Rheumatoid Arthritis and Acupuncture

by Nicole Murray, L.Ac.

At Beach Community Acupuncture, we frequently treat Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) with good results. Acupuncture stimulates release of endorphins, the body’s own natural painkillers. Aside from blocking pain signals, acupuncture is proven to lowers proteins associated with inflammation.

We encourage people to start treatment when signs first appear, for better results. A typical treatment plan is 2-3 times a week for a month to improve pain and inflammation, then weekly for several months for maintenance. At that point, people come when pain and swelling need to be addressed.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys healthy body tissue by mistake.

RA affects the joints. It causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of your body. This disease often occurs in more than one joint and can affect any joint in the body. People with this disease may feel sick and tired, and they sometimes get fevers.

Signs and symptoms include:
* Fatigue
* Joint pain
* Joint tenderness
* Joint swelling
* Joint redness
* Joint warmth
* Joint stiffness
* Loss of joint range of motion
* Many joints affected (polyarthritis)
* Limping
* Joint deformity
* Both sides of the body affected (symmetric)
* Morning stiffness that may last for hours
* Firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms (rheumatoid nodules)

Some people have mild or moderate forms of the disease with times when the symptoms get worse and times when they get better. Others have a severe form of the disease that can last for many years or a lifetime. This form of the disease can cause serious joint damage.

Goals for Treatment

The Arthritis Foundation list the following goals for RA treatment:

Stop inflammation (put disease in remission)

Relieve symptoms

Prevent joint and organ damage

Improve physical function and overall well-being

Reduce long-term complications

To meet these goals, the Foundation suggests (and we follow):

  • Early, aggressive treatment. The first strategy is to reduce or stop inflammation as quickly as possible – the earlier, the better.
  • Targeting remission.
  • Tight control. Getting disease activity to a low level and keeping it there is what is called having “tight control of RA.” Research shows that tight control can prevent or slow the pace of joint damage.

Evidence for Acupuncture

In 2008, a review of eight studies involving 536 patients with RA found that: five studies reported a reduction in erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), three saw a reduction in C-reactive protein (CRP), and one study described a significant drop in both. ESR and CRP are blood test that indicate inflammation in the body. Six of the studies reported decreased pain, and four reported reduction in morning stiffness.

A 2011 study in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine found that acupuncture “significantly lowered tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).” Both of these markers are associated with chronic inflammation, and even joint destruction that characterizes RA.








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