How Can Acupuncture Treat Arthritis Pain?
According to the CDC, arthritis is a common health problem in the U.S., affecting more than 54 million people, with this number expected to rise to 78 million in the next 20 years. Among chronic diseases in the U.S., arthritis causes more disability than any other condition, including heart disease, diabetes, and back or spine problems. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the third most common type of arthritis behind osteoarthritis (prevalence 31 million) and gout (prevalence more than 8 million). RA affects More than 1.3 million in the U.S. Acupuncture for arthritis pain is definitely something to consider after reading these statistics.
RA is defined as a chronic, long-term autoimmune disease, meaning your immune system begins to attack and damage healthy cells. This damage can lead to even worse symptoms. Most people assume RA is a disease impacting the joints, but there are other areas of the body that can be impacted as well. The progression of RA is different for each individual. Symptoms and treatment can vary from person to person depending on a variety of factors.
Most treatment options include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, and various medications for pain relief. They can range from over-the-counter analgesics like Tylenol to prescription drugs like tramadol, codeine, oxycodone and hydrocodone. These drugs can have powerful side effects and there are those looking for non-pharmacological options. The good news is studies show that acupuncture can help treat arthritis pain.
What the Research Says
Both Rheumatoid arthritis and Osteoarthritis (OA) can greatly reduce a person’s quality of life. A 2019 study revealed that people with Rheumatoid arthritis of the hand, found significant benefits from acupuncture. Participants reported less pain and improved quality of life, improved hand and arm strength and better overall health.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine found, “beneficial outcomes following acupuncture treatment for patients with rheumatoid arthritis include less pain and joint stiffness, and improved physical functioning. The results of various human and animal studies also suggest that acupuncture has the potential to down-regulate levels of interleukins and tumor necrosis factor, specific cell signaling proteins collectively called cytokines that are involved in the inflammatory response and become elevated in autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.”
And the Arthritis Foundation believes there are several main benefits to getting acupuncture treatment:
- Stress relief, following the stimulation of endorphins and oxytocin.
- Better sleep, due to the release of melatonin.
- Improved sense of well-being from the release of serotonin.
- Pain relief, as acupuncture stimulates nerve fibers to block out pain signals.
A January 2010 study conducted a review of several studies and found acupuncture is beneficial in treating Osteoarthritis in the knee. According to the 2019 American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation guidelines, acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, and knee is conditionally recommended. While it is generally agreed that more research needs to be done, there is evidence that acupuncture is an effective and safe alternative to prescription medication treatments.
Treatment protocols will vary depending on the severity of your symptoms. The frequency of acupuncture visits will also vary depending on the severity of your symptoms, and may also be dictated by whether your visits are approved and reimbursed by your health insurance company. Acupuncture visits are typically performed once or twice per week. Your acupuncturist will take a detailed health history in order to develop the treatment plan that is right for you.