Arthritis sufferers - How to improve your quality of life!
Diagram of a joint, showing cartilage
General concepts about arthritis.
Arthritis literally means “joint inflammation”. The term covers many varieties and usually affects the muscle-and-skeletal-system at the joints, that is where two or more bones meet. The problems caused by arthritis include pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage to the joint cartilage, which is the tough, smooth tissue that covers the ends of the bones, and that allows them to rub against one another without effort or pain.
When the joint cartilage gets damaged, the joint can become weak and unstable, and can cause difficulty when walking, climbing the stairs, cutting your food, writing, and so forth. Therefore, arthritis can be considered a very disabling affliction and in fact is the cause of work absenteeism, high medical expenses and loss of independence.
Some of the principal causes are (a) trauma to the joint produced by a fall, or a lesion of some kind, also (b) infection of the joint, and (c) age.
The main symptom is pain, which can become worse through (a) daily wear and tear, (b) muscle strain caused by inadequate movements, (c) repetitive movements, and (d) fatigue.
Arthritis may appear suddenly or gradually, and it may feel different to different people. Some persons feel a sharp, burning, or grinding pain, while others may feel a pain like a toothache. The same person may feel it at some times as pain, and at other times as stiffness. Arthritis may affect not only the joints, but also other connective tissues of the body, like the supporting structures, that include muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and also the protective coverings of some internal organs.
When arthritis is caused by infection, it is usually accompanied by fever, and should be rapidly treated by a health specialist.
The more common type, generally called Osteoarthritis, can be improved by self-help measures, based principally on the guidelines provided by Chinese medicine.
Lumps on the fingers due to arthritis
Knee joint with Osteoarthritis
How Chinese Medicine views Arthritis
Chinese Medicine considers that arthritis is caused basically by an imbalance of Qi (pronounced chi), which is now being called bio-electricity, in an effort to make the concept more accessible to Western thought. When this imbalance happens and is not corrected, an illness usually follows.
Some of these initial imbalances can be observed when there are changes in the weather, which cause pain in the joints and stiffness in many people. For Chinese Medicine, this is easily explained by considering the earth’s electromagnetic field, a factor that Western physicians very often ignore.
If for some reason the initial Qi imbalance has not been corrected, the joint can be seriously damaged, and arthritis becomes more permanent. It is useful to call this stage by the name of Osteoarthritis (OA).
When Osteoarthritis attacks, it affects the cartilage of the joint, causing it to wear, tear and even split. Finally the cartilage may even disappear, leaving a bone-on-bone situation that can be extremely painful. Without the protection of the cartilage, the bone cells may proliferate and produce spurs or small lumps. This is the cause of the disfiguring shapes on the fingers.
Another site that can be affected is the neck, usually due to an impact injury. For example, the effect on the passengers when a car brakes suddenly.
Other vulnerable locations are: the hips, the knees, the ankles and the toes, especially in overweight persons.
In an effort to make this complex affliction more understandable, Chinese Medicine refers to various causes of an arthritic condition.
· One or more of the 5 principal internal organs is not functioning properly. These organs are: the heart, the liver, the lungs, the kidneys and the spleen.
· Defective genes. The tendency to arthritis can be hereditary.
· Weak joints, either hereditary or from lack of exercise.
· Injury - we usually suffer minor traumas that nobody pays much attention to. These can develop into arthritis.
· Aging - this process can be slowed down by the proper use of Qigong practices.
· Qi Deficiency. This in turn can be caused by emotional depression and sadness. It can also be caused by the weather, or working for long periods in damp areas or exposing your joints to the cold.
· Tension. This includes both mental tension and physical tension.
Chinese Medicine has studied Arthritis!
Chinese healers and sages have been studying the causes and effects of Arthritis for hundreds of years.
This study was especially important for the well-being and effectiveness of active warriors!
Chinese treatment of Arthritis
The first method is to prevent it from happening. This is one of the reasons why you will always see many Chinese people practicing Qigong and Tai Chi in parks every day.
Massage is another way of treating arthritis, as it improves circulation in the area of the injured joint.
Acupuncture can temporarily reduce pain, and also increase the flow of Qi to the affected joint.
Herbal Treatment. There are several interesting herbs that are indicated for arthritis.
Cavity Press or Acupressure, which uses the fingers instead of the needles used in acupuncture.
Qigong exercises. There are whole series of simple exercises for this purpose.
It is not possible for me to develop all these methods of treatment in this article. However, I will try to reduce the scope to the simplest and most practical treatments, that I myself have experimented with, and which have allowed me to maintain my independent form of life, in spite of constantly suffering severe arthritic attacks.
The practice of Qigong is well worth the effort!
I highly recommend a more complete study of Qigong practices, for which a qualified teacher is needed.
The knowledge of Qigong can be complemented by the use of several excellent books, most of which are sold by Amazon.
Details of the five healing sounds
These "healing sounds" have been used for centuries by Chinese practitioners of Qigong for medicinal purposes.
There are five principal sounds, each related to one of the five principal organs: Lungs, Kidneys, Liver, Heart and Spleen
1.-Improving the balance of Qi with reference to the 5 principal internal organs.
For this purpose it would be necessary to develop the whole basic sequence of Qigong exercises, and I cannot do that in an article like this. My suggestion would be to contact a qualified Qigong instructor.
There is one simple short cut to this situation, and that is to use the “healing sounds”. For this, you sit on the edge of a chair, knees slightly open no more than hip width apart, and the feet firmly and flatly placed on the ground. Rest your hands lightly on your thighs. Try to keep your back as upright as possible without tensing up. Take deep breaths, inhaling slowly, and when exhaling, use the outgoing breath to make the special sounds.
You should repeat each sound three, then six, then nine times, as you practice more and more. Another good idea is to consult an anatomy chart of these organs, so that you can visualize them more or less in the right place! There is no need to be too exact, just so you distinguish what is on the right, what is on the left, what is in front, at what is at the back!
2.- The details of the healing sounds .
Lungs - sound SSSSSSSSS. Visualize your lungs as you make the sound.
Kidneys – sound - CHIIIUUUUUUU – Visualize your kidneys as you make the sound
Liver - sound - SHHHHHHH like a train letting off steam. Visualize the liver as you make the sound.
Heart - sound HAAAAAAAAW, which we do automatically when we feel hot. Visualize your heart.
Spleen - sound WHOOOOOO Visualize the spleen when you make the sound.
These sounds should preferably be accompanied by movements of the arms and the body, but my teacher started me off just by sitting, breathing and making the sounds. You need to concentrate and keep relaxed, and that is enough for a start.
The effects of these activities are slow, but if you persist, you will notice a definite improvement in you vitality and well being.
3.- The use of herbs.
For a time, I was prescribed the new drugs, chondroitin and glucosamine. I did find an improvement, but after prolonged use, I started to have trouble with my digestion, and my colon was affected, so I stopped using them.
Now I rely on an herb called Chuchuhuasi!
The Maytenus (Chuchuhuasi) Tree
Preparation of a Chuchuhuasi Infusion
Chuichuhuasi is an enormous canopy of the Amazon rainforest, that grow to 30 meters high. It has large leaves, small white flowers, and very thick, heavy reddish-brown bark. It has several names, the most common being Maytenus. Thus we can read Maytenus laevis, or Maytenus macrocarpa, and several others, but they all refer to the same tree.
The indigenous people of the Amazon region, from Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, have been using the bark of this plant as medicine for centuries. The word Chuchuhuasi actually means “trembling back”, which illustrates its long-term use for arthritis and back pain.
Chuchuhuasi is a powerhouse of interesting plant chemicals, and its prolongued and relatively successful use has motivated diverse research groups to study its qualities, the most prominent of which have been American pharmaceutical researchers, and also Japanese teams.
I have been using capsules made in Chile, that contain powdered Chuchuhuasi, shark cartilage and white willow, this last being a form of aspirin. I calculate I have been consuming them for about two years. It is not a miracle drug, but the arthritis seems to have slowed down, at least it’s not getting worse, and my life is livable! The best part is that I have had no secondary effects so far.
The best tip is the following: if you visit Amazon.com, open the drop down menu of sections, and choose “health and personal care”, an entry to chuchuhuasi will bring up 4 results! There’s a packet for making an herb tea, and some tinctures.
My methods (continued)
4.- Some Qigong exercises that can be described in this article.
Some time ago, when I was having ultrasound and heat treatment for a very bad arthritis flareup in my right hand, I acquired some tips from the practitioner. I commented to her that when the pain was very bad, I was afraid to move the afflicted part for fear of producing more pain. She explained that that was a common reaction, but that I had to do the opposite, that is, move the joint and push against the pain with care. In this way I would get an increased flow of blood to that specific region, and that would help to heal the joint. I found this very interesting, because according to the Chinese principles, the flow of blood and the flow of bio-energy move together. On this basis, I isolated several of the special Qigong movements as they relate to the joints. These I will list on this article.
5.- The basic idea is to rotate the joints, one by one SLOWLY!
Initial idea 1 .Most of the movements are done standing, with the legs shoulder width apart, the knees very slightly bent so that they don’t “lock”, and the feet planted looking straight forwards (not turned out at an angle!). Try and distribute the weight of the body evenly on all parts of each foot. The breathing should be very slow, deep and relaxed. The movements should try to follow the speed of the slow breathing!
Initial idea 2. For the first, preparatory movement, lift your arms out in front of you, without any straining, as if there were some threads attached to the back of your wrists, pulling them up. The hands hang limply down. At should height, stop and let them fall like two floating sheets of paper. Repeat as many times as you wish, all the time breathing in when your arms rise, and out when they fall, very, very slowly!
6.- Now start rotating those joints!
Shoulders. It’s easier to concentrate if you separate them, moving first one and then the other. Rotate first backwards, and then forwards, 3 times each way. (12 rotations in all)
Neck. Turn your head to the right shoulder, and let it drop to the center of your chest, and then up to the left shoulder. Pause and then come back, drawing a semicircle each time. Repeat three times each way, very loosely and slowly.
Elbows. Bend them up and down, in a relaxed way, in any position that feels comfortable. Repeat a minimum of three times each.
Wrists. Move them together or one by one as is most productive for you. With your arm out in front, turn the wrist one way and then the other.
Thumbs. Rotate without moving the other fingers.
Fingers. Turn your hands into animal claws, and close the fingers into the palm, as if you were scratching a tree, like a cat. Alternate clawing and stretching, but carefully, without tension.
Hips. Separate your legs a bit more, until the position feels comfortable. Place your hands at your back as if holding your kidneys, and make wide circles with your hips. First in one direction and then the other.
Knees. Place them together and crouch down a little, placing your hands on your knees. Look slightly ahead, not down! Your feet should be planted side by side and flat on the floor. Rotate your knees very slowly, changing direction after at least three turns. This is not easy, but can be done with practice. One of the good points is that you are massaging your feet at the same time!
Ankles. Rotate them one at a time, either sitting or standing, whatever is more comfortable. Don’t forget to change direction!
The writing of this article has been a long journey for me! It has taken me through the causes of my present condition, the various procedures and cures I have tried out while searching for a way to control this ailment, and finally to an overview of the elements that have given me a measure of success, and allowed me to maintain my independent way of life.
I consider that I have been successful! I’m still teaching, I can hold a pen in my hands and write, I can walk without the help of crutches or walking sticks, I can even run a little if necessary! My X-rays are showing that the deterioration of my various joints has practically stopped! I no longer suffer complicated side effects due to strong medication that really doesn't help much. I really can’t ask for more, except maybe to be strong in patience which has never been one of my better characteristics! You do need to be patient with yourself while practicing some of the recommendations I have included here.
I hope this information will be of use to my readers, and for the younger generation, I will say: It’s never too early to take preventive measures! Practice and be comfortable and happy!
© 2012 joanveronica (Joan Robertson)