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Category Archives: Arthritis & Joints
This is an introduction to acupuncture for joint problems, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, general stiffness, and rheumatic aches and pains.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
Just ten minutes a day of brisk walking can reduce the likelihood of impaired mobility in older adults by 85%. Similarly, the risk of difficulties with daily tasks such as bathing and dressing, can be reduced by 45%. All this emerges from a study by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Participants were adults aged 45 to 79, at elevated risk of osteoarthritis of the knee, based on factors such as age, BMI, previous injury etc. Four years after the start of the study, 24% of adults who did not get the weekly hour of brisk walking were moving too slowly to safely cross the street, and 23% reported problems performing morning routines like getting dressed.
Lead author of the study, Professor Dorothy Dunlop, said “This minimum threshold may motivate inactive older adults to begin their path toward a physically active lifestyle with the wide range of health benefits promoted by physical activity.”
(One Hour a Week: Moving to Prevent Disability in Adults With Lower Extremity Joint Symptoms. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, online 19 March 2019.)
A team researchers at the University of Coimbra, Portugal, studying acupuncture for rheumatoid arthritis of the hand, has concluded it is effective at reducing pain and disability. They randomly assigned 105 patients, mean age 57, to either true acupuncture, sham acupuncture or a waiting list control. True acupuncture was associated with significantly improved pain, pressure pain threshold, hand grip and arm strength. The number of swollen and/or tender joints also significantly decreased. Health status and quality of life significantly improved with acupuncture.
Sham acupuncture was associated with no significant changes, other than pain improvement. Those on the waiting list showed an overall worsening. The researchers state that the rigorous design of this randomised controlled trial avoids major problems of other studies such as nonspecific effects, weak allocation of acupoints, or lack of objective assessment of effects. They go on to point out the nonpharmacologic and nontoxic nature of acupuncture, which constituted an effective and well-tolerated treatment.
(Effectiveness of Acupuncture on Pain, Functional Disability, and Quality of Life in Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Hand: Results of a Double-Blind Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, January 2019.)