By definition, according to the Oxford Dictionary, rheumatism is “inflammation and pain in joints, muscles or fibrous tissue.” Arthritis is “painful inflammation and stiffness of joints.” The key difference here is that, although both affect joints, rheumatism also affects muscles and fibrous tissue (arthritis only affects joints). Most of the time people do not distinguish between the types of pain or the causes-they call it all “arthritis.”
Is this important to know the difference? Yes.
Both arthritis and rheumatism can affect any joint in the body; however, the usual first places where arthritis is noticed is in joints that are used more often than others, such as the fingers, neck and knees. Rheumatism can affect any muscle and joint but is more often noticed in areas where there is frequent over-use (arms, upper back, hips, legs).
Causes and Usual Medical Care
Arthritis pain and stiffness are usually caused by a decrease in the space between joints, then a decrease in the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones resulting in bones rubbing on bones. The usual medical care is a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) such as motrin or ibuprofen. When the degeneration of the joint becomes severe, if the joint can be replaced, it is.
Rheumatic pain is caused by inflammation of the affected muscle, joint or tissue. This is usually the result of over-use, repetition or using an affected part “the wrong way.” For example, a common area of rheumatic pain in those who use computers a lot is in the trapezius muscle of the upper back of whichever arm the person uses the mouse. The frequent motion of the arm from the mouse to the keyboard and back again. This repetitive motion is made worse if the mouse and the computer are on different heights-then added is the use of the arm the wrong way.
Rheumatism can also be brought on by stress or emotional turmoil. Typical medical treatment for rheumatism is an NSAID and rest. There is no surgical option as there is nothing to replace-there is no damage to the joint.
A Homeopathic Case
Dan, 75, was a healthy farmer whose complaint was upper back pain. He had gone to his chiropractor who stated it was arthritis and recommended calcium supplements and chiropractic care. When he failed to improve, he sought my care as he didn’t want to “go the medical route.”
As the chiropractor didn’t take x-rays, there was no way to prove if Dan had arthritis or rheumatism. An x-ray would’ve shown the decrease in joint space, thus confirming arthritis.
Based on the case, I determined that Dan’s problem was rheumatism. His pain occurred after lifting sacks of feed, during intercourse and when faced with an emotional upset (they were trying to sell their farm and house). The pain was not constant, not weather-contingent and there was no stiffness. Pain did not radiate but was centered between the shoulder blades and was restricting. When he had emotional turmoil, the pain came on suddenly and was severe. During intercourse or after lifting the bags of feed, he had to stop and rest to alleviate the pain. Occasionally he took a baby aspirin which helped (he was averse to taking medical drugs); but he was concerned with all the bruising he was having (a side effect of taking aspirin).
There are 3 key homeopathic remedies that help with typical rheumatic pain: Arnica montana, Ruta graveolens and Rhus toxicodendron.
Arnica montana is great for sprains, strains, backaches and muscle aches.
Rhus toxicodendron is for achy joints, low back pain, and pain between the shoulder blades.
Ruta graveolens is the one of the best remedies for joints and tendons. Great for repetitive-use injuries.
I initially gave Rhus tox based on Dan’s symptoms and findings in his evaluation. I also recommended Glucosamine supplement to help stabilize the joints of the upper back, and to stop taking the Calcium supplement. A month after taking the Rhus tox, Dan’s symptoms had only improved slightly. He didn’t take the Glucosamine because of the cost.
At the time I was doing a study of Cell Salts and decided that Calcarea fluorica was very similar to Dan’s symptoms, which was very similar to Rhus tox (ex. better with heat and after motion). The thing that stuck in my mind, however was that Calcarea fluorica had a mental symptom that matched Dan: groundless fear of financial ruin or poverty.
Dan and his wife were retired from conventional employment, keeping up a farm, planning to sell the farm and house. Every time the phone rang and it was the realtor, Dan had great anxiety. His anxiety stemmed from the fear of becoming homeless and losing all their money. This was groundless because if the house sold, they’d have money. They already planned to buy a condo or rent an apartment once the house sold. Their retirement benefits were sufficient even without selling the house. Even Dan felt his concerns were baseless; but those were his anxieties.
I gave Dan the Calcarea fluorica and it helped wonderfully. He still had times of increased pain, but those were far less frequent than before. He also stated he didn’t have as much anxiety when the realtor called.
Although Arnica, Rhus tox and Ruta can help with both arthritis and rheumatism, distinguishing between the 2 ailments can help the practitioner narrow down the remedy that will best assist with healing-or will help point to a different one that would be more effective, as in Dan’s case.
The degeneration of arthritis will often require a deeper-healing remedy as well as nutritional support (to help rebuild the joint) whereas rheumatism often responds to a more superficial remedy or cell salt without the need for nutritional support.
A Special Note about Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a condition where the immune system attacks the joints causing them the swell and deform. It is an auto-immune disorder that requires constitutional healing and will not likely respond to any of the 3 common joint remedies mentioned in this article. Rheumatoid Arthritis requires a homeopath’s help.
Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational purposes only. It is important that you not make health decisions or stop any medication without first consulting your personal physician or health care provider.