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Arthritis and Acupuncture



Edited by Dr. Qinghong Han A.P.

The pain of chronic diseases such as arthritis, tendonitis, and fibromylagia can often be lessened by the use of acupuncture and other Oriental methods. Modern medications for these disorders commonly cause side effects that are not seen with acupuncture treatment. Symptoms associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia, such as problems sleeping, fatigue, and depression, can also respond to skillfully applied acupuncture.

Muscular or joint symptoms that worsen with weather changes are also common. The use of moxabustion or dietary treatment can be very helpful for relief in this area. Exercise is also important to rehabilitate the joints and muscles, and it is needed to relieve the pain to the degree necessary for the patient to begin an effective program of strengthening. The gentle movements of qi gong, tai qi, or yoga are excellent foundations for more vigorous exercises with resistance bands or free weights.

Can Acupuncture Alleviate Arthritic Pain?

Yes, in many cases. Pain is the primary complaint of arthritis sufferers, and acupuncture is a very effective form of pain control. Acupuncture relieves pain in three ways. First, it causes the body to produce chemicals called endorphins, which inhibit the perception of pain. Endorphins are similar to morphine. The big difference is that endorphins are produced naturally by the body. Hence, there are no side effects. Second, acupuncture works through the nervous system by blocking the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Third, acupuncture deactivates “trigger points” which are actually aupoints. Some acupoints are often responsible for chronic pain and are frequently found around arthritic joints. Acupuncture also has a very relaxing effect on the mind and body. Since much illness is the result of stress, this relaxation helps to promote the healing process.

How Effective Acupuncture is for Arthritis?

Acupuncture is most successful at relieving pain, but it can also have a positive effect on other symptoms that appear in the three primary forms of arthritis.

The first form, rheumatoid arthritis, is characterized by inflammation (swelling, heat, redness and pain) in and around joints. The degree of inflammation fluctuates, possibly following changes in the stress levels of the body. Acupuncture stimulates the adrenal glands to produce natural steroids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect. Since the body produces them, they do not cause side effects. Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by periods of outbreaks of pain and remission, but pain often persists once the inflammation has subsided. Acupuncture is very effective at relieving this pain by inactivating acupoints around the joints. Since rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, where joint problems reflect a more widespread process, acupuncture can be part of comprehensive approach that includes conventional medicine, nutritional changes, and herbal therapy. In this case, painful areas may get special attention, and acupuncture is used in a broader way to help reduce severity of the entire condition, decrease the frequency of painful episodes and relieve pain.

The second and most common form is osteoarthritis, in which there is a gradual wearing-away of cartilage in joints, along with the deposition of calcium, which limits mobility of the joint. Acupuncture stimulates the parathyroid glands to produce the hormone that draws calcium out of bones. However, in this case, the hormone works on the arthritic deposits. Research in China has shown that bony spurs on the vertebrae of the neck have disappeared after several courses of acupuncture treatment. More research needs to be done. When the joint reaches a certain level of deterioration, acupuncture will not restore it to normal. It is, however, extremely effective at controlling the pain that often accompanies this deterioration. Osteoarthritis often affects only a few joints, and is well suited to local treatment with acupuncture. Electrical stimulation is beneficial to joint tissue, in part because it increases blood flow and joint nutrition, possibly allowing for some repair. Acupuncture may be able to enhance the effects of glucosamine sulfate because improving blood flow to the joints may increase local delivery of glucosamine.

The third form is gouty arthritis, which is characterized by deposits of oxalic acid that make the joint extremely painful. Here, pain relief is the main action of acupuncture. Gouty arthritis tends to come and go with changes in stress levels and diet.

How Many Treatments Are Necessary?

Each person is unique. Some will respond to acupuncture more quickly than others. However, as a general rule, most patients experience some symptomatic relief after one to four treatments. Six to ten treatments within a three- to five-week period is a normal course of treatment, and then the case is re-evaluated. For cases in which joint mobility is restricted or inflammation reoccurs, periodic maintenance treatments are often recommended. Their frequency depends upon the individual’s response to acupuncture.

Are Other Methods of Treatment Used along with Acupuncture?

At Han's Chinese Medicine, Dr. Han combines herbal medicine and Tuina (therapeutic massage) to get the best possible results. Herbal medicine strengthens the body and enhances the functioning of the immune system. Tuina increases circulation in affected area and Dr. Han may give nutritional guidance to some patients when appropriate. The old adage "You are what you eat" has proved itself to be true time and time again.

Can Other Conditions Be Treated by Acupuncture? Absolutely! The World Health Organization lists over 40 diseases that respond to acupuncture, including hypertension, digestive disorders, tinnitus, chronic fatigue, pre-menstrual syndrome, stress disorders and depression. Feel free to call us at Han's Chinese Medicine to see if your condition can be treated by acupuncture.