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Acupuncture For Arthritis Pain: Good Or Bad?

Written by GHBY Team on Tue, 27 December 2022 — Fact checked by Dr. Naveeda Adam

Key Highlights

  • In order to manage excruciating pain, individuals who suffer from inflammatory conditions like arthritis are rapidly moving to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
  • In order to achieve the desired result, a particular point or points on the epidermis are stimulated during an acupuncture procedure by inserting needles.
  • Acupuncture has traditionally been thought to reduce pain either by releasing neurochemicals or strengthening the gate-control mechanism, as per the Western medical paradigm.
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People with chronic rheumatic diseases are increasingly turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to manage their excruciating conditions.

CAM refers to a group of clinical therapies that are not part of conventional medicines. CAM is proven a safe and effective mainstream healthcare practice and the list of practices associated with CAM changes continually. Naturopathy in combination with CAM therapies tries to aid the body’s capacity to fix itself.

In previously published arthritic studies, CAM prevalence ranged from 33 to 90%. All things considered, the evidence suggests that some CAM modalities, including acupuncture, diets, herbal remedies, homeopathy, massage, hydrotherapy, and supplements, have a lot of potential.

Acupuncture has been proven to be one of these modalities that is effective for a variety of painful conditions, such as chronic knee and other joint pains.

In various health conditions and to prevent or relieve pain, acupuncture is practiced

What is acupuncture

Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and is most commonly used to treat pain. This therapy has a novel approach to the diagnosis and mitigation of disease.

Acupuncture is described as a procedure that involves the insertion of thin, solid, and metallic needles to stimulate a specific point or many points on the skin in order to produce the desired effect.

It is believed to treat some diseases or bodily dysfunctions by preventing or altering the perception of discomfort or pain by changing physiologic processes, including pain control.

Although manual stimulation of needles is the norm in acupuncture, there are other commonly used variations, such as heat stimulation and electrical stimulation of needles (called moxibustion), in which the moxa herb Artemisia vulgaris is burned at the needle's handle end.

Occasionally, herbal extracts are infused into acupuncture points during injection acupuncture.

The essential component for the diagnosis and treatment of acupuncture therapy is acupuncture points. Other than needles, pressure (acupressure), friction, suction(cupping), and electromagnetic energy impulses are different forms of stimulation used for acupuncture points

How does acupuncture work

Acupuncture in arthritis pain

The foundation of traditional acupuncture is the idea that the body's life force, or qi, travels along channels called meridians.

The qi can be accessed at specific locations along these meridians known as acupuncture points or acupoints. By rebalancing the flow of qi, the practitioner can bring the system back into balance by implanting needles into these points.

According to the Western medical paradigm, acupuncture has been thought to alleviate pain by either releasing neurochemicals or activating the gate-control mechanism.

The possible neural mechanisms of acupuncture analgesia are as follows: small diameter muscular afferents are stimulated sending impulses to the spinal cord, which activates three centers (spine, mesencephalon, and pituitary) to send neurochemicals (endorphins and monoamines) that block pain signals.

By increasing the production of endorphins, a type of natural painkiller produced by our bodies, acupuncture may reduce pain. The researcher in the article published showed that the insertion of acupuncture needles increases cortisol levels in the body helps to control inflammation and may enhance the activity of other chemicals or boost the body’s natural painkillers involved in reducing pain in the body

Proven benefits of acupuncture

Numerous clinical studies attest to acupuncture's effectiveness in reducing knee pain associated with osteoarthritis.

Acupuncture was found to be beneficial for several pain conditions, such as osteoarthritis of the knee, in a study involving 18,000 patients.

Acupuncture alone or in combination with conventional therapies is used to relieve pain related to various health conditions and diseases, following are a few examples

  • Chemotherapy-induced and postoperative nausea and vomiting
  • Dental pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches, including tension headaches and migraines
  • Labor pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Respiratory disorders, such as allergic rhinitis
  • Tennis elbow
  • Asthma

Is acupuncture safe?

Doctors are working hard not to recommend drugs, especially opiates, for chronic pain across the nation. According to research, there are very few risks for the patient when using acupuncture to treat pain, especially in diseases related to bones.

In actuality, acupuncture is among the treatments suggested in national guidelines for physicians for knee pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Bleeding, bruising, muscle twitching, fatigue and soreness at the point of insertion of a needle, using an unsterilized needle may be potentially infectious and in very rare situations needle might break and harm the internal organ.

Is the acupuncture therapy same for all?

No two patients receive the same care.

Only using needles can provide relief for some patients. Others require a more complex method, like electro-acupuncture (also called percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or PENS).

Electro-acupuncture works particularly well for patients with knee arthritis. In cases of mild or moderate knee arthritis, a small number of sessions yield excellent results. Ongoing acupuncture is required when arthritis is much more advanced or bone-on-bone.

Who can opt for acupuncture

A lot of people who use acupuncture have indeed tried more traditional methods. Many patients have undergone medical interventions, transfusions, and other procedures for chronic conditions that are related to arthritic pains. They look for alternative treatment when these methods don't work for them.

Patients that have a clear diagnosis of the source of their pain are advised to rule out any serious illnesses that need to be treated right away before seeking alternative therapies.

In arthritis, acupuncture therapy can be useful at any stage and the treatment depends on the stage or condition of arthritis. But one should remember that this therapy only reduces pain but can't cure the process of arthritis.

Studies found that this therapy decreases pain and stiffness to a minimal extent in osteoarthritis. A review reported in the article of Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, it was found that acupuncture alone or in combination with other treatments plays a beneficial role in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

Steps to follow in acupuncture

Acupuncture in arthritis pain

Acupuncture points are located throughout the body. In some conditions, pain is seen far away from the acupuncture points, making it difficult to treat. The acupuncture practitioner will inspect and gauge the condition of patients, and discuss the treatment to be provided.

The needles can be inserted in ears, legs, knees, arms, shoulders, and anywhere where pain resides. People may nod off during a session due to an increase in endorphin levels inducing relaxation and reducing pain.

  • The patient will lie down on the padded table for therapy.
  • Disposable and sterile acupuncture needles are inserted at the acupuncture points of the body. Individuals may feel a tingling sensation upon needle insertion.
  • Needles are inserted at the depth of the point and when it reaches the proper dept position, there is a slight ache.
  • Needles stay in place for at least 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the condition.
  • After insertion practitioner will slowly move or rotate the needles or may impart heat or mild electrical impulse to the needle for treatment.
  • No pain when needles are removed

The number of therapies is dependent on the patient’s health condition and the severity of the disease.

For chronic conditions: one or two treatments per week for several months

For acute: 8-12 sessions of acupuncture therapy, improves health issues.

Conclusion

Acupuncture therapy stimulated neural networks at specific parts of the body. It aids in the treatment and management of chronic pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, and migraine. This therapy is worth trying and can improve function and quality of life

To lessen joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation while increasing the range of motion, consider trying acupuncture. This can enhance your overall quality of life, enabling you to engage more fully in all of your daily activities, be it in the office, park, or gym.

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GHBY Team

GHBY Team comprises content writers and content editors who specialise in health and lifestyle writing. Always on the lookout for new trends in the health and lifestyle space, Team GHBY follows an audience-first approach. This ensures they bring the latest in the health space to your fingertips, so you can stay ahead in your wellness game. 
 

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  1. Tam LS, et al. Acupuncture in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: a double-blind controlled pilot study. BMC complementary and alternative medicine. 2007 Dec;7(1):1-8.
  2. Selfe TK, et al. Acupuncture and osteoarthritis of the knee: a review of randomized, controlled trials. Family & community health. 2008 Jul;31(3):247.
  3. Kawakita K, et al. Acupuncture therapy: mechanism of action, efficacy, and safety: a potential intervention for psychogenic disorders?. BioPsychoSocial medicine. 2014 Dec;8(1):1-7