Exploring the benefits of acupuncture when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis
12/11/2019 // Evangelyn Rodriguez // Views

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a common autoimmune disease that affects the wrists and small joints of the hands and feet. It is caused by an immune system dysfunction, which causes the painful swelling suffered by people with this condition. RA affects more than 1.3 million Americans and about one percent of the world's population. It is considered an inflammatory disorder that is chronic, progressive and disabling.

People with RA suffer from poor quality of life (QoL) and high annual costs of treatment. While acupuncture -- a relatively safe and cost-effective therapy that provides pain relief, among other things -- is widely used, studies on its efficacy show severe methodological shortcomings and do not consider the functional diagnosis for the allocation of acupoints. These make their results unreliable and lacking.

European researchers believe that acupoint allocation according to Chinese Medicine functional diagnoses is extremely relevant to assess the effectiveness of acupuncture in a patient group primarily defined by a “western” medicine diagnosis. In a study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, they objectively assessed the safety and efficacy of acupuncture treatment for RA.

The researchers recruited 105 RA patients with a functional diagnosis of a "Pivot syndrome" or "Turning Point syndrome." They randomly assigned these patients to the following groups: (1) verum-AC (verum-acupoints); (2) control-AC (sham acupoints – points outside of the conduits/meridians and of the extra-conduits); or (3) waiting list.


The AC groups all experienced the same number, depth and stimulation of needles. The researchers conducted assessments before and five minutes after AC therapy, with follow-ups over four weeks.

After AC treatment, group 1 experienced significant improvements in self-reported pain, pressure algometry, hand grip strength and arm strength. Acupuncture also significantly improved their health status and QoL, and decreased the number of swollen and tender joints. Meanwhile, group 2 showed no significant changes, except in a slight improvement in self-reported pain. Group 3, in contrast, showed an overall worsening of symptoms.

Based on these results, the researchers concluded that acupuncture treatment, especially when the right acupoints are chosen, is highly effective in reducing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Fast facts about acupuncture

Acupuncture is an age-old healing art developed by ancient Chinese healers. This natural therapy involves the insertion of sterilized needles into specific points (acupoints) throughout the body. These points are believed to be connected to vital organs, and stimulation of these points can help release blocked energy or qi, which causes organ dysfunction and disease. Acupuncture is a popular natural treatment among patients suffering from persistent or recurring pain.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), acupuncture can be used for the following conditions:

  • Lower back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Osteoarthritis or knee pain
  • Headache

Meanwhile, the Word Health Organization (WHO) has recently added the following to the list of conditions for which acupuncture has been proven effective:

Acupuncture is also believed to address other conditions such as fibromyalgia, spine pain, stiff neck, alcohol dependence and Tourette's syndrome (tics), but further studies are still needed to support these claims. (Related: Acupuncture found to help with depression in patients after stroke.)

The NCCIH considers acupuncture generally safe and effective. But while it causes very few complications, improper administration can result in serious side effects, such as infections, punctured organs and irreversible injury. For your safety, trust only a certified acupuncturist or therapist to conduct the therapy.

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