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fibromyalgia/arthritis/chronic fatigue syndrome
and chinese medicine

By Ban B. Wong, L.Ac Dipl. Ac and Hb, Ph.D.

September 26, 2002--Her name is Mary, a 64-year-old parent of two sons and three daughters and grandparent of 12 grandchildren. I found out about her chronic conditions in her speech at a Toastmaster's meeting. It was one of those speeches that really brought forth great sympathy from the audience. First, Mary says, "Some days, I feel like I weighed a ton, and I can't even get out of bed. The worst part is that I have these chronic pains in the back of my shoulders and forearms. Sometimes, my muscles just aches and I can not sleep." Mary considers these chronic pains the worst because Mary has had her share of ailments. After a back surgery 5 years ago in which the surgeon put a titanium plate in her back, the back soreness still revisits her when the weather gets cold. Only last year, she had a lump removed from her left breast because her sister died from breast cancer two years ago. "At first, one doctor thought that I have arthritis, but the pains were in my joints and muscles. Another thought it was due to my anxiety. Then, an internist suspected Chronic Fatigue Syndrome because I have many similar symptoms which were very confusing, " Mary explains. Mary finally learned that she is one of the 3.7 million Americans with the condition called fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, the cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown. Mary has tried different treatments like anti-depressants and painkillers before going through exercise programs. Yet Mary says, "I am better one day and so bad another that I can't even get out of bed." After the speech, I told Mary that Chinese Medicine could help her conditions. She was skeptical.

Days later, Mary came to my clinic full of curiosity. "I have been told by my western doctor that acupuncture can help my symptoms. But massage or even touching makes me feel painful sometimes." Mary quickly remarks. I told her in Chinese medical terminology, her conditions are categorized as "Bi" syndromes. "Bi" means obstruction illness. "Can you tell me what it is in simple words? I have never tried this before." Mary asserts. I did not want to confuse her. Then, I briefly told her that according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), fibromyalgia, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome are diagnosed as blockages in the smooth flow of Qi (life energy) and Blood throughout the energetic pathways in the body. Fibromyalgia results from Qi and Blood obstruction in the muscles and arthritis results from Qi and Blood stagnation in the joints. Ancient Chinese masters believe the cause of Bi syndromes is both internal and environmental. Stress, genetic predisposition, poor diet, overwork, or insufficient exercise can often obstruct and weaken the normal flow of Qi and Blood in the body which can lead to conditions as Bi (Obstruction) syndromes. Long-term Bi syndrome can lead to the formation of Blood stasis and the deformation of bones and joints. Still confused Mary says, "Okay, that's a bit much for me. Can Chinese medicine really help me?" I have many patients like Mary that ask me this question. To help them understand a little about what Chinese healers have used for over 2500 years and how this effective ancient approach work will take some time. I assured her that everyone's body is unique. Chinese medicine takes into account the complex and individual nature of the syndrome in each patient. "I don't like needles, but I will give it a try," Mary says. I reassured her that acupuncture is best for treating the pain syndromes that accompany fibromyalgia and arthritis by promoting the flow of Qi and Blood. Fibromyalgia and arthritis patients often use acupuncture as a means of pain control, once or twice a week, which can be an effective complementary treatment.

Mary first tried acupuncture treatment. "I thought this would really hurt, but I am surprised that it doesn't. Maybe I have chronic pain for so long. This is no biggy." Mary is one of the most talkative patients I have during treatments. After a few treatments, Mary found some pain relief. She regained more mobility. "I am feeling better after the acupuncture treatments, but pain seems to come back days after treatemnts." I reminded her that she has a chronic condition and snow mountains do not melt away in a day of sunlight. Herbal treatment and Tai Chi in combination with acupuncture are better for chronic pains. "What do the herbs do for me?" Mary questions. "Do I have to brew the herbs?" I explained as follows: Individualized herbal formulas use specific herbs to expel the pathogenic factors that cause the pain and discomfort of fibromyalgia and arthritis. Herbal medicine tonifies the inner Qi and Blood to help the body fight off pathogenic factors and balance the yin and yang in the body. Herbs can help stop the pain that is responsible for Bi syndromes. Herbs can treat factors such as Phlegm and Blood Stasis as well.

Mary took the herbs for a few weeks. "I am feeling much better. It doesn't ache as much as it used to. I can sleep much better at night. But I am still tired during the day." Mary gaily shares her successes. "How long do I have to be on this kind of treatment?" I told her in order to maintain her wellness and prevent painful episodes; she needs to take up Tai Chi. "Some of my friends have told me about doing Tai Chi. They said it's like yoga in slow motion. But my muscle aches when I exercise. What is it all about?" Mary asks. I briefly described Tai Chi as meditation through movements. Through slow, circular physical movement and stretching, Tai Chi helps to relieve pain, to eliminate obstruction in channels, to correct imbalances in the body, and to increase the flow of Qi and Blood. The gentle circular movements can relieve stiffness by reducing blood stasis in the muscle and joints. Tai Chi can also strengthen leg muscles that help support and protect your joints. We began Tai Chi lessons twice a week around 9 am in the morning.

Now Mary practices Tai Chi every morning. "Tai Chi really helps my mind focus better. I feel very peaceful emotionally and physically. I may be in my 60's, but I feel like I am in my 40's, " Mary comments after months of training. Of course, not all of my patients that have chronic conditions are as proactive and persistent as Mary. When they don't take good of their health, recurrence of symptoms is usually the case. However, Chinese Medicine does help many of my patients with fibromyalgia and arthritis find relief from chronic pain and aches. They are able to carry on with life duties that were hindered by their fibromyalgia and arthritis before the treatment.

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