I can’t tell you how many times patients have either inquired to me about a cure for arthritis or informed me that there is no cure, that the cause is objectively unknown, and of course I must laugh to myself at the obtusity of the latter in the context of our dynamic.
First I want to reiterate, I am not one of those (alternative) medicine clinicians who believes biomedicine has no place, nor that my own paradigm of medicine can cure all. If someone has a brain tumor or stage 3 liver cancer they need a biomedical doctor—not me (though they’re best advised to utilize someone like me for complementary support).
I am, on the other hand, absolutely one of those alternative medicine clinicians who believes that biomedicine’s understanding of the human body is limited to structural and literal objectivities, wholly in neglect of its intangible dynamics of physiological substances. This is what Chinese Medicine is almost entirely predicated on, and more relevant to arthritis.
Synovial fluid surrounds our joints. Healthy body fluids surround everything, in perfect illustration of our microcosmic embodiment of the world we exist in. When fluid circulation is impaired it coagulates, like a traffic jam in the body, and equally frustrating to our global agendas. First fluids stick and accumulate, then to the point that they obstruct the thinner, healthy fluids from doing their job of lubricating the joint, creating the ironic illusion of dryness. We hear cracking and feel dry, and label arthritis as a “dry condition,” when in fact it is the opposite. Stress and fatigue, along with sugar, alcohol, dairy, gluten, raw/cold foods and drinks, all induce fluid accumulation, so is it any wonder how arthritis is rampant in the modern world?
Arthritis is very personal to me, as it was the first condition I attempted and failed at treating in my father, as an acupuncture student many years ago. Dad was a great dad, but his diet was poor, stress was high, and he drank daily for a very long time; not to mention that he had a son and student as his practitioner. I think we peaked at temporary relief of symptoms each week.
Conversely, I take great pride in my own management of the gout disease that I inherited from Dad. I was diagnosed with the men of our family’s condition at the premature age of 25, and after suffering several painful attacks many doctors told me that I should live on Allopurinol, or whatsoever was the drug being presently recommended. Instead, I went on to learn Chinese Medicine. I all but completely abstained from refined sugar (exceptions for holidays, birthdays, and Paris) and obviously follow a very Eastern diet. My stress and fatigue inevitably wax and wane, as goes life. I know gout is something I’ll always have to be mindful of, but the fact that I’m now 45 and have never lived on medications or with annual attacks is a feather in my cap.
Without dietary modifications arthritis cannot be cured, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean one has to be completely abstinent from all of the aforementioned usual suspects. Just that the diet should be highly impressive 90% of the time.
Without internal herbal medicine arthritis cannot be cured, in my opinion. Acupuncture is fantastic, but it is rarely powerful enough to break down fluid accumulations or deposits, or adequately restore metabolic function the way herbs can. As always, with herbs there is no one size fits all prescription, no “herbal allopurinol,” nor even one prescription that one would take throughout a course of treatment. As the body changes, the formula changes and adapts to the patient’s evolving presentation.
While organ function is being restored through internal medicine, acupuncture can be invaluable to pain relief and improving local circulation. Committed patients must come for regular treatments for 3-6 months and modify their diets. In the first month acupuncture and moxibustion should be used twice a week. In subsequent months, once a week, and eventually every other week is fine so long as we are consistent and accurate with herbal formulas.
There is my best explanation for the causes and cure for arthritis.
Despite the northeast weather forecasts consistently looking more like a frightening EKG than a directly corresponding line with the seasons, Spring is here and we can expect to feel the climactic difference on at least most days relatively soon.
The Spring season corresponds with the wood element, which corresponds with the emotion of anger or frustration, which corresponds with our liver and gallbladder meridians, which might incite symptoms such as temporal headaches, rib-side pain or cramping, dryness in the chest or throat (I lost my voice this past week for the first time in probably a decade!), cold feet in spite of a warm body, the shingles virus, lack of appetite for breakfast, or exaggerated PMS symptoms for women.
The seasonal increase in our liver and gallbladder qi, respectively, makes us more prone to anger and irritability, which can make us more prone to any of these symptoms, which of course creates a vicious cycle—especially for those of us considered “wood element constitutions,” such as myself. “Wood people” tend to be active and potentially temperamental, with a wiry, sinewy build like, well… wood.
Interestingly one of the most common pulse qualities Chinese Medicine recognizes is the “wiry pulse,” because it feels like a taut wife beneath the pads of the finger. When we feel this we often assume that the liver or gallbladder channels are implicated in the etiology of disease.
The best ways to mitigate these “side effects of Spring” are through a healthy amount of exercise—enough to circulate the liver qi without over-sweating and drying out the stomach—and mostly warm foods that are easy to digest. In Classical Medicine liver and gallbladder pathologies are a result of the stomach being completely dried out of healthy fluids, then sending pathogenic heat/inflammation upwards (see aforementioned loss of voice). The one exception to the warm rule these next few months would be in the form of sauerkraut, vinegars, and pickled foods, which along with mildly spicy foods are said to course the liver qi.
As for my own apparent stress variable, (my wife and) I will be moving next week to live in a suburb for the first time in 27 years! Excitement, along with fear and anxiety are likely more prominent within me than anger or frustration, but as a “wood-type person” navigating this seasonal wood transition, it stands to reason that for me such symptoms would arise.
We bought a home in the “coolest,” most culturally diverse suburb still with a good school system that we could find, in South Orange, NJ. One of my favorite mentors’ tai chi school is a 10-minute drive away and we have a 5-minute walk from our house to the NJ Transit stop, which is 40 minutes direct to Penn Station, which is then a 15-minute walk to my office. Not bad! Also, the previous owner happened to be a famous Buddhist monk who founded the Tibet Center on the lower east side. Many cool check-offs on this resume, however I’ve always been a “New York or Nowhere” person, so the great unknown, coupled with all the stressors of renovations and moving with a toddler surely went straight to my throat. Wish us luck!