Arthritis & Joints

This is an introduction to acupuncture for joint problems, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, general stiffness, and rheumatic aches and pains.

Acupuncture for arthritis: treatment of osteoarthritis of the knees

In 2013, Arthritis Research UK reported on the evidence for the effectiveness of twenty-five complementary therapies for musculoskeletal pain. Acupuncture was the most effective therapy for treating osteoarthritis.

Arthritis and related conditions, are the most common long-term complaint in the UK. They affect more than nine million adults. In the 35 to 44 age group, 18% of people have experienced arthritis or joint pain. This rises to 49% in the 55 to 64 age group. Acupuncture has been found to be very effective in helping sufferers manage the condition. It can help with pain relief without the side-effects associated with drugs. It can also help stiffness and improve range of movement.


Beginning with osteoarthritis, you might already have had a diagnosis from your GP, or an X-ray of the affected joint. I find osteoarthritis is usually responsive to acupuncture. Because it is a degenerative condition, the sooner you start treatment, the better the results tend to be. Acupuncture is unable to reverse significant joint damage which has already occurred.

Realistic objectives are to reduce pain, reduce your intake of painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and to slow further deterioration of the joint. Knees, hips and fingers present for treatment most commonly.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Moving to rheumatoid arthritis, patients I see are usually under the regular care of either their rheumatologist or GP. Acupuncture can work effectively alongside any medication which has been prescribed. Because a systemic disease process is at work here, there is a greater need to treat the underlying imbalances which Chinese medicine is capable of identifying, as well as attending to the most painful joints.

Other Joint Problems

Finally, we have general stiffness problems, conditions like reactive arthritis, and those rheumatic aches which might have defied clear diagnosis. Sometimes, the symptoms are focal at the site of an old injury. Other times, they are more widespread, and so we bear in mind possibilities such as the pains being menopausal, induced as side-effects of medication, or arising from other diseases. I need to fully examine the surrounding area and find out about your lifestyle. I will ask you about the influence of the weather on your joints. If it is a factor, patients are most likely to report damp, cold or sudden weather changes affect them.

Diet and lifestyle can be crucial when helping joint problems, and I will often give you some self-help measures to implement. These will usually be simple but effective.

Below you can read the results of some of the research which has been undertaken into acupuncture for joint problems.

Acupuncture makes Shoulder Surgery Less Likely

Acupuncture Exeter: acupuncture makes shoulder surgery less likely. A large retrospective cohort study undertaken in Korea, suggests that acupuncture is effective at reducing the likelihood of shoulder surgery. Using the Korean health service database, researchers compared the frequency of acromioplasty in patients who had previously received acupuncture, with those who had not. Shoulder disorders which featured included adhesive capsulitis, rotator cuff syndrome, shoulder impingement syndrome, and local sprain and strain. The acupuncture group contained over 111 000 patients, and the control group over 71 000 patients.

The study found that the frequency of acromioplasty was reduced in patients who had received acupuncture.

(Acromioplasty rates in patients with shoulder disorders with and without acupuncture treatment: a retrospective propensity score-matched cohort study. Acupuncture in Medicine, 20 April 2020.)

American College of Rheumatology Recommends Acupuncture

Acupuncture in Exeter: acupuncture is recommended by the American College of Rheumatology. Acupuncture gets a conditional recommendation for the management of osteoarthritis, in the latest guidelines published by the American College of Rheumatology. The authors were satisfied that acupuncture can provide analgesia, but would like to see further high-quality studies conducted. They state “While the ‘true’ magnitude of effect is difficult to discern, the risk of harm is minor, resulting in the Voting Panel providing a conditional recommendation.”

Conditional recommendations also go to yoga, paracetamol and heat therapy. Tai chi and weight loss both get strong recommendations.

(2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation Guideline for the Management of Osteoarthritis of the Hand, Hip, and Knee. ACR.)

Acupuncture Treatment of Knee Osteoarthritis

Acupuncture treatment of knee osteoarthritis. On overview paper by Chinese authors of 12 recent (2006-2017) systematic reviews, concludes acupuncture treatment of knee osteoarthritis is effective. More specifically, according to evidence rated as high quality, acupuncture showed a better total effective rate, a better short-term effective rate and fewer adverse reactions, than conventional medicine.

(The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis: An overview of systematic reviews. Medicine (Baltimore), July 2019.)

Damp Weather and Arthritis Pain

Research from the University of Manchester: damp weather and arthritis pain. Research from the University of Manchester into the potential association between damp weather and arthritis pain, shows what many sufferers had long suspected. The pain is indeed aggravated by damp conditions.

Daily data was supplied using a simple smartphone app from 2658 people around the UK, for six months. Participants had a range of painful conditions, but arthritis predominated. The smartphones’ GPS capability allowed researchers to correlate prevailing weather at participants’ locations with their reported pain. Humid days were likely to be more painful, whereas dry days were least likely. Low pressure and higher wind speed were also linked to more painful days, although to a lesser extent than humidity. Cold days that were damp and windy could also be more painful.

Professor Will Dixon of the University of Manchester, led the study. He said, “Weather has been thought to affect symptoms in patients with arthritis since Hippocrates. Around three quarters of people living with arthritis believe their pain is affected by the weather. The analysis showed that on damp and windy days with low pressure the chance of experiencing more pain, compared to an average day, was around 20%.”

Interestingly, traditional Chinese medicine has long recognised that wind, cold and damp can all aggravate joint pain and old injuries. One text, the Discussion on the Origin of All Illnesses from AD610, describes how wind, cold and damp cause swelling and pain. The new research above observed no association with temperature, when averaged across the population. My experience is patients will be more comfortable in dry cold conditions, as opposed to the damp cold of many a Devon winter.

(University of Manchester News website, accessed 24 October 2019.)