Blog - Rheumatoid Arthritis; A Case History

By The Haven Team: 14 Jan 2014

Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease. That means there is no known cure and treatments are used to slow its progress, prevent disability and alleviate pain.

R.A is an Auto-immune disorder and as such is very sensitive to stress. Stress can have a negative impact on circulation, triggering infections which produce pain and discomfort. This leads to further acceleration of the disease.

The good news is that there is plenty of treatment available to alleviate symptoms and often give times of complete remission when the disease is not active.

Treatments are geared towards stress relief and detoxification of the tissues whilst promoting circulation; encouraging blood and lymph flow, lowering blood pressure and inducing relaxation.

How Complementary Therapy can Help

Massage with lymph drainage, Physiotherapy and Shiatsu are obvious choices as they do this whilst manipulating the tissues to detox and mobilising the joints. Acupuncture and herbal medicine also in promoting circulation and detoxification will have a similar effect. All of these therapies deal well with stress release, inducing deep relaxation.

By eliminating the toxic residue around the joints, promoting circulation and relieving stress; aches and pains are relieved, degeneration of the joints is avoided and mobility is restored.

A Shiatsu Case Study

7 treatments over 5 months.

Presenting Symptoms

Ms S suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis. It had originally started 5 years previously during her marriage break-up. It was currently not at its most acute, but her symptoms included stiffness and discomfort in all her joints which restricted her movement — this was worse from her hips down, she had a constant nagging ache in her knees, her left side was worse than her right and she walked very stiffly.

Her hands also could be badly affected, and her fingers frequently ‘locked’. Acute phases were triggered by emotional/physical stress. The symptoms were always worse just prior to and during menstruation. She had two large non-painful ganglia on the backs of her wrists. She took anti-inflammatories, particularly when her symptoms were acute.

Ms S looked pale, with a ‘greyness’ about her and she had pronounced dark rings around her eyes. She had a bent, hunched posture that ‘protected’ her chest area; her right shoulder was higher than her left. She had particularly weak legs. Her energy was low, especially in the mornings. She also suffered frequent mouth ulcers. Her menstruation was irregular, she experienced PMT when she was very irritable, and she had painful cramps at onset of her period.

Personal Situation

Ms S was a divorced Moslem single-mother, aged 32. She and her daughter (5) lived with her parents. Her ex-husband had recently contacted her demanding access to their daughter — the first time in 5 years — and this worried her. She was studying for final university exams. She was worried about the future, family, and her performance — never felt she was good enough. She easily became emotional and panicky under pressure. She used to plan rigidly, but for the last 5 years has worked day-to-day, deliberately not planning.

Treatment Aims

To increase Ms S’s mobility and reduce her discomfort. Her energy flow needed improving to open her shoulders and chest and deepen her breathing, and to increase her overall energy levels. In Traditional Chinese Medical Terms both her Kidney and Spleen energy needed strengthening and her energy flow smoothed to help both her arthritis and her PMT.


All treatments incorporated joint mobilisation work and Kidney warming. I worked acupoints to help her leg strength, her joints, and strengthen her Spleen and Kidney energies. I also recommended acupoints for her to stimulate herself, which she did twice a day.

The first few treatments caused an increase in her stiffness immediately after the treatment, as her body wasn’t used to being mobilised ... but after a couple of days this stiffness lessened and her symptoms were improved. By the 2nd treatment she already reported a big difference in her leg strength, as she had been working the points I recommended daily. Her knee pain had lessened and her mobility in the morning was better. At the third treatment she again reported improved movement and less pain. Her ganglia had also reduced in size and she had more energy.

After the next couple of treatments her energy was much better and her stiffness much improved. Her knee pain had gone completely and her hands were much better — the joints just sticking slightly, but no pain. Her daughter had to be rushed to hospital and she had a family funeral the previous week, and she would have expected this to have triggered a worsening in her arthritis, but it didn’t ... she felt surprisingly calm and ‘in control’. Her ganglia decreased by 50% in size.

By the 7th treatment I noted that her mobility had improved a lot. The 3rd finger on her right hand was still locking, but there was no pain. Her hip mobility was pretty much what you’d expect in a healthy person’s and she was looking calm and well.

Ms S kept diary of her condition and attitudes during the 6 months of treatment. Her findings were:

  • Mobility much improved, stiffness nearly gone, no longer problem in mornings;
  • legs much stronger; walking easier;
  • Period now regular; PMT less irritable; doesn’t exacerbate arthritis; flow lessened from 7-5 days.
  • Emotional crises have stopped exacerbating arthritis;
  • feels calmer; mentally stronger; able to deal with crises, and ex-husband’s access demands;
  • More positive about self-worth; feels able to stop worrying about future — looks ahead positively;
  • For last month she had taken no medication;
  • She had had no mouth ulcers in the last 4 months.

Several factors helped Ms S’s condition: finishing her university degree (achievement); acceptance for teacher training (future/self-worth); support of family. Shiatsu gave support and helped to balance her energy, which allowed her to take control of own health and mental attitudes. She worked very hard using acupoints and monitoring their progress and effect. She was keen to continue treatment as she felt it was having a positive effect.

I continued to treat her on a regular basis — mainly monthly, but with a few gaps — until I moved away from the area in December 2001. During that time she had no acute phases of arthritis. She did have a few ‘blips’ where some of her symptoms worsened slightly, always around times of stress: for instance when she went to teacher training college, she experienced some increase in the size of her ganglia and some increased stiffness, especially in her knees, but this was short-lived. She found her school placements extremely draining of her energy, but didn’t notice significant deterioration in her arthritis. She really learned to breathe and open up and enjoy the shiatsu treatments.

The emphasis of the treatments changed to emotional support and stress relief. In late 2000 she got a job which she enjoyed though found stressful, and in 2001 bought a place of her own for her and her daughter, which was a huge decision for her. She also started to think about ‘boyfriends’, which was a side of her life she had not thought about since her marriage broke down. Ms S changed a great deal in the time I knew her: she really blossomed and became much more positive about herself and her future, and her arthritis no longer dominated her life.