Acupuncture for Arthritis
The term arthritis refers to a group of conditions that involve damage to the joints. These conditions are painful and are the most common cause of disability in people over the age of 50. The most common forms are:
Osteoarthritis – degeneration of the joint due to injury, infection or lifestyle issues. In the developed world Osteoarthritis can account for up to 25% of all visits to primary healthcare practitioners.
Rheumatoid arthritis – a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints.
Arthritis and TCM
Acupuncture is generally well known for its effectiveness in treating arthritis, and most acupuncturists spend a good deal of their clinical time treating this condition.
Acupuncture works by regulating and harmonising the flow of Qi. If this flow is obstructed or blocked, pain occurs. The disease factors involved in Arthritis inhibit this free flow, leading to pain and stiffness. These disease factors may be cold (in which case the joint may feel cold to the touch, and the pain may get worse in cold weather but be alleviated by warmth), or hot (the joint feels hot and inflamed); there may also be an accumulation of body fluids in the area, leading to swelling (and often an exacerbation of the condition in damp weather).
Treatment will usually involve the insertion of acupuncture needles around the area of the problem, as well as further down the affected limb. In the case of the cold and damp variants of the disease, a pleasant-smelling Chinese herb called moxa may be smouldered on the end of the needles to help clear the cold and damp. Sometimes a treatment called cupping will be used in conjunction with acupuncture to help speed up the recovery process by further encouraging the Qi to flow freely, and herbal therapy (either taken in the form of pills or tablets, or applied to the skin as a cream or ointment) may be employed to help expel the disease factors from the body.
Treatment will also aim to address and redress any underlying disharmonies in the patient’s overall health which may have contributed to the problem arising.
Osteoarthritis often responds quite quickly to acupuncture. Whilst the speed of improvement will depend on factors such as how severe the condition is, how long ago it started, and the overall health of the patient, treatments should begin to show improvement after four or five treatments, if not sooner.
Rheumatoid Arthritis also responds well. Sometimes if the condition is flaring up and the joints are hot and swollen, it may be best to have treatments 3 or 4 days apart until the acute symptoms have settled down, to avoid too much harm being done to the joint by allowing the flare up to continue un-treated.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Arthritis?
There is a growing body of evidence supporting the use of acupuncture in the treatment of arthritis. For example, a large scale study conducted in the USA in 2004 concluded that acupuncture both relieved pain and improved function in osteoarthritis of the knee. 1 For details of other studies you can access the British Acupuncture Council’s briefing paper on Arthritis at www.acupuncture.org.uk by clicking on Research, followed by Documents. These documents are also available on request from our clinic.
The World Health Organisation 2 report on the efficacy of acupuncture concludes that acupuncture has been proven, through controlled trials, to be an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
I have had lower back pain for the last four years which with the increase in pain and loss of mobility has affected my quality of life. An M.R.I. scan showed arthritis and the consultant said that within the next 2-3 years my lower spine would fuse completely with the arthritis. So the pain would stop but my mobility would be greatly reduced. In the meantime, my doctor recommended pain management in the form of anti- inflammatory and pain killers. As I am unable to take either of these without severe side effects, the doctor was unable to suggest any other form of pain management.
I have been successfully treated by Sean for a previous ailment some years ago and so I started a course of treatment with him for my back pain. The treatment consisted of acupuncture and cupping, and although I cannot say it was completely pain free, the results have been worth it.
I now have almost full mobility and the pain has reduced so much that I am now able to partake in an active lifestyle once again.
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Three years ago I noticed that if I had been sitting for any length of time (which I did at my place of work) I would get a pain deep in my right hip. That pain got steadily worse and so I visited my GP who prescribed some strong painkillers. The painkillers made me feel light-headed but did nothing to help with the pain, which was now so bad that I could not sleep.
I was also having a lot of problems with movement. There was no flexibility in my hip at all so I could not easily move from standing to sitting and if I did manage to sit I could not get back up again. In addition it was extremely difficult to dress myself – try putting your knickers on without bending! I went back to my GP who sent me to the hospital for some x-rays and to a physiotherapist for some ultrasound treatment.
The ultrasound treatment helped to reduce the pain slightly but I still did not have full movement. In the meantime my x-rays were sent to my GP who told me that there were some abnormalities in the hip joint and he referred me to an Orthopaedic Specialist.
Another round of x-rays and the Specialist told me that I had osteoarthritis and that it was so bad that I would be having a hip replacement “within two years”. He told me to go back to my GP to get some anti-inflammatory drugs and to make an appointment to see him at the hospital in a further six months.
Against my better judgement I did take two of the anti-inflammatory tablets that the GP gave me and in the two days that I was incapacitated by their side-effects I decided that there had to be a better way.
Since then I have been having acupuncture and the difference it has made to me has been incredible. In addition to the acupuncture treatment I have adjusted my diet and I practice Chinese therapeutic exercise – Qigong and T’ai Chi. I have much more flexibility and movement in my hip and only very minor discomfort occasionally. When I do get discomfort I can usually link it to having eaten the “wrong” foods. The acupuncture is not without “side-effects”. My general health has improved no end and at a recent visit to the Optician I was told that my sight has “got better” for the first time in the twenty-two years that I have been wearing glasses.
I have revisited the Orthopaedic Specialist a number of times since he told me that I would need a hip replacement and at my most recent visit (just a few weeks ago) he said that I no longer need to see him. What else can I say?
I am 67 years old and suffer from arthritis mainly in my right hip. My GP has arranged an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon with a view to a hip replacement.
After 4 treatments of acupuncture, the pain has decreased dramatically and the movement in my leg has improved. I do not now think I will need a hip replacement and I will tell the surgeon how acupuncture treatment has improved my health.
1 Berman BM, Lao L, Langenberg P, Lee WL, Gilpin AMK, Hochberg MC. Effectiveness of Acupuncture as Adjunctive Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2004; 141(12):901-910.
2 WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials
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The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.
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