Many of the patients coming to Homeopathic treatment have problems with their joints. These problems can vary from a simple joint sprain to severe deformity due to rheumatoid arthritis. One of the most frequent worries of patients with joint pains is that they are getting arthritis. Arthritis is an inflammation of the joint, but there are many different forms of arthritis, and each has a different clinical course and prognosis.
OSTEOARTHRITIS (OA) OA is the most common form of arthritis. It is caused by the degeneration of the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones, where they “articulate” with other bones. Most elderly people suffer from OA, particularly if they are overweight. OA in the hip also occurs in athletes, especially gymnasts and dancers, who have over-stretched the joint. OA of the shoulders is a particular problem, as it is not so amenable to surgery, it is difficult to treat. It is very painful and so can cause big problems for those who have to do a lot of heavy lifting. The joints affected by OA become stiff and painful, often creaking or grinding when being moved. There may be some swelling, but the joint is not usually hot or inflamed.
RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS (RA) RA is a condition that definitely runs in families, and does have a progressive course, sufferers sometimes ending up with crippling disease of many joints. The onset of RA is sometimes very acute, accompanied by an acute febrile illness, involving redness and swelling of one or more joints. More frequently the onset is insidious, presenting with pain in the small joints of the fingers or toes. These joints swell and become deformed. This is the form of arthritis that everyone dreads, but fortunately there are now more effective early drug interventions that can prevent the crippling deformities. They can, however, cause major side-effects. The use of homeopathy can reduce the need for such drugs, or at least reduce the dosage needed.
GOUT Gout is caused by an excess of uric acid in the blood, which deposits itself in the joints. The uric acid crystals set up inflammatory reactions in the joints, causing extreme pain, tenderness, swelling, redness and heat. It usually affects the big toe, but can affect other joints.
HOMEOPATHIC TREATMENT Although it is absolutely necessary to make an accurate diagnosis of the type of arthritis for the general management of the patient, from a homeopathic point of view it is the symptoms that are important.
So, if a patient is suffering from joint pains, worse on waking in the morning with great stiffness; better on limbering up after a while; better for a hot bath or shower, generally better in the hot dry weather, and worse in the cold and damp; worse on over-activity, but stiffens quickly on resting – that patient will require Rhus toxicodendron whatever the pathology, especially if the patient is restless, and unable to stay in bed because of the pain. Ruta graveolens has identical modalities to Rhus toxicodendron, but has more a predilection to tendons and ligaments, rather than joints. However it can be useful for arthritis, particularly of the knees, where Rhus toxocodendron has been seemingly well indicated but has failed to act.
If, however, the sufferer prefers the cold weather, and the joints are so painful that they dare not move them, even splinting them to keep them still, they will require Bryonia. The symptoms of gout are often characterised by an exquisite sensitivity to touch, such that the patient cannot bear even the bedclothes on the affected limb. The joint is red, hot, shiny and swollen, and the pain is agony stinging in nature and much worse for the heat. This fits the remedy, Apis mellifica, but the modalities were identical with the exception of being worse for cold, Colchicum would be the remedy. Belladonna is appropriate when the onset is extremely sudden, the pain is throbbing or bursting in character, and the patient cannot bear being jarred in the slightest.
Rhododendron is suitable for those people who are “human barometers”. They are very sensitive to the approach of a storm, and will be able to tell from their joints that the weather is going to change. In particular they are worse from a change to cold, damp weather. Their joint pains tend to improve immediately on moving, and are better from warmth. They tend to shift about.
Ledum is good for chilly people, but who prefer cold applications on their painful joints. Their pains often start in the small joints of the feet, and then move upwards.
With Phytolacca, the pains are described as like electric shocks, shooting along the limbs. A strange symptom is that one foot is usually colder than the other.
Dulcamara is for a person who is extremely sensitive to the damp. It is said that even watercress makes their joints ache! They are better for walking, and are restless, with shooting, tearing pains, particularly or their hips.
Kalmia latifolia is very good for shoulders, when there are shooting, tearing pains, worse for movement, and worse at night. The odd characteristic of this remedy is that the pains move from central to the periphery, and from the upper to the lower part of the body, whereas Lac caninum has pains that move from side to side, and is particularly good for hips.
Guaiacum is a lesser-known medicine, but should not be forgotten for pain in the thumb joints, improved by cold applications.
Here, we have concentrated on the joint symptoms in guiding us to the right medicine, and this is called local prescribing. However, there are other approaches which can give more deep-seated results. It is important when prescribing homeopathically for any condition to consider the aetiology. Another approach is the constitutional approach, whereby the whole of the patient’s make-up is taken into consideration.
THE FUTURE More and more powerful drugs are being developed by pharmaceutical companies to modify the progress of arthritic disease, but rheumatologists constantly have to juggle the dangers of the disease with the dangers of the drugs used to treat it. Homeopathic doctors are lucky – our medicines are gentle, have no side-effects, and treat the whole person. Our homeopathic hospitals see a high proportion of musculo-skeletal problems, and a recent audit from the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital showed a 70% rate of improvement. We have a valuable complementary form of medicine that can certainly help to arrest the disease, or at least modify it so that lower doses or less powerful drugs can be used to treat it.
Abstract from the Article "Joint Pains" published in "Health and Homeopathy Magazine" (internet link is no longer available)