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Does the Cold, Damp Weather Make Your Joints Ache? Traditional Chinese Medicine and Osteoarthritis


Traditional Chinese Medicine and Osteoarthritis

As the seasons change, and the weather turns cold and rainy, many of my patients start to feel the effects of cold, damp weather in their joints. Arthritic joint pain is a common complaint in my practice. Joint pain which increases as the weather changes provides diagnostic information in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and will help dictate what treatments are most effective, what activities to avoid, and what foods will make your condition worse.

Arthritis is a general term for over 100 conditions characterized by painful, swollen and stiff joints. The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease), and rheumatoid arthritis (auto-immune disease causing joint inflammation). According to the Arthritis Society, 1 in 6 Canadians are affected, two thirds of which are women.

The bones of movable joints such as the knees, hips, shoulders, hands and feet, are covered with a smooth layer of cartilage, which is lubricated with a nutrient rich fluid, called synovial fluid. In Osteoarthritis, cartilage starts to deteriorate due to a variety of factors such as age, obesity, repetitive strain, or injury; resulting in pain, swelling, and joint stiffness. As the disease progresses, crevices and bone spurs may develop, causing chronic joint changes, and reduced mobility.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Osteoarthritis is classified as Bi Syndrome, translated as painful obstruction syndrome. There are several classifications of Bi Syndrome in Chinese medicine (which we won't go into here). The differing symptoms among Osteoarthritis sufferers, dictates that treatment will vary from patient to patient. In TCM, all joint pain occurs on the external aspect of the body, along acupuncture channels. However, in Osteoarthritis a deeper, systemic imbalance within the body is always present. For treatment to be effective, a multi-level approach is needed to treat both the symptoms, and the underlying root cause of the degeneration.

So let's say for example, that you suffer from chronic knee pain, with joint stiffness, swelling and fixed achy pain that is worse in cold, and rainy weather. A Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner would diagnose you as having Cold Damp Bi Syndrome. A combination of acupuncture, cupping therapy, and herbal medicine would be utilized to treat the external joint symptoms and the internal systemic imbalance simultaneously. But this isn't all. There are many dietary and lifestyle changes that can be made to dramatically boost treatment results.

For example, with Cold Damp Bi Syndrome, the following recommendations would be beneficial.

• Avoid damp environments. This may mean vacationing somewhere hot and dry, and avoiding swimming for exercise.

• Apply heat to the joints, keep warmly covered in winter months, and use a warming liniment.

• Avoid "damp" producing foods such as dairy products (which create excess mucus in the body), soy products, sugar, excessive meat consumption, greasy-fried foods, eggs and too much salt.

• Increase foods that are good at reducing "damp" build up in the body- aduki beans, barley, mushrooms, rye, celery, arugula, seaweeds, and lettuce.

• Add warming spices to the diet- cinnamon, ginger, fennel, cumin, and turmeric.

Calcium, magnesium and silicon are important minerals for optimal joint regeneration. The "damp" producing foods listed above, inhibit calcium absorption, along with foods high in oxalic acid such as rhubarb, cranberry, plum, beet greens and spinach. These foods should be avoided or eliminated from the diet.

On a final note, studies have shown, that integrating Traditional Chinese Medicine with Western (Allopathic) Medicine results in better treatment outcomes, than either approach can provide alone.

If you suffer from joint pain, contact Amy to assess your treatment options, and help put the spring back in your step.

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