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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Acupuncture

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

There have been conflicting reports on the extent of benefit that can be provided by acupuncture in Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Some studies have shown that effects of moxibustion (use of heat based therapies) used alone or combined with conventional drugs are favourable when compared to conventional drug therapy.

Other studies show acupuncture to be as good as or better than drugs but has shown no consistent advantage over controls that have been given sham acupuncture as placebo.

Latest reviews of studies reveal that some people may benefit from acupuncture treatment, but the exact proportion of population that benefits from this method of treatment is not known.

It is also not known if the degree of benefits obtained from acupuncture is consistent among populations with rheumatoid arthritis who do benefit from this procedure.

Possible benefits of acupuncture

Possible benefits of acupuncture in rheumatoid arthritis include:-

  • Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system. This may cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. These messenger molecules change and influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms leading to physical and emotional well-being

  • Stimulation of the nervous system at certain acupuncture points are believed to affect areas of the brain that are known to be sensitive and reactive to pain and stress. This relieves the pain caused by the inflammatory joint disease.

  • Acupuncture stimulates the nerves located in muscles and other tissues that cause release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors that change the pain perception in the brain and spinal cord.

  • Acupuncture may help release vascular and immunomodulatory factors. These may help reduce the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Inflammation is also reduced in rheumatoid arthritis by decreasing the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1 (Interleukin 1) and IL-6 and increasing the inhibitory cytokines IL-4 and IL-10.

  • Inflammation is reduced in rheumatoid arthritis by inducing vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) expression. VIP is an anti-inflammatory neuro-peptide in the brain.

  • The procedure of acupuncture inhibits the function of synovial mast cells that induce and initiate the inflammatory processes in the affected joint.

  • Acupuncture also increases the plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone levels raising the levels of cortisol in the body. The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis is restored by acupuncture.

  • Acupuncture leads to increased blood circulation around the affected area and this disperses the swelling and inflammation.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2013

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