Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has many differences from osteoarthritis; for starters, it is often found in younger people then osteoarthritis, and symptoms of RA can manifest quickly. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), disease patterns that move quickly are typically due to the invasion of ‘Wind’ combined with other pathogenic influences; most commonly in the case of RA, Wind combines with Dampness causing stagnation and pain.
Gout is another type of arthritis causing joint pain and is sometimes confused with RA. While gout is the result of the buildup of uric acid in the joints, RA is a result of a malfunction of the immune system. It is differentiated from RA as gout is more common in men, and RA is more common in women. Additionally, gout rarely affects the hands, whereas RA is often seen with inflammation in the joints of the hand.
Those who suffer with RA often experience changing symptoms that occur during flare ups with indications of pain and inflammation of the joints. This is because the disease tends to cycle through the following patterns :
Wei Qi Insufficiencies and Rheumatoid Arthritis
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the Wei Qi circulates at the surface of the body and protects the body from external pathogens, such as Wind-Damp, in gaining access to internal levels of the body. If the Wei Qi is strong, the body’s defenses will prevent the original assault setting up an environment where RA is able to manifest. While Wind and Damp can also manifest internally, RA with a sudden onset suggests the influence of external Wind factors and Wei Qi insufficiencies.
Damp-Cold and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Dampness in Chinese medicine is often the result of Spleen Qi insufficiencies. In this pattern, joints would be swollen, but would not feel hot and the areas affected would not look red. Damp-Cold patterns are most often seen during the initial onset of RA with symptoms of a feeling heaviness, restricted movement, and numbness. These symptoms would be relieved with the application of heat and are most prominent in the morning hours. Alternating fever and chills are often experienced during this stage.
Damp-Heat and Rheumatoid Arthritis
As RA progresses and becomes chronic in nature, flare ups tend to manifest with swelling that is hot to the touch. During these episodes it is possible to experience fever and sweating. With this pattern, pain relief would be found with application of cold compresses to the joints; and while thirst may exist, there is not a great desire to drink fluids.
Yin Deficiency and Rheumatoid Arthritis
If left untreated or mismanaged, chronic pathogenic Heat from RA will begin to consume Yin fluids. Low grade chronic fever, night sweats, insomnia, thirst, and other indications of Yin Deficiency are common with this pattern of imbalance.
In Chinese medical theory, the Wood Element governs over the joints, and the Liver is part of the Wood Element. Additionally, as the Qi energy of the Liver stagnates the Liver begins to heat up and contributes to inflammation. This is a very common underlying imbalance with RA.
Qi and Blood Stasis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Late stages of RA present with joint deformation and stiffness. It is unlikely that RA can be reversed with natural therapy at this point, but further worsening of the condition can be avoided and joint pain can be addressed.