According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 54 million people have arthritis and more than 1 in 4 of those adults suffers from severe joint pain.1 Arthritis is pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints and may even result in decreased range of motion. The most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In osteoarthritis (arthritis of the bones), the cartilage at the end of the bones where joints are formed starts to break down. In rheumatoid arthritis, one’s immune system starts to attack the body by destroying the lining of the joints. Gout is another common form of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in the blood. Additional forms of arthritis, like psoriatic arthritis, also exist.
In general, risk factors for arthritis include a family history, age (risk increases with age), previous injury to the joints, and obesity. Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis and men are more likely to develop gout.2
Diagnosis for RA is established through bloodwork showing elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or c-reactive protein that indicate an inflammatory response in the body. To diagnose osteoarthritis, doctors will typically take an x-ray where they will look for narrowed spaces between the bones of the joint, indicating cartilage loss. Sometimes, they will also recommend an MRI and will run bloodwork to distinguish RA from osteoarthritis. A common sign of osteo- or psoriatic arthritis is joint contracture with “nodes” that form on finger joints making the fingers look as if they’re bent in one direction.
Osteoarthritis is not curable, but the pain is often treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol), NSAIDS like Advil and Motrin, and cortisone or PRP injections (platelet-rich plasma, a concentrated solution of platelets extracted from your own blood.) Over-the-counter drugs may also be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, in addition to drugs known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like Methotrexate. Sometimes, surgery is used to repair damaged joints and improve motor function. Gout can usually be controlled by limiting foods high in uric acid such as red meat, organ meats and other game, fruit juice and foods with high-fructose corn syrup and some shellfish such as shrimp, lobster and anchovies.
While medications can provide some pain relief, their long-term use can have detrimental effects on the intestinal lining of your gut. Surgery comes with many risks including bleeding, infection and pain and isn’t guaranteed to provide relief. On the other hand, acupuncture can often provide tremendous relief to those suffering from the pain of arthritis. A 2019 systematic review of evidence suggests that acupuncture interventions may have a positive effect in pain relief, physical function and health related quality of life in RA patients.3 Animal studies indicate that electro-acupuncture treatment exert an anti-inflammatory effect resulting in significant protection of cartilage by activation of adenosine receptors in the synovial tissue of animals induced with arthritis.4
In traditional Chinese medicine, moxibustion is often used to treat patients with arthritis. Moxabustion involves the burning of mugwart root over an affected area to warm the area, increase blood circulation and reduce swelling. A 2019 meta-analysis of six studies involving 281 participants found that Moxibustion had significant effects on pain reduction, though the effects of moxibustion on inflammatory factors in RA were unclear.5
Clinically, our patients experience a significant reduction in pain and inflammation along with increased range of motion and ability to perform activities of daily living – all without the side effects or risks associated with surgery or drugs.
From my own personal experience, I have used acupuncture to manage arthritis in my own hips and coccyx. I had two major falls, one in November and one in December, that caused my arthritis from a previous injury to flare. An immediate course of treatments using electro-acupuncture and moxibustion had me pain free, in both cases, in two weeks.
- Seca, S., Miranda, D., Cardoso, D., Nogueira, B., Greten, H. J., Cabrita, A., & Alves, M. (2019). Effectiveness of Acupuncture on Pain, Physical Function and Health-Related Quality of Life in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Systematic Review of Quantitative Evidence. Chinese Journal Of Integrative Medicine, 25(9), 704–709. https://doi-org.pacificcollege.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s11655-018-2914-x
- Qi-hui Li, Wen-xia Xie, Xiao-pei Li, Ka-te Huang, Zhong-heng Du, Wen-jie Cong, Long-hua Zhou, Tian-shen Ye, & Jiang-Fan Chen. (2015). Adenosine A2A Receptors Mediate Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Electroacupuncture on Synovitis in Mice with Collagen-Induced Arthritis. Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine (ECAM), 1–11. https://doi-org.pacificcollege.idm.oclc.org/10.1155/2015/809560
- Shen, B., Sun, Q., Chen, H., Li, Y., Du, X., Li, H., Xu, G., & Barba., V. (2019). Effects of moxibustion on pain behaviors in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: A meta-analysis. Medicine, 98(30), e16413. https://doi-org.pacificcollege.idm.oclc.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000016413