Joint disorders affect millions of patients worldwide. 80% of individuals over 50 years of age reportedly have joint concerns of one type or another. Reasons range from obesity to heredity. Improper use of the joints, overexertion, stress, diet and lifestyle contribute to the problem.
The Ayurvedic Perspective
Ayurveda identifies two major types of joint problems. The first type is associated with poorly nourished joints or low bone density and overall weakness in the joints. This kind of problem starts with some discomfort, a cracking sound, and if not taken care of, results in eventual immobilization of the joints. Because the bone is not getting the nourishment it needs, it starts to degenerate. The second kind is associated with a toxic overload in the joints, and is the result of too many toxins in the body. As ama (the sticky, toxic waste-product of incomplete digestion) accumulates in the joint, it first creates stiffness and heaviness. If it stays there for a long time, the joint can become swollen and painful. Damp, cold weather can aggravate this type of joint problem.
Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissues comprise a heterogenous group of disorders in which musculoskeletal pain and stiffness are prominent. Rheumatic diseases affect people of alll ages and ehtnic groups. Their frequency increases with age; as many as 40 % of people over the age of 65 years in United Kingdom have had some kind of rheumatic disorder and 20 million people experience a rheumatic complaint each year. The cost to United States economy attributed to musculoskeletal disorders is more than 20 billion dollars per annum.
Connective tissue as their name implies, provide the structural framework for the body and all its organs. Connective tissues are composed of cells of mesenchymal origin that synthesize and secrete an extra cellular matrix consisting of variable amounts of collagens, proteoglycans and elastin as well as glycoproteins such as laminin and fibronectin. Fibronectin, laminin, collagen and some other glycoproteins act as ligands for transmembrane adhesion proteins called integrins, that regulate cell-matrix interactions by linking the extra cellular matrix proteins with the cytoskeleton. Early in embryonic development connective tissues differentiate to form the specialised tissues required for musculoskeletal functions, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bone.
Bones are joined to each other at joints. These may be fibrous, as in the symphysis pubis; cartilaginous, as in costochondral joints and intervertebral discs; or synovial, as in the more complex joints of the limbs where greater movement is required.
Vata-Related Joint Problem
When Vyana Vata, which is the aspect of Vata that governs the circulation and nerve impulses, is aggravated, the first type of joint problem can occur. The person's circulation, metabolism, and ability to absorb food are weakened; as a result, the bone tissue does not receive enough nourishment and eventually starts to degenerate. The imbalance in Vyana Vata and the weakened circulation, metabolism and absorption create a drying effect on Shleshaka Kapha, the subdosha of Kapha that governs lubrication of the joints. When this happens, the joints are not lubricated properly and this creates the discomfort, cracking sound, and diminished flexibility.
Foods and Lifestyle Habits to Pacify Vata
Include all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent) in your diet. Favor the sweet, sour, and salty tastes, as these help pacify Vata dosha, and eat less of the bitter, astringent and pungent foods. Other healthy foods to include in the Vata pacifying diet are grains such as quinoa, rye and amaranth, cooked in water to which a little Ghee has been added; freshly cooked organic vegetables; split mung dhal soup; and sweet, organic, juicy fruits. It's important to eat a diet rich in calcium, including high-quality organic milk and vegetables such as spinach, kale, asparagus, and root vegetables cooked with Vata Churna.
Follow a Vata-pacifying daily routine. Go to bed before ten o'clock at night, and rise before six a.m. Avoid too much stimulating activity at night, such as watching television right before bed. Eat your main meal at noon, and eat a light, nourishing dinner early in the evening. Engage in some mild exercise such as walking for half an hour a day. Practice Transcendental Meditation® on a regular basis to dissolve stress and calm your mind. All of these things together will soothe Vata dosha and prevent and correct Vata-based joint problems. A daily ayurvedicOil massage is recommended to prevent these kinds of joint problems, because it helps settle Vata dosha.
Herbs that Heal
The herbal formula for this type of joint problem has a special name in ayurveda, called santarpana, which means nurturing. Based on this nurturing theory of santarpana, Asmi Ayurveda Consultancy & Herbals has developed a precise combination of nourishing herbs that provides nourishment to bones and joints and supports the bone tissue and Shleshaka Kapha.
This program is most effective in restoring balance to the joints when there is a small amount of malnutrition of the bone and drying of Shleshaka Kapha. If the problem is more severe than that, it is important to consult a physician.
Ama-Related Joint Problem
This second type of joint problem is really a problem of ama (digestive toxins) in the joints, and is characterized by a heavy, stiff feeling. Sometimes a bout of cold, humid weather can trigger these symptoms. That is the first stage. If nothing is done to dissolve the ama and it sits in the joints for a long time, eventually the ama converts to amavisha, an even more toxic form of ama that is more irritating and reactive in nature. Amavisha causes the joint to become inflamed, swollen, and painful. In this kind of environment, ama also mixes with the natural lubricating fluids in the joint governed by Shleshaka Kapha, forming an extremely sticky, toxic substance known as Shleshma. Shleshma restricts mobility and disturbs circulation in the joint. If the ama, amavisha and Shleshma stay in the joints unattended to for a long time, eventually the structure of the joints and the bone itself becomes damaged. Once these morphological changes happen to the joint and bone, it becomes extremely difficult to correct.
Foods and Lifestyle Habits to Reduce Ama
An ama -reducing diet is made up of warm, light, dryer foods that are easy to digest. Nourishing soups and warm, freshly cooked grains and vegetables prepared with Kapha Churna and spices to stimulate digestion are the mainstays of the ama -reducing diet. To keep your digestion working properly, avoid day sleep, and go to bed early so you can rise before 6:00 a.m. Exercise for half an hour every day, and choose atype of exercise that you enjoy. A brisk walk is ideal for most people, along with yogasana stretches, although if you have more Kapha dosha you may need more vigorous exercise to stay in balance. You'll feel lighter and more energetic just by making these simple changes in your routine.
A very effective way to purify the joint is to drink lots of ama pachana water (water infused with ama -reducing spices). To make the water, boil two quarts of water and put it in a thermos flask. Then add two to three thin slices of fresh ginger, 1/4 tsp. cumin, 1/4 tsp. fennel, 2 black peppercorns, and 2 leaves of mint. Let it steep. Drink this water throughout the day for a very purifying effect. It also helps to eat an apple cooked with prunes and figs each morning for breakfast. You can also cook your foods with an amapachana spice mixture. To prepare this, mix 2 parts turmeric, 6 parts cumin, one part ajowan, 2 parts fenugreek, 1 part black pepper, and 6 parts fennel. Kapha Churna is also a good spice mixture for reducing ama.