Today we discuss joint pain from the perspective of Thai medicine. First off, I’m going to be using some element language, so if you’d like to brush up on your understanding of the elements, you can go here. I may use Thai or Pali words when describing medical terms but will define as needed.
Joint pain can affect anyone, but it does tend to be a common experience among more chronologically gifted folks. As we age, our bodies become more windy, or rather “Lom” becomes a more dominant force. We become drier, lighter, more brittle. This can affect the joints as a lack of the water element, specifically the Lasīkā in Pali (synovial fluid in English). When there is dryness in the joints, but movement still occurs you get friction which causes inflammation, or fire agitation, and all this results in discomfort and potentially debilitating pain.
What’s to be done about it? Live with it? Get injections every few months? Take lots of NSAIDS? Maybe. Another option is traditional Thai therapies.
First off, no one therapy works 100% of the time for 100% of people who try it. It’s just not a reality. This is true regardless of whether you’re working with something modern, ancient, Thai, Chinese, Ayurvedic, Biomedical, etc. So if we’re looking for that guaranteed 100% result, we will ultimately be disappointed somewhere down the line. However there are many more therapies out there than most people realize. And it’s good to try something different if what you’re doing doesn’t work or has deal breaking side effects. I usually prefer to start with noninvasive strategies before heading to things like medications and surgery— HOWEVER —that doesn’t mean I’m morally opposed to surgery or modern pharmaceuticals. I am morally opposed when they are consistently given as the first and only option. Everything has its place and we would all do well to learn more about the options available in health care, both the mainstream options as well as lesser known avenues. But that’s a different and big subject for a different day. For now, here are some ways that Thai medicine has been successful at alleviating joint pain.
First, we have motion :
There is a system of self care called Reusi Dat Ton. It is basically a “cousin” of Indian yoga. They have some common root influences but they evolved in different places into separate systems. Same same but different. Reusi Dat Ton (RDT) has joint exercises, often simple ones, that can be used daily to reduce dryness and encourage circulation in the joints to improve health all over the body. It has been used to prevent as well as lessen symptoms of depleted lasīkā. It’s not complicated, but there are some picky details that enhance the benefits, especially if the exercise is done daily. This is something I teach people during a session when needed. There are also exercises for working with specific areas of the body to reduce stress on affected joints, increase range of motion and improve circulation.
Next, we have herbs:
Herbal remedies are crucial to Thai medical bodywork. In the case of joint pain, there are formulas for compresses and liniments that can be made to target the specific issue. These formulas contain special herbs known for their strong affinity for joint health, improving circulation and decreasing pain. If used regularly, they could bring significant relief.
And always, we have manual therapies or bodywork.
It can be greatly soothing to massage the areas around joints, give some traction, stretch the muscles and fascia and generally improve mobility. There may be adhesions, even far from a painful joint. Sometimes cupping or scraping the area can bring relief as well. Alternatively, maybe the issue isn’t lack of lasīkā, but instead a structural issue. Maybe the posture is imbalanced in such a way that one or more joints are stressed in order to maintain function. Thai bodywork has many helpful approaches to structural realignment including targeted stretches, deep tissue digging and cupping to name just a few. Sometimes realignment therapies might feel quite comfortable and sometimes they can become intense. As a reminder, you are always in charge of your own body and straight up pain does not tend to be helpful. Intensity, if the receiver feels benefit, is no problem for me. There is a difference.
Using these Thai therapies has helped people with diagnoses of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, joint pain due to postural misalignment and more. Sometimes people have pain due to ligament or tendon tears— Thai therapies can help and there will be a forthcoming article on injuries.
Anecdotally, I had someone come to me with severe enough RA that she avoided even short walks on flat surfaces because the pain would surge afterward and last for sometimes days. After each session she would report her pain levels drastically lowered, her mobility increased and her mood improved. This often lasted days if not longer, especially after working together consistently over time. This is the thing, though. Most of these benefits require consistent efforts on the part of the person wishing to avoid or reduce pain. It’s a matter of homework, which isn’t always a popular option.
My advice is to consider your short and long term outcomes. The Thai therapies explained here are meant to be used consistently over time and be supportive to your body’s natural processes. NSAIDS and cortisone injections are short term options with widely known detrimental effects. I've known many people to get cortisone injections that did little to nothing for them but it was the only option covered by their insurance. This, I think, is the result of narrow thinking. Everything has its place, and also everything comes with its own particular price. Surgery is sometimes a great long term option, but it is invasive. And sometimes the term is not that long. I’ve had many people in my office telling me about the surgery they’re having to correct scar tissue from a previous surgery, like a painful revolving door. I understand that there are much less invasive surgeries for many diagnoses these days, but facts remain: (1) cutting into a person is still cutting into a person, even if it's laparoscopic, and there will be scar tissue. And (2) joint replacements are a big deal. And they don’t last forever. For the record, I’ve known people who sing the praises of their joint replacements and wonder why they didn’t do it earlier. Fantastic! No problem. Still, I think that whenever it’s available, it can be nice to take care of the body's natural functions until it truly becomes worth the more invasive interventions.
So, the next time you wince trying to get up from a chair or avoid going for a walk because of the hefty punishment you’ll get afterward, I offer you an option to consider and a lifestyle you could cultivate for yourself. It may save you a world of pain.