately, all of these drugs can cause side effects and may need to be taken for life. Therefore, many people with RA choose to manage their symptoms with more natural methods such as acupuncture.
What Can Acupuncture Do for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Acupuncture is an ancient therapy which uses ultra-fine needles placed at specific points on the body to treat disease.
Acupuncture benefits RA patients in a number of different ways. From a TCM perspective, it is an effective treatment for promoting the free flow of qi and blood and relieving bi syndrome. It can help to clear away excess heat and restore a state of balance to the body and mind.
In western medical terms, acupuncture for RA works by reducing inflammation and releasing endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers. It can also help to relieve stress, one of the major triggers of RA flare ups.
Acupuncture is holistic, meaning that it views the body as a whole rather than focusing on individual symptoms. When you come for your first treatment, your provider will take a detailed medical history including past and present symptoms and information about your diet and lifestyle. They will then make a diagnosis and decide on the best course of action for you.
Acupuncture treatment may be given alone, or in combination with herbal medicine or massage. You will also be given personalized lifestyle and dietary advice to help you manage your condition between sessions.
What Does it Cost to Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis with Acupuncture?
Because it works to treat RA on a deep level, acupuncture is not a quick fix like taking a painkiller. It can take several sessions to see a noticeable difference, especially if you have had RA for a long time.
Many people are concerned about the cost of treating arthritis with acupuncture. This is why there are now many low-cost acupuncture clinics offering treatment at a greatly reduced price. Here at City Acupuncture we also offer specific treatment plans for every condition, helping you to keep your acupuncture for RA as affordable as possible.
Our treatment plans for chronic pain include four extended sessions, and eight acupuncture sessions. The extended sessions offer you extra time for talking or other therapies such as cupping, trigger point release, massage, or herbal formula. You may also be offered nutritional advice or given stretches or exercises to help with your condition.
Everyone responds differently to acupuncture, so it is impossible to say exactly how many treatments you will need. However, our treatment plans are based on years of clinical experience and we feel confident that they will offer you some relief.