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Can Acupuncture Relieve Joint Pain?

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine originating from Asia. It involves using very thin needles to stimulate “pressure points” in the body. The needles are inserted into these areas and then sometimes manipulated by the acupuncturist manually or with heat or electrical current. Continue reading to find out if this unusual method is effective in managing joint pain.

Acupuncture may provide small improvements in joint pain

About Joint Pain

Joint pain can be traced back to many causes, such as osteoarthritis, gout, infection, overuse, or injury. Around half of menopausal women experience joint pain. During this time, joint pain symptom is often related to a natural decrease in levels of the hormone estrogen. This decrease can affect bone mass, as well as how pain is perceived. As women age, the development of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis also becomes more likely. These factors can all compound joint pain in middle-aged women.

Acupuncture and Joint Pain

After the many clinical studies on acupuncture as a treatment for joint pain, this treatment has been found to be not very effective for pain relief. Some patients who receive acupuncture experience a small improvement in joint pain, while others find no benefit. This is regardless of whether the pain is caused by osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

There are also a few risks of acupuncture. Some people who receive this treatment feel muscle pain, especially if the needle is manipulated after it is inserted. In addition, needles that have not been properly sterilized may transmit infection. Given the benefit of acupuncture and the risks and cost, other ways of relieving joint pain are more practical and effective.

Other Treatments for Joint Pain

There are other methods of managing joint pain that are more effective.

  • Low-impact exercise. Although the pain is off-putting, an exercise routine can strengthen muscles and bones, reducing joint pain in the long run. Exercises like swimming and yoga put less strain on the joints than activities like running and jogging. Exercise also assists with weight loss; as excess weight can worsen joint pain, losing weight can help relieve it.

  • Compresses. Alternating hot and cold packs on the painful joints generally helps alleviate the discomfort.

  • Hormone-regulating supplements. For joint pain related to menopause and changes in estrogen levels, herbal supplements that help the body produce hormones adequately can help relieve the root cause.

  • Painkillers. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce flare-ups and keep the pain under control.

With relatively little benefit compared to the risks and cost, acupuncture is not a good way to manage joint pain. The treatment method is highly inconsistent, and many people experience not benefit at all. However, many other treatments for joint pain are available, and they can be tailored to the underlying cause of the pain
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Sources:
  • Casimiro, L. et al. (2005). Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Library. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003788.pub2
  • Magliano, M. (2010). Menopausal arthralgia: Fact or fiction. Maturitas, 67(1), 29-33. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2010.04.009
  • Manheimer, E. et al. (2010). Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis. Cochrane Library. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001977.pub2
  • National Health Service UK. (2014). Treating osteoarthritis. Retrieved January 25, 2016, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Osteoarthritis/Pages/treatment.aspx
  • National Institutes of Health. (2014). Joint pain. Retrieved January 25, 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003261.htm