Acupuncture For Rheumatoid Arthritis: Does It Work?


An autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks healthy joints and organs, rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating condition that leads to throbbing, aching pain that can make taking an active role in your life difficult. To add insult to injury, rheumatoid arthritis often worsens as we age, so these symptoms only intensify as time goes on. If you’re tired of dealing with your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and looking for ways to find relief, you may be considering using acupuncture for rheumatoid arthritis. But does this holistic therapy really work, and if so, how can it help you?

Acupuncture fights inflammation by ramping up the flow of blood and oxygen to the affected joints. Furthermore, acupuncture improves your body’s pain response, all while regulating the immune system, which may help slow the progression of the disease.

Acupuncture lowers inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients

Inflammation is a hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis. Patients suffer from varying degrees of inflammation in the affected organs and joints, which often worsens after periods of inactivity. The inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis can impair organ function, as well as joint function, and contribute to joint enlargement and deformity as the bones within the affected joints begin to erode. 

Management of rheumatoid arthritis largely relies on reducing inflammation as much as possible. Acupuncture can be hugely beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis patients thanks to its ability to stimulate circulation to the affected joints. This enables the body to supply the damaged joints with the red blood cells and oxygen they need to heal and make repairs, all while ushering pro-inflammatory cells away from the site. 

Getting inflammation under control also means less heat and swelling. The swelling caused by rheumatoid arthritis can be debilitating in and of itself, significantly reducing your range of motion. Again, because acupuncture increases circulation to the affected joints, it can help drain this build-up of fluid, so your joints return to a more normal size.

Acupuncture supports healthy immune system function

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune condition. So while reining in inflammation is a huge step toward managing symptoms, addressing the immune system’s role in the condition shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Although researchers have made great progress in understanding them, autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis are still shrouded in mystery. But one thing we do know is that when it comes to treating autoimmune conditions, it’s always a good idea to support healthy immune system function. 

Acupuncture has been shown to modulate the immune system network involved in rheumatoid arthritis. How it is able to do this remains unclear. But, according to a study, acupuncture enhances the immune networks by regulating T-cells and B-cells. These cells play a key role in adaptive immunity and may regulate the immune response in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. It’s possible that this benefit could help patients reduce their symptom flairs and/or achieve remission. 

Although we often think of acupuncture as a treatment for musculoskeletal issues, like scoliosis, hip pain, and neck pain, acupuncture is just as effective when it comes to regulating the immune system. Acupuncture has long been used to treat allergies as well as cold and flu-like symptoms, and even shingles.

Acupuncture provides rheumatoid arthritis patients with pain relief

Speaking of relief, let’s talk pain relief. As we already know, acupuncture has the impressive ability to reduce inflammation naturally, alleviating heat and swelling so you can use your joints more effectively — and more comfortably. Less inflammation naturally means less pain. But acupuncture helps fight pain in another way, too. 

All pain, no matter where the inflammation is located in the body, is felt in the brain. Our nervous system produces neurotransmitters to send messages from our nerves to our brain, and this tells us where we’re hurt so we can tend to our injuries. But, sometimes, especially with chronic pain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, this pain response gets kicked into overdrive. By interfering with the body’s pain response, we can alter the way the body feels pain, and this allows us to raise our pain threshold. 

As acupuncture needles are inserted, they trigger the nervous system to release neurotransmitters, including endorphins. These feel-good neurotransmitters activate the opioid receptors in the brain, effectively numbing the pain response. If you’re a rheumatoid arthritis patient looking for an all-natural alternative to prescription pain relievers (which can be terrible for your liver), acupuncture can help. 

How often do rheumatoid arthritis patients need acupuncture?

How often you’ll need acupuncture to treat your symptoms depends on the severity of your condition. That said, a standard protocol for rheumatoid arthritis patients is twice-weekly sessions for 10 weeks. This gives the body time to adjust to the treatment. Based on your symptoms, your acupuncturist may advise additional therapies, like electrostimulation or dry needling.

Research shows that acupuncture sessions are most effective for rheumatoid arthritis patients when the needles are left in place for 15 to 40 minutes, but some needles may only need to be in place for 3 to 5 minutes to do their job. Your acupuncturist may also manipulate the needles during your session to boost their effectiveness. Your acupuncturist will develop a treatment strategy that’s just right for you so you can enjoy the treatment’s long-term benefits

Acupuncture is incredibly relaxing, and most patients notice the benefits before they even leave the office. If you’ve never had acupuncture before, don’t worry! The needles are very thin, and the process is virtually painless. Just be sure to wear loose, comfortable clothing to your appointment, as you may be asked to move or stretch a bit so we can accurately assess your condition. 

Get in touch with us today to learn more

When it comes to rheumatoid arthritis pain, you don’t have to just grin and bear it. At Lycoming Orthopedic & Sports Acupuncture, we’ve treated countless patients struggling with autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. We’re here to help you, too. 

Contact our office today to learn more. Our friendly staff will help you book an appointment so you can get started. From your very first visit, we will listen to your health concerns and help you come up with a personalized treatment strategy that aligns with your goals. 

Take the first step on your wellness journey. Get in touch with us today and take control of your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

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