Acupuncture boosts activity related to the immune system and the body’s response to pain. Unfortunately, many people learn about acupuncture’s benefits after years of discomfort and pain medication use. More frequently, however, physicians now prescribe acupuncture to decrease the amount of required medication. It is an alternative therapy that makes living with arthritis more bearable and reduces risk of medication side effects.
Living with arthritis is commonly accepted as just another part of aging. Sure, decades of use will take a toll on the body’s joints, but there are many factors that contribute to onset and severity of arthritis. Let’s look at the two major types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, occurs when the protective cartilage in our joints wears away. The resulting “wear and tear” certainly comes with old age but can also be caused by misuse of anabolic steroids, joint trauma or simply being overweight.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which means it is the result of the body’s immune system wrongly attacking itself. Gradually increasing swelling and pain in the joints often results in generalized fatigue. Muscles weaken. Tendons move out of position. Hand and feet sometimes end up misshapen as a result. If not treated early, permanent disability can occur. There is no cure but remission is possible with healthy diet and lifestyle modification.
So where does acupuncture fit in? For every type of pain acupuncture treats, there have been tests conducted and studies published. Three major areas of arthritic pain that have been studied are lower back pain, knee pain and neck pain.
Lower Back Pain
In a study published in 2003, researchers concluded that acupuncture was “an effective, safe adjunctive treatment for chronic low back pain older patients.” Adjunctive means that acupuncture can be applied along with standard therapy, not as a substitute. They arrived at this conclusion by dividing subjects into two groups. One continued standard care directed by their physicians. This included NSAIDS, muscle relaxants and back exercises. The other group received biweekly acupuncture for five weeks. Fewer patients in the second group had medication-related side effects. They also reported a significant decrease in pain.
In another study, patients were again separated into two groups, for measuring the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for knee pain. The first group received acupuncture in conjunction with a powerful anti-inflammatory known as diclofenac. The other received fake acupuncture, along with diclofenac, where the needle did not penetrate the skin. Twelve weeks and eleven treatments later, scientists found that acupuncture plus diclofenac was “more effective than placebo acupuncture plus diclofenac for the symptomatic treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee.”
Acupuncture is widely used by patients with neck pain so it is not surprising that a single 2006 study was carried out with over 14,000 subjects suffering from chronic neck pain. Again, there were two groups, one receiving acupuncture treatment over three months and one that did not. Both continued to receive standard medical care and, once more, the group receiving acupuncture treatment showed greater improvement.
If you are experiencing pain in your knees, neck or lower back, please call for a consultation. Despite its association with old age, arthritis pain can begin as early as your thirties and should not be ignored.