Arthritis has afflicted humankind for as far back as we can trace. In all races, the young as well as the old have experienced the pain of arthritis. The condition can also have a disastrous effect on the sufferer's peace of mind. Despite the great advances made in many fields of science, Western medicine today is still unable to cure many forms of arthritis. Most treatment is limited to relieving pain and inflammation, rather than curing the condition at its root. In the nearly four thousand years that Chinese medicine has been developing, many approaches have emerged to stopping the pain or even curing arthritis, such as acupuncture, massage, qigong (pronounced "Chee Gong") exercises, and herbal treatment.

In my new book, Pain-Free Joints, I focus only on the qigong practices commonly used by the Chinese to treat arthritis. Other methods, such as acupuncture and herbal treatments, will have to be introduced elsewhere by qualified Chinese physicians.

Naturally, some methods are more effective than others, depending on the condition of the specific individual. Qigong exercises have come to be considered as an excellent method not only of preventing arthritis, but also of curing many forms of arthritis and in rebuilding the strength of the joints. Once the joint completely recovers its strength, it is well on its way to a complete healing.

Western and Oriental Medicines

It is clear that both Western and Oriental medicines have their advantages and disadvantages. If both cultures can share what they have discovered and learn to experience each other with open minds, then medicine would have a chance to begin a new era. Western medicine, for example, would be able to borrow the information which Chinese medicine has accumulated about qi (bioelectricity) and combine it with the findings drawn from its own experience. Chinese medicine, on the other hand, could adapt modern Western medical technology to aid and improve the effectiveness of traditional Oriental medicine.

Arthritis serves as an excellent demonstration of how this combination of Eastern and Western medicine can work. Chinese doctors believe that the main causes of arthritis are weakness and injury of the joints. In order to rebuild the strength of the joints and repair the injury, qi must be led to these joints and must be able to circulate smoothly there. Only by nourishing these joints with qi can the damage be repaired. Chinese doctors have researched ways of improving the qi circulation in the joints, and have found that the majority of arthritis patients can be healed. In addition, they have found that, once the joints are strong again, the arthritis will not readily return.

Many people have contacted me about the benefits they have obtained. Many of them could not believe that the serious problem of arthritis can be easily treated by simple relaxed exercises. Through acupuncture, massage, or herbal treatment, the relief from arthritis pain is not as long lasting, yet is also drug free and promotes a healthier lifestyle. It is also well understood that the long-term solution is through the correct methods of exercises.

For example, when an episode is serious, any exercise that can cause tension in the joint area is not proper. This is because the tension of the joint locks the joint, making the qi and blood circulation more stagnant. The key to healing or repairing the joints is through adequate, smooth qi and blood circulation. Only then can the damaged physical areas be rebuilt.

About ten years ago, I remember when I was teaching qigong in Andover, Massachusetts. Right after my class, there was a woman who came to see me for help. She showed me her swollen hands and wrists, caused from a serious arthritis problem. After I took a look, I asked her if she was able to move her fingers and turn her wrists. She tried and showed some capability of moving them with limited flexibility. I taught her some simple theory of the importance of circulating the qi and blood in the fingers and wrists. Then, I encouraged her to do the finger and wrist exercises everyday as many times as possible. I also told her it would probably take six months to see the effectiveness of the treatment.

Three months later, she came to see me, although I had forgotten about our first meeting and conversation. She showed me her hands, and what I saw were mildly swollen index, middle, and ring fingers. I told her she should be careful, since there was a sign of arthritis development. She stared at me with big eyes and said: "You don't member me, Dr. Yang" and she refreshed my memory of the first meeting. I could not believe it took only three months for her to have this significant progress. She told me she had stopped taking painkillers for nearly a month already.

Whenever there was an episode of pain, she simply moved the area for a few minutes and the pain alleviated. From this experience, I had seen how she had conquered herself in making these activities part of her lifestyle. I also believe that she had grasped the key to healing herself through simple qigong exercises.

Many people think qigong practice is hard and mysterious. In some ways, it is. However, in some other ways, it is simple and effective. Actually, the most difficult task is regulating yourself into practicing as part of your lifestyle. Remember, the most powerful way to maintain health and curing problems is to bring some proper daily exercises and diet into your life. Our physical body is evolved through use and movement. We must keep moving and exercising it. If we ignore this fact, we will degenerate rapidly and become sick easily.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is specifically an inflammation of the joints. The symptoms or characteristics of arthritis are pain, swelling, redness, heat, stiffness, and deformity in one or more joints. Arthritis may appear suddenly or gradually, and it may feel different to different people. Some patients 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. If we look more closely at these signs we can detect certain characteristic physiological changes. These changes include dilation of the blood vessels in the affected area and an increase of blood flow at the site of inflammation. In addition, there is increased permeability in these vessels, as white blood cells, that fight infection, infiltrate the diseased tissue. Finally, fluid from the blood can also leak into the tissue and generate edema or swelling. For these reasons, arthritis may affect not only the joints, but also other connective tissues of the body. These tissues include several supporting structures such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and the protective coverings of some internal organs.