Acupuncture for Gout
Gout, or gouty arthritis, is a painful inflammatory condition of one or more joints, usually the big toe but possibly other joints in the body. It usually comes in sudden attacks lasting from three to ten days; there will be severe pain, swelling and red shiny skin over the affected joint. It can make walking difficult and the pain can be exacerbated by even gentle contact with, for example, bed clothes. It is caused by the build up of uric acid in the blood stream, and for this reason is more common in men who have higher levels of uric acid.
Certain kinds of food and drink, including beer and spirits, can lead to raised levels of uric acid and so precipitate gout, as can various prescription drugs. Some medical conditions such as psoriasis, diabetes, high blood pressure, vascular disease and hyperlipidaemia (high fat and cholesterol levels in the blood) also increase the risk of gout, as does obesity.
Gout and TCM
Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture have been used to treat gout for centuries. Gout is a form of what TCM calls ‘Painful Obstruction Syndrome’; something is blocking the natural flow of Qi through the affected joint. Treatment therefore aims to stimulate the Qi to flow more freely through the joint, and to remove whatever is causing the obstruction. This obstruction is usually an external form of Qi that has lodged in the joint, and in the case of gout this is usually a hot pathogen, possibly also complicated by the build up of ‘dampness’ – body fluids which are not being metabolised properly. Acupuncture in the vicinity of the affected area can stimulate the flow of Qi through the joint and expel the blocking pathogen, and other acupuncture points on the body can help to clear the heat and, if necessary, expel the dampness. Often a cooling topical herbal application applied to the area will speed up the healing process.
In TCM it is important not only to treat the immediate symptoms of gout, but also to look at the individual in their entirety and thus to be able to understand why they are susceptible to gout in the first place. Treatment can thus be aimed not only at curing the current attack, but preventing future attacks. How this is done will vary from person to person; treatment needs to be individualised to fit the needs of the patient. It may, to take one possible example, be the case that the person’s Qi is not as free-flowing as it could be; this is often a consequence of a busy stressful life, in which some emotions are not able to find proper expression, leading to a build up of frustration and manifesting as a generalised ‘uptightness’. If the Qi does not circulate freely, the extremities, in particular, are often affected, leading to their being susceptible to the kind of obstruction described above. Acupuncture treatment and perhaps some Chi Kung exercises can help to restore the free flow of the Qi and thus help prevent future attacks.
Is Acupuncture helpful in treating Gout?
The World Health Organisation1 lists gouty arthritis as one of the conditions for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown. For example, a study of 60 patients2 suffering from gout showed that acupuncture was significantly more effective than conventional western pharmaceutical treatment, both in terms of reducing pain and reducing levels of serum uric acid.
1 WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials
2 Xie X et al ((2009) Observation on Therapeutic Effect of Surrounded Needling Therapy on Acute Gouty Arthritis Department of Acupuncture, Affiliated Hospital of Jiangxi High Training School of TCM, Fuzou 344000