Osteoarthritis is an extremely debilitating condition that can affect the quality of life and impair the mobility of its victims. Over the course of time, various types of anti-inflammatory drugs have been developed to address this disease but unfortunately almost all of them bring harmful side effects to the user. This has forced people to resort to alternative therapies such as acupuncture, and its less invasive counterpart, acupressure in treating osteoarthritis.
These past two decades, there has been an unmistakable trend towards the use of traditional bodyworks in treating osteoarthritis and most of it is due to the safety of these modalities (i.e., they have little or no side effects). The fact is, more and more people are realizing the potency of acupuncture for the management of chronic pain caused by this crippling malady. This article will discuss what osteoarthritis is all about and how does acupuncture contribute to help manage this condition.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative arthritis and is a musculoskeletal condition that mainly affects the structure and function of the joints. It usually affects one entire joint and the nearby underlying joint, the joint cover, joint lining, muscles, and ligaments. On certain occasions, it can be responsible for the gradual degeneration of the cartilage in the body.
Usually a result of cartilage degeneration, osteoarthritis can also be caused by disease, injury, aging, and heredity. The cartilage is made up of protein that serves as a buffer or “shock absorber” between the bones attached to the joint.
There are two categories of osteoarthritis: primary and secondary osteoarthritis. The former (primary osteoarthritis) usually develops because of the aging process. Over time, the slow progressive cartilage loss causes friction between the joints causing the primary symptoms of movement difficulty and pain. In a majority of cases, heredity is the cause of primary osteoarthritis.
The latter (secondary osteoarthritis), usually comes about due to other diseases or conditions including hormone disorder, diabetes, obesity and gout. The mechanical stress between the joints that obesity causes tends to amplify the pressure and the wear and tear of the cartilage. Based on studies, the 2nd highest risk factor for degenerative arthritis is obesity. The highest significant risk factor is still the aging process.
Each person may manifest the symptoms of osteoarthritis is different ways; however, the common denominator each osteoarthritis sufferer experiences are pain, difficulty in moving the joints, and stiffness of the joints. Most healing approaches to the condition are focused on the relief of joint inflammation and pain. Also, therapies are geared toward the improvement and maintenance of joint functions.
Acupuncture – Its Benefits and How It’s Done
Due to its multiple relieving effects, acupuncture has been used to address a wide range of illnesses for over 3500 years. Contrast this to just 50 years of extensive scientific studies, we could see the reason why this ancient healing art is still marginalized and ignored by the medical community. But because of the rise in interest of traditional medicines such as acupuncture and acupressure, a lot of Western medical practitioners have begun taking interest in the treatment and are curious about how it works and how it is able to ameliorate the pain of patients suffering from osteoarthritis.
Illnesses, from the viewpoint of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), are mainly caused by obstructions or imbalances in the circulation of vital energy in the body. With acupuncture, these obstructions and imbalances can be resolved through the insertion of very thin special needles to specific points in the body.
Acupuncture is based on the idea that the body possesses 12 primary energy channels (meridians), 8 secondary meridians and about 2,000 acupuncture points (acupoints). When the meridians and acupoints are stimulated, the different organs of the body receive multiple health benefits. This very old but certainly dynamic bodywork involves the penetration of filiform needles into the skin and then maneuvering the needles in such a way so as to generate mild electrical impulses and initiate healing.
For decades, there have been more than enough clinical studies done to determine acupuncture’s efficacy in treating osteoarthritis. Based on these studies, acupuncture has been shown to help stimulate the manufacture of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are the body’s own natural pain killers that give the victims of osteoarthritis the ability to cope with their pain.
Research shows that most acupoints are situated near the nerves. When a needle is inserted during an acupuncture procedure, these nerves are activated causing a sensation of dull aches or fullness in the muscles. The muscle activation/stimulation sets off the dispatch of signals to the CNS (central nervous system) to create endorphins. The CNS consists of the brain and the spinal cord. Endorphins are hormones or neurotransmitters the body produces in times of pain or stress. Along with other neurotransmitters and hormones, endorphins assist in the transmission blockage of pain signals to the brain that in effect helps the sufferer feel no or little pain.