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Arthritis is not a single disorder but a generalised name for joint disease from a number of causes. This review covers both osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a disease essentially confined to the joint capsule. The cartilage lining the bone surfaces becomes roughened and thinned and the synovial lining in the capsule becomes inflamed. In severe cases the bone ends touch and start to wear away, and bony growths form that can change the shape of the joint. Osteoarthritis usually starts after the age of 40 and is more prevalent and severe in women. Hard repetitive activity and joint injury are common causes. Symptoms are pain and stiffness of the joint. About 8 million people in the UK are affected and of these about one million ask for treatment (ArthritisResearch Campaign Booklet-Osteoarthritis). Treatment includes pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs, physiotherapy, losing weight, and in severe cases joint replacement. Puett & Griffin (1994) refer to the ‘considerable (gastrointestinal) risks’ associated with the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in older populations. Moreover these authors point out that it is uncertain whether the efficacy of anti-inflammatory drugs is superior to safer, pure analgesics. They quote clinical trials of anti-inflammatory drugs that show only a 30% reduction in pain and 15% improvement in function. Rheumatoid arthritis is a completely different disease except in that it also affects the joints of the body. It is an autoimmune illness that causes inflammation of the lining of the joint capsule. Tendons can also be affected, and the lungs and blood vessels may become inflamed. The disease may be accompanied by anaemia causing fatigue. In Britain about 3% of the population are affected; of those about five in a hundred people develop severe symptoms with extensive disability. Most sufferers experience symptoms that come and go with no apparent pattern. The most common age for the disease to start is between 30 and 50; again women are more at risk than men. Treatment includes painkillers, anti- inflammatory drugs, anti- rheumatic drugs, and joint replacement. In Chinese medicine all forms of arthritis are covered by Bi syndromes, also known as painful obstruction syndrome, with further differentiation according to the signs and symptoms. Chinese disease patterns and Western disease categories do not always match. According to Legge (1990) trying to equate the various Bi syndromes with different forms of arthritis is not helpful or possible.


Ms. Ting Wang

  • Member of British Acupuncture Council (BAcC)
  • Clinician in Neurology department, Heilongjiang University of TCM Hospital
  • MSc. in Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture), London South Bank University
  • BSc. in Clinical Discipline of Chinese and Western Integrative, Heilongjiang University of TCM


What you should know?

Acupuncture rarely ‘hurts‘. The most that people experience is a dull ache around the base of the inserted needle, or a slight tingling feeling when the needle is inserted. Points at the extremities, like toe or finger ends, can sometimes be a little sharp, but the sensation is usually brief.

Acupuncture is extremely safe if delivered by adequately trained practitioners. The most frequent side-effects are mild and include: minor bruising or bleeding, usually on needle withdrawal (3%), worsening of existing symptoms (1%) which usually lasts no more than two days and is sometimes associated with a good overall outcome; drowsiness, relaxation, or euphoria (3%) which is often experienced as pleasurable (and if so is not an adverse event!), and pain at the needling site (1%). Severe, extremely rare side-effects include a puncture lung or heart membrane (this is avoided by correct technique); transmission of blood-borne diseases (e.g. hepatitis C), avoided by using single-use, sterile, disposable needles, and skin infection (which is possible with ear acupuncture, particularly if indwelling studs are used).s

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