Benefits Of Acupuncture For Arthritis

What is Acupuncture?

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Acupuncture is the practice of penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles which are then activated through gentle and specific movements of the practitioner’s hands or with electrical stimulation.

Acupuncture Points

Acupuncture needle point chart

Acupuncture is part of the ancient practice of Traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe the human body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points connected by pathways or meridians. These pathways create an energy flow (Qi, pronounced “chee”) through the body that is responsible for overall health. Disruption of the energy flow can cause disease. Applying acupuncture to certain points is thought to improve the flow of Qi, thereby improving health.

Studies have shown that acupuncture is effective for a variety of conditions.

Acupuncture is not for everyone. If you choose to see an acupuncturist, discuss it with your doctor first and find a practitioner who is licensed and has proper training and credentials.

Acupuncture For Arthritis

It is important to know that inflammation is the main cause of arthritis pain. 

Reviews have come up with conflicting conclusions regarding the effects of acupuncture treatment for arthritis. One found that the data suggest favorable effects of moxibustion (alone or combined with conventional drugs) on response rate compared with conventional drug therapy. The other two reviews found acupuncture to be as good as or better than drugs but with no consistent advantage over
sham acupuncture controls.

In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation, by promoting the release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors.

A well-placed needle sets off a cascade of events, Dr. Berman explains, producing a signal that travels along the spinal cord to the brain, triggering a release of neurotransmitters called endorphins and enkephalins, which scientists believe reduce the sensation of pain. Research also shows that inserting an acupuncture needle induces the production of cortisol, a hormone that helps control inflammation. Acupuncture may stimulate the activity of other pain-relieving chemicals in the body as well.

Some studies haven’t been as positive, and acupuncture’s benefits have been hard to prove because high-quality studies on the subject of arthritis and acupuncture have been limited. Here’s a look at some of the recent research that has been done:

  • Osteoarthritis. Even though patients offer anecdotal evidence that acupuncture has helped them, most studies have found acupuncture offers minimal pain and stiffness relief for osteoarthritis (OA). A 2018 Cochrane review of six studies evaluating acupuncture for hip OA concluded acupuncture probably has little or no effect in reducing pain or improving function compared to sham acupuncture in people with hip osteoarthritis. One unblinded trial found that acupuncture as an addition to routine primary physician care was associated with reduced pain and improved function. However, these reported benefits are likely due at least partially to participants’ greater expectations that acupuncture can help.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis. Recent research suggests acupuncture may hold a beneficial role in the treatment of some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  A review of 43 studies, conducted between 1974 and 2018 and reported in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, concluded that “acupuncture alone or combined with other treatment modalities is beneficial to the clinical conditions of RA and can improve function and quality of life, and is worth trying.” The review cites several possible ways acupuncture affects RA, including its anti-inflammatory effect, antioxidative effect, and regulation of immune system function. However, the review acknowledges that there is still inconsistency among trial findings and that further research is needed to evaluate the effects of acupuncture and how it works.

Is Acupuncture for Arthritis Effective for All Forms of Arthritis?

The technique of acupuncture came into being around 2,000 years ago. At first, it didn’t receive any adequate attention to be recognized as a medical treatment for various problems associated with the body, but recently the scenario has changed.

There is a significant number of acupuncturists available out there. The researchers believe that arthritis can be cured using acupuncture, and their resources back their claims.

Acupuncture diminishes pain by “untying muscular straitjackets – releasing tight, spasmed, shortened muscles to their resting state,” explains Tim Rhudy, who has practiced as a professional acupuncturist in Delmar, New York for years now.

Some doctors describe Acupuncture as a result of a placebo effect which involves false assurance given to the brain due to some surrounding changes, without causing any actual change in the body. It doesn’t affect the body, so there’s no harm in giving it a go. It can be used to cure arthritis in the knees, arthritis in the hands, etc.

Does Acupuncture for Rheumatoid Arthritis Work?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic progressive disease causing inflammation in joints and resulting in painful deformity and immobility. It targets a person’s fingers, feet, ankles, and even wrists. As described earlier, arthritis is very good at reducing inflammation as it relaxes the body by increasing blood flow in it. Using acupuncture for arthritis can also be very beneficial as it also promotes the release of endorphins in the body.

In a study conducted at the University of Ottawa, participants with knee pain due to rheumatoid arthritis were observed to feel some relief due to electroacupuncture which uses electric current for pulsating through the needles.

The participants of the study noticed a reduction in pain after 24 hours of the treatment and four months later. Another advantage that acupuncture treatment has over others is that the needles can be placed all over the body.

Acupuncture for arthritis needles in back

Acupuncture points are not necessarily located in the area where the pain is experienced; it can be elsewhere too. It reduces inflammation, increases endorphins, and hence helps cure rheumatoid arthritis.

The most common type of arthritis that is experienced by people in the knees goes by the name of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is termed as degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone.

It is very common in middle-aged persons. It causes pain and stiffness in the hip, knee, and the joints of the thumb. People suffering from Osteoarthritis (also known as OA) have a lot of alternatives if they do not wish to take medicines.

Acupuncture is the treatment that shows the most effective results. A well-placed acupuncture needle can initiate a cascade of events that produces a signal that travels along the spinal cord to the brain. This causes the release of a significant number of endorphins and encephalin which relaxes the body. All of this, in turn, helps cure the stiff joints of the body.

Acupuncture for Arthritis in the Hands?

Hands are another body part that is very prone to OA. The fingers of such people become thick near the joints of the fingers, and the thumb joints become almost immovable. If people try to move their fingers forcefully in such a condition, they can experience a sensation of immense pain. OA in the hands can also cause permanent distortion of the shape of fingers and hence alter the shape of the hand.

Deformation of the shape of fingers also hampers the ability of a person to work efficiently. While there are a lot of medications available in mainstream medicine for such a condition, all of them come with a lot of side effects.

Hands-on treatments like massage and chiropractic are a few alternatives for people who suffer from OA in the hands. However, acupuncture for arthritis is the best option of all. It doesn’t require a lot of effort, and it is easy. There are no side effects of acupuncture.

The needles are easily placed anywhere on the arm by the acupuncturist. This causes a chain of impulses in the body which are carried by the receptors to the spinal cord, and hence to the brain, which in turn causes the release of hormones. This release of hormones provides relief to the body.

Benefits of Using Acupuncture for Arthritis?

The use of acupuncture for arthritis has suffered a lot of criticism from skeptics. However, there is some limited, but fairly strong evidence that it can help cure arthritis. Various studies have been conducted which show that acupuncture is very effective in dealing with arthritis pain without any side effects. The needles used to carry out the process are very easy to insert.

People who practice the ancient technique of acupuncture have a considerable amount of knowledge about the various pressure points where a particular needle must be inserted so that the patient feels no pain.

The needles can be placed anywhere over the whole body. It is not necessary to insert the needle at the point where the pain is experienced. People who practice acupuncture may insert needles in a person’s arms, legs, knees, shoulders, and elsewhere.

Focusing on these points has a great ability to reduce inflammation, and hence increase endorphins. All of this causes excellent relaxation in the body. People can even fall asleep during these sessions; it’s that relieving.

Things To Keep in Mind

Although most of the effects of arthritis are completely positive and effective, there are very few risks involved with acupuncture. The potential benefits of acupuncture outweigh the risks. The risks associated with acupuncture are by far, less harmful than the ones related to mainstream medicines. If the treatment does not suit a person, he can experience the following:

  • Slight soreness where the needles were placed.
  • Stomach upset.
  • Fatigue
  • Slight Bruising
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Heightened emotions

Moreover, it is not necessary that acupuncture works for all. There are some cases in which acupuncture doesn’t work for people, but such cases are rare. Moreover, people who are suffering from bleeding disorders may have problems as the needles may cause further infection. Some acupuncture treatments conducted on pregnant females resulted in early labor.

People with heart issues, and who have a pacemaker should be extremely cautious while using acupuncture as heat or electrical impulses can cause a problem with the pacemaker, and hence disturb the heart functioning.

Make sure that the acupuncturist uses only sterile needles. The needles that are not sterile can cause infection, since bacteria viruses, and other microbes can get into a person’s bloodstream. The needles should come prepackaged.

There is no harm in trying acupuncture for arthritis pain relief. Although some rational scientists still don’t believe in its curing tendencies, it has proven to provide various positive effects that outweigh the negative ones.

One should always consult a doctor before getting a therapy that involves the use of acupuncture in any way and on any part of the body.

Personal Note:

I suffer from arthritis and have tried several medical options that have included anti-inflammatory medications and ointments. The medications I used for pain lasted short periods of time.

Arthritis is a genetic disease and there are other members of my family that suffer from this disease. It was one of my sisters that decided to try acupuncture and it worked for her. She suffered from severe carpal tunnel syndrome. After several sessions with an acupuncturist, her pain started to lessen each time. I now receive acupuncture treatments; the needles do not hurt, and the pain relief lasts for extended periods of time.

Always consult with your doctor first before trying any type of alternative treatments.

Thank you for reading.


Comments are welcome.

2 thoughts on “Benefits Of Acupuncture For Arthritis”

  1. Acupuncture is such an interesting form of alternative medicine.  The statistical significance of its efficacy is hard to solidify but I say, “if it, it works”.  There are other kinds of alternative medicine that I have tried to alleviate all kinds of symptoms from stomach aches to acne.  Acupuncture is not something I have tried personally but my mom swears by it

    • Hi Quentin,

      Thank you for your comments. You are right when you say the efficacy is hard to solidify. Like your mom acupuncture is a treatment that has worked for a couple of my sisters and myself.

      Best wishes,



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