Updated: June 29, 2009: One of the challenges we have in this country, as well as in the rest of the world, is how to approach the health care goals of the growing wave of our aging population. We are living through special times. We can see a shift towards greater acceptance of new methods and treatments for various debilitating diseases such as arthritis. The wisdom and experience of the Eastern arts, especially Tai Chi and Chi Kung, have been tapped into and used by many individuals with this debilitating disease, but a scientific explanation is still years away.
In the last ten years, researchers in the field of arthritis have developed stronger remedies than ever before including anti-inflammatory drugs. This has led to treatment, which can be compared to a double edged sword: great benefits as well as bigger risks to other internal organs as well as mood. Prevention and cost are great motivators for drawing on Eastern philosophies, which try through mind-body techniques to prevent and deal with disease and its symptoms. Mind-body philosophies such as Tai Chi and Chi Kung deal with pain, inflammation, mood, and quality of life by engaging both mind and body in the healing process.
What is Arthritis?
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), the Arthritis Foundation and Medline Plus, arthritis is a condition or an illness that can lead to pain and swelling in the joints. The joint is where two bones meet. The bones are connected and held together with soft tissue called ligaments. We have three types of joints, which are categorized according to the amount of movement they allow—stiff and immovable, slightly movable, and freely movable. The pain, swelling, and stiffness develop over time. Sometimes it starts at the hands and the feet, for others at the knees and the hips. They get stiff and sore and then they are hard to move, especially when blood circulation is slow, like waking up or sitting in one posture for awhile.
Some types of arthritis can lead to problems in other organs like the eyes, mouth, lungs or the skin. The inflammation caused by arthritis can include pain or redness, which is a sign that something in your body is wrong. More women than men get Rheumatoid Arthritis which usually starts between the ages of 25 and 55. You may experience the symptoms of the disease all the time or sometimes. The more severe condition can last a lifetime.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is different than Osteoarthritis, which is more common in older age. Rheumatoid Arthritis is considered an autoimmune disease which means the arthritis is coming from your own immune system, attacking your body’s own tissues. Arthritis is more debilitating for some more than others. There are many things you can do to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain, but most important you need a good doctor, patience, and a positive attitude and knowledge of the mind body philosophies.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis
There are several kinds of arthritis. The two most common ones are Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis, also called RA, affects 1.3 million Americans. Rheumatoid Arthritis happens when the body’s own defense system does not work properly. It affects joints, bones, organs, and often the hands and feet. You may feel sick or tired and you may have a fever.
Other conditions can also cause arthritis, such as Gout (crystals build up in the joints, usually effecting the big toe), Lupus (when the body’s defense system harms joints, heart, skin, and other organs), and Viral Hepatitis (infection of the liver can cause arthritis).
What is Osteoarthritis? (Also known as Degenerative Joint disease, OA.)
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. This is the form that usually comes with age and most often affects the fingers, knees, and hips. Sometimes osteoarthritis follows an injury to a joint. For example, you might hurt your knee badly playing football. Then years after the knee has healed, you might get arthritis in this knee joint.
Osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage in your joints. Cartilage is the slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. Healthy cartilage absorbs the shock of movement. When you lose cartilage, your bones rub together. The rubbing may lead to pain, swelling, and loss of joints range of motion. Over time, this rubbing can permanently damage the joint’s normal shape, also bone spurs may grow on the edges of the joints. Small peaces of bones or cartilage can break off and float in the joint space which can causes more pain and damage. More than 27 million Americans live with Osteoarthritis. Factors that may cause Osteoarthritis include being overweight, getting older, and injuring a joint.
Therapies that manage osteoarthritis pain and improve function include exercise, weight control, rest, pain relief, alternative therapies, and surgery.
What is Knee Osteoarthritis?
Knee Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It can be found especially among older individuals. Excess weight and stress are major factors in worsening the condition of OA of the Knee. According to JAMA, the Journal of American Medical Association, nearly 21 million Americans age 25 and older have OA; more then 10 million, in America, have OA of the knee. Most individuals who have it are older then 45.
There may be a genetic tendency to develop Osteoarthritis. It occurs when the cartilage between the femur bone and the tibia wears down and the two bones touch or rub each other. This condition decreases the ability of the cartilage to work as a shock absorber to reduce the weight, impact, and stress on the knee joint. This leaves the two bones to grind against one another, which leads to pain, swelling, and a decreased range of motion in the knee joint. Unnatural formations of bone spurs builds up in the joints, which leads to more pain, swelling, and lose of range of motion and sometimes independency (which is a major cause of depression.) Most people with Osteoarthritis live active, productive lives despite this debilitating disease. They do so by using approaches such as exercise, weight control, rest and relief from stress on joints, pain relief techniques, medications, surgery, and complementary and alternative therapies.
Resources: JAMA the journal of the American Medical Association, Arthritis Foundation. The National Institute of Arthritis & Musculoskeletal & Skin Diseases (NIAMS, Medline Plus).
Chinese Approach to Arthritis
Chinese physicians diagnose illness by evaluating the invisible imbalance of Chi (life force) in the body, in addition to physical symptoms. Chinese medicine teaches that before physical illness occurs, Chi becomes unbalanced. If this Chi imbalance is not corrected, the physical body can be damaged and the physical symptoms of sickness will appear. “Correct” Tai Chi or Chi Kung exercises stimulate energy and increases its circulation, which removes stagnation and blockages and allows the body’s natural healing mechanism to operate in the best way possible.
Western Approach to Arthritis
The Arthritis Foundation published a guide —“101 Tips for Living Better with Arthritis” –recognizing that regular exercise reduces pain, fatigue, and depression, especially through the ancient art of Tai Chi (Tip No. 51). They advocate studies showing that people with arthritis can benefit from general aerobic conditioning (walking, biking, and swimming) (Tip No. 52) strength/endurance building exercises, and range-of-motion exercises (gentle movements to the limits of each joint’s motion to improve flexibility) (Tip No. 48). What could be better than supplementing those recommended physical exercises with methods of healing drawn from the ancient Eastern arts (Tai Chi and Chi Kung), which are not taken advantage of in any other arthritis-exercise program?
How does Tai Chi and Chi Kung work?
Tai Chi and Chi Kung integrate mental and physical exercises to achieve a more complete, in-depth solution to the problems facing sufferers of arthritis and knee Osteoarthritis. Gentle stretching and strengthening movements, exercises to increase the joints’ range-of motion, and cardiovascular work, in conjunction with mental exercises, massage and nurture the whole body, which according to Eastern philosophy is made up of five components, or building blocks—body, breathing, mind, energy, and spirit. Deep breathing and visualization exercises help evoke healing energy and spirituality to reduce inflammation and stress resulting in a whole-body approach to health.
These mind-body exercises for arthritis can be modified and performed on a chair until the practitioner is able to do them standing and moving slowly. In order to achieve the full benefits of Tai Chi and Chi Kung, the exercises must be performed on a mental, physical, and spiritual level; all three components of the self must be addressed.
Tai Chi and Chi Kung seeks:
- To teach Eastern energy theories & methods
(for example, acupuncture is also based on the same Eastern energetic system)
- To expand linear movement by rotating and pulsing muscles, tendons, and ligaments
- A balance between the strength and length of muscles
- Correct alignment of the bones (while still and in motion)
- To isolate trouble areas
- To achieve deep, long, soft breathing in order to saturate the body with oxygen
- To massage and improve the functioning and strength of internal organs
- To tap into the power of the mind and spirit and activate our internal healing mechanisms
Exercise is not just physical
Tai Chi and Chi Kung relies on the theory that physical exercise alone is not enough to solve the persistent pain and discomfort associated with arthritis. The power of the mind can affect a person’s outlook on life, and their ability to deal with pain and sickness.
(1) Tai Chi and Chi Kung recognizes the importance of confidence, faith and determination when dealing with illness, so that a thorough approach to healing arthritis must stem from a balanced program of mental and physical exercises. To see more information regarding eight years of research with arthritis go to my Web site www.ramelrones.com and look at the abstract,
(2) and publication of our research with: Arthritis, Osteoarthritis and Fibromyalgia.
(1) “Can The Mind Help Cure Disease?” Melissa Ludtke, Time Magazine, March 12, 1990.