Psoriatic arthritis, known as PsA for short, is an inflammatory joint disease associated with the skin condition psoriasis. PsA does not affect everyone with psoriasis, and the symptoms of PsA usually occur several years after psoriasis is diagnosed. PsA is thought to affect between 10 and 20% of people with psoriasis.
In this article we will look at how PsA is viewed by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and how this ancient therapy could potentially offer some relief.
What is Psoriatic Arthritis?
PsA is a form of arthritis which affects some people with psoriasis. It in unknown why some people with psoriasis develop PsA and others do not. In many ways, PsA is quite similar to rheumatoid arthritis. Both conditions cause inflammation of the joints due a dysfunction of the immune system, and both are characterized by flare ups and periods of remission.
Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms
The symptoms of PsA usually occur some time after the appearance of psoriasis itself, but this is not always the case. On rare occasions, the joint symptoms of PsA can occur without any sign of psoriasis on the skin.
Like all forms of arthritis, PsA is caused by inflammation of the joints. This leads to the classic symptoms of arthritis, including:
- Joint pain
- Swollen joints
- Loss of mobility
People with PsA may also experience:
- Pitting of the nails
The joints most commonly affected by PsA are the joints of the neck and spine, hands, feet, elbows, and knees. Over time, these joints can become damaged and deformed causing permanent disability.
The symptoms of a PsA flare up include a sudden worsening of symptoms which may last for long or short periods. These flare ups often start in one or two joints, and then spread to others over time.
Psoriatic Arthritis Causes: A Western View
From a western medical perspective, PsA is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. This means that the immune system does not recognize healthy cells and tissues, and begins to attack them. On the skin, this results in the rapid growth of skin cells. This causes the skin to become thickened and forms the plaques which are often seen in psoriasis.
In PsA, the immune system also attacks the joints. This causes inflammation and the symptoms of stiffness, swelling, and pain.
It is unclear exactly what causes PsA flare ups, but some people find that their symptoms get worse after a viral infection such as a cold or flu. This is likely to be a result of increased activity in the immune system as your body tries to fight off the infection.
Psoriatic Arthritis Causes: A Traditional Chinese Medicine View
TCM views the body in a very different way from western medicine, and so the causes of PsA are also seen differently.
In TCM, the immune system does not exist in the same way that it does in western medicine. TCM developed thousands of years ago when doctors did not know about bacteria, viruses, or white blood cells. Therefore, they saw the causes of disease as things they could observe in nature, for example, changes in the weather.
Many diseases in TCM are seen as being caused by climatic factors such as heat, cold, dampness, dryness, and wind. PsA is a good example of this.
In PsA, there is usually an excess of heat in the blood. This might combine with other factors such as dampness or wind to give a variety of different symptoms.
Excess heat causes inflammation which can be seen in joints that look red or feel hot to the touch.
When heat combines with dampness, it causes the skin to become thickened in places, and the joints to become swollen and tender.
Finally, when heat combines with wind, this causes pain that can move around the body. Wind can also cause pain that suddenly comes and goes, which is what causes the symptoms of PsA flare ups from a TCM perspective.
Psoriatic Arthritis Treatment
Conventional PsA treatments include anti-inflammatory medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids. Unfortunately, these medications can cause numerous side effects, especially when taken for long periods. In addition, drugs like steroids may cause PsA flare ups when you stop taking them.
Newer PsA drugs include disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological treatments. These medications work to regulate the immune system and keep PsA flare ups at bay. However, these drugs can also cause side effects and may make you more prone to infections.
Many people prefer to use natural treatments for PsA. These include balneotherapy (bathing in warm water with a high mineral content) and therapies such as acupuncture and massage.
Other PsA treatments include lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking and making dietary adjustments.
If you have PsA, you should eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric and ginger.
Some foods to avoid include fried or greasy food, spicy food, sugar, shellfish, and alcohol. In TCM, these foods are all seen as very stimulating and can cause an aggravation of heat and wind.
Acupuncture for Psoriatic Arthritis
Acupuncture can help with PsA in several ways. From a TCM perspective, it can help to cool down excessive heat and promote the circulation of blood. It may be especially effective when combined with Chinese medicinal herbs.
From a western point of view, acupuncture for PsA works by reducing inflammation and relieving pain. We are still learning exactly how acupuncture relieves pain, but we do know that it increases the action of chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers and act in a similar way to morphine.
Acupuncture is also thought to influence the nervous system and immune system making it a useful treatment for people with PsA.
What Does it Cost to Treat Psoriatic Arthritis with Acupuncture?
Everybody responds to acupuncture differently, making it difficult to predict how many treatments you will need to get on top of your PsA symptoms. At City Acupuncture, we have put together a treatment plan for chronic pain which includes four extended sessions and eight regular acupuncture sessions.
The extended sessions give you an opportunity to benefit from extra time to talk, receive herbal formula, or other therapies such as massage or cupping. You will also be given personalized dietary advice, and stretches or exercises to do at home between treatments. Acupuncture for PsA can be slow to progress so we cannot guarantee a cure, but we do feel confident that you will see some improvements during this time.