To some extent it is true that joints do gradually wear out over time. But sometimes just a couple of sessions of acupuncture treatment, and perhaps a little cupping, and the pain abates, maybe considerably. So how can that be if the joint really is worn out? If it really is arthritis, how come the pain has gone? Surely the joint can’t have just been repaired so quickly? There are a number of possible explanations, one of which is as follows:
When we examine around the area of the joint in question, we often find what we call ‘ah-shi points’. ‘Ah-shi’ is Chinese for something like, ‘ouch, yes!’, what the patient may say when we press the point and illicit what for them might be the typical pain they feel around the joint. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, ah-shi points are places where the local flow of Qi is blocked. To some extent at least, ah-shi points correspond to the western notion of the (active) myofascial trigger point. This is a point on a particularly taut band of muscle fibre which, when activated, triggers what the patient recognises as their typical pain. This might be in the region of the trigger point itself, but not necessarily; sometimes the pain is referred to another region, so that trigger points in some of the quadriceps muscles of the thigh, for instance, may cause pain that is felt in the knee. Trigger points in muscles may develop secondarily to joint dysfunction - if a joint is not working so well, it is not surprising that this affects some of the muscles which work the joint. So for example if the knee joint is arthritic, the quadriceps may develop trigger points.
Often in my experience it is these trigger points which are causing most of the pain, not the joint itself.; much of the pain is actually muscular in origin. But whereas arthritic joints cannot easily be repaired (or replaced) trigger points can be released, sometimes quite easily with acupuncture and other treatments such as cupping therapy. Hence the pain, which the patient thought was going to be a lifelong companion, can be eased or even dispersed altogether. Of course if the muscle is tight because of a problem with the joint, it may tighten up again and redevelop trigger points, but an occasional treatment may still be enough to keep it good. Also some gentle exercises or stretches may help, as well a topical herbal application and some sensible precautions, with regard to the weather for instance.
So the moral of this story is, don’t be too hasty in settling for the label ‘arthritis’. A lot of pain is at least partly muscular, and muscles can respond to treatment.