-- from article dated June 19, 2007, Natural Triad Magazine
Arthritis -- the Way Out
Osteoarthritis is called a disease, but it is not, at least not in the sense that most of us think of the term “disease:” It does not begin with the invasion of some germ or virus, nor does a joint suddenly decide, “OK, I’m bored functioning here as I was designed to – I think I’ll revolt by inflaming, maybe cause a little pain and suffering…”
If you hunt around in medical dictionaries, you’ll find, buried within thousands and thousands of words on the subject, some simple facts: a) it is a breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage in joints (meeting of two or more bones); b)it has no known cause, but is associated with (blamed on) aging. Cartilage, by the way, is a very tough protein-based substance that has many jobs in the body, but in this case is the lining that covers bone ends that oppose each other in the joint. Hold that thought about “no known cause” for awhile. What if the practical cause, the kind and level of cause that you personally can do something about eliminating – perhaps with a little help – is absurdly simple?
This article explores that cause, and what can be done about it. So that we’re all on the same page, hold your arms out in front of you, make a fist of each hand, point the fists towards one another and hold them an inch apart. Imagine there’s a layer of white, tough, rubbery stuff (cartilage) covering your fists where they’re coming close to each other, and imagine the area from your wrists to your fingers, including the white stuff, is surrounded by fluid – a kind of thick hydraulic fluid like’s in your car’s brake lines. Move your arms vertically, one up and one down a couple of times, and you’ve illustrated what a joint structure is, and a how it operates. That fluid, by the way, is synovial fluid, so called because it fills a synovial joint, one of several types of joints in the body. It provides both lubrication and a form of hydraulic insulation.
In the joint you just created, imagine there are muscles crossing from one arm to the other, across your fists, just as in the elbow joints in your arms, muscles, which generally connect to bones by metamorphosing into tendons, cross from upper arm to forearm.
This is the activation system of the joint. In the real joint, remember that there are opposing muscle sets on the opposite side of each arm – biceps and triceps in the upper arm, for example. Then, beyond each joint, except in the case of fingers and toes, are other muscle sets, crossing and activating other joints.
In addition, joints are held together by small, extremely tough fibrous material called ligaments, attached to strategic parts of a joint in a very web-like manner. All of these elements, when they are in proper condition, function to hold the elements of the joint in correct relationship to one-another, the practical meaning of which is that the bones are maintained a discrete distance apart. It is only when the bones lose that distance between each other that osteoarthritis can begin.
What happens is that the muscles and ligaments quit doing their job as designed, the bones touch, and the cartilage surface of one grinds on the cartilage surface of the other. When this occurs often enough, or continuously enough, even that tough cartilage abrades, which causes the body to set up an alarm system we call inflammation, which is a cry from the bones: “Separate us, separate us!” This, then, is the “unknown” practical cause – the soft tissue – muscles, tendons and ligaments -- stop doing their jobs and the joint collapses on itself.
It would seem that, when this occurs, we’d go about re-invigorating the dynamic balance system to return those joints to their design pattern, but generally, as a culture, we don’t do that. Instead, we medicate the symptoms, masking out the pain where we can, but doing nothing about the cause. We are supplied anti-inflammatory drugs – “kill the messenger, but don’t attack the problem.”
Partially, this is because allopathic medicine doesn’t really know how to facilitate this. Osteopaths used to, I’m told. Some chiropractors may have the ability today. Bowen Therapy has that capability. Also, most of us who’ve grown up in this culture expect to be “fixed” by introducing a substance from outside of us, rather than changing something ourselves by our own concerted will and actions. We just don’t feel we have the time, or the energy, to do the work.
Nonetheless, with a little bit of help from a skillful practitioner, committed, informed nutritional intake, good “psycho-social” skills (yes, there’s solid scientific research on this), and steady practice of exercise and body-retraining techniques such as yoga, the soft tissue can be re-educated to do its job, the cause of the inflammation eliminated, so that the inflammation disappears. The joint returns to its original pattern and pain is resolved.
Can I say unequivocally that the joint is fully restored? No, because I don’t have the X-rays, etc. to really verify. What I can say is, that the pain goes away, the function returns, and the former sufferer goes on happily with life. I’ve facilitated that as a practitioner, and I’ve done it myself, on my own body, recently. And, just in case you’re wondering whether my young age is what did it for me, I’m 70.