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. It 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, which is given in Western medicine. The big difference is that endorphins are produced naturally by the patient’s own 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, it deactivates trigger points. Trigger points are tender and extremely reactive areas that develop in the muscles and fascial sheaths of the body. They 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.
Can Acupuncture Help Other Symptoms of 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 adrenals to produce natural steroids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect. Since they are produced by the body, they do not cause side effects. Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by periods of exacerbation and remission, but pain often persists once the inflammation has subsided. Acupuncture is very effective at relieving this pain by inactivating trigger points around the joints.
The second and most common form is osteoarthritis. It involves the 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, only 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 a normal state. It is, however, extremely effective at controlling the pain that often accompanies this deterioration.
The third form is gouty arthritis, which is characterized by deposits of oxalic acid that make movement of 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 people will respond to acupuncture more quickly than others. Most patients should experience some symptomatic relief after one or two 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 individuals response to acupuncture.
Are Other Methods of Treatment Used along with Acupuncture?
At the Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine Clinic, we combine herbal medicine and therapeutic massage to get the best possible results. Herbal medicine strengthens the body and enhances the functioning of the immune system. Massage increases circulation in affected areas and helps to deactivate painful trigger points. We also give nutritional guidance 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 forty diseases that respond to acupuncture, including hypertension, digestive disorders, tinnitus, chronic fatigue, pre-menstrual syndrome, stress disorders and depression.