web analytics
Acupuncture For Rheumatoid Arthritis In Houston TX
Contact Us

How Acupuncture Can Help with Rheumatoid Arthritis

There is evidence that acupuncture can improve arthritis pain and quality of life in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Though more research is needed, some convincing theories for acupuncture’s efficacy in RA include:

  • Endorphin release
  • Suppressed pain signaling
  • Reduced inflammation

Additional benefits of acupuncture include:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Improved circulation

In Chinese medicine, practitioners consider RA to be the result of blocked meridians – the channels that carry the body’s essential qi energy. During acupuncture treatment, practitioners access these meridians via acupuncture points. Western research into acupuncture points shows that many are located near areas of dense nerve tissue, supporting physiological explanations for acupuncture’s efficacy in rheumatoid arthritis. 

What Are the Benefits of Acupuncture in Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients?

Practitioners have used acupuncture to treat disease for thousands of years. This includes a host of chronic pain conditions, including back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Acupuncture’s broad efficacy suggests that there are multiple factors at work during treatment. Researchers have proposed several factors, including:

  • Endorphin release – Hundreds of acupuncture studies have shown that treatment stimulates the release of endorphins. These peptides are the body’s “feel good” chemicals, blocking pain signals and improving well-being. Both contribute to a better treatment response among RA patients.

  • Reduced pain signaling – Endorphins are among a class of biocompounds known as endogenous opioids – compounds that interfere with pain signaling and reduce its intensity. In this way, endogenous opioids block the same pain receptors that over-the-counter pain medications target.

    Acupuncture treatment increases the presence of endogenous opioids in the blood, providing more complete pain relief.

  • Reduced inflammation – Acupuncture treatment also has anti-inflammatory benefits, which may help reduce the severity of RA symptoms. Acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory effects were detailed in a 2021 Journal of Inflammation Research analysis that reviewed 363 research articles.

    After reviewing the available research, the analysis team determined that acupuncture could better regulate the immune system and reduce the presence of inflammation-causing cytokines. Further, acupuncture was linked to a greater prevalence of anti-inflammatory tissue repair factors.

Acupuncture is also associated with the following benefits, which may or may not be of direct benefit to RA patients, but may support better quality of life:

  • Improved circulation – Acupuncture stimulates local release of vasodilators, including nitric oxide. When present, vasodilators encourage blood vessels to relax, which promotes more efficient circulation. Better circulation supports better healing and nutrition delivery.

  • Improved hormone balance – Acupuncture also stimulates endocrine organs and glands, as well as the pathways connecting the endocrine system to other parts of the body. Treatment improves endocrine organ function, supporting better hormone balance and facilitating communication between the endocrine and nervous systems. As hormone imbalances may be a factor in several forms of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, endocrine support may improve arthritis symptoms.

  • Reduced stress and anxiety – For many patients, acupuncture is a relaxing therapy that promotes overall well-being. Treatment is administered with a light hand and done in a private, quiet, dimly lit room. Once the needles are inserted, the acupuncturist will typically leave the room to give the treatment time to work. It is common for patients to fall asleep during this time.

    Stress is associated with increased chronic pain and inflammation, which can intensify RA pain and swelling. Acupuncture’s stress-fighting nature can offset these effects.

What Does the Research Say About Acupuncture and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

There are numerous research studies demonstrating acupuncture’s efficacy in RA. Notable pieces of research include:

  • A 2018 meta-analysis published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. This analysis included 43 studies published between 1974 to 2018 and taken from several medical research databases. The research team concluded that acupuncture treatments could improve RA symptoms and quality of life, partly through centralized endorphin release and partly through decreased inflammatory markers.

  • A 2022 systemic review and analysis that included 12 studies. This review also grouped electroacupuncture (acupuncture with light electrical stimulation) into the analysis. Both the control (no acupuncture) and experimental groups were given western medication for RA.

    The research team determined that acupuncture, in combination with western medicine, was more effective than western medicine alone in combating RA symptoms. This included a reduction in inflammatory markers, self-reported pain symptoms and the recurrence of swollen joints.

Additional research studies are needed, but the current evidence for acupuncture in RA is positive.

Houston Acupuncture’s Holistic Approach to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Most Houston acupuncturists are strictly Chinese medicine practitioners, but some (like us) are also certified to practice western medicine. Our Houston acupuncture practice can provide an expert perspective on western and eastern therapies, so patients receive a holistic approach for their conditions.

For RA patients, this can be a major advantage, as Chinese and western medicine are excellent complements to each other. Many of our patients find that a mix of both provide optimal results, for rheumatoid arthritis and an array of other conditions. 

Skip to content