(BlackDoctor.org) — The idea of sticking needles in your body as a remedy for pain may seem like it would hurt more than help. But acupuncture is gaining attention as a successful alternative arthritis treatment, especially for those with knee arthritis. Recent studies point to an encouraging “risk-benefit” profile of acupuncture for arthritis pain relief, drawing many to this ancient Chinese healing modality.
“The features of arthritis are pain and inflammation, which is why Western patients are often put on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or steroids,” says Lixing Lao, MD, PhD, LAc, director of Traditional Chinese Medicine research at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine. “Acupuncture can have effects similar to those produced by drugs, but it happens endogenously — your body produces the chemicals that allow it to heal itself. It is more natural.”
Acupuncture for Arthritis Pain Relief
How does acupuncture work? According to the theory of Chinese medicine, the body has 14 “meridians,” or channels, that are responsible for transporting energy. The idea is that when energy is flowing smoothly through these meridians, the body will be free of pain. When the meridians get blocked and energy cannot flow through, you’re more likely to experience pain. The goal of acupuncture is to stimulate points throughout the body using very thin needles, which causes the meridians to reopen and allows for a smooth flow of energy, aiding in arthritis pain relief.
From a Western perspective, research has shown that acupuncture may improve arthritis pain by stimulating the brain to release endorphins, one of the body’s natural pain relievers. Acupuncture also has been shown to stimulate the release of cortisol, an anti-inflammatory hormone, which in turn eases the inflammation associated with knee arthritis. Since acupuncture also increases local blood circulation, using it on the knee in a patient with knee arthritis can help bring fresh blood to the area, which may also provide arthritis pain relief.
Arthritis Pain Relief With Fewer Meds
“The majority of knee arthritis patients respond well to acupuncture,” says Dr. Lao. Typically, Lao sees knee arthritis patients two or three times a week for the first three weeks. If there is noticeable arthritis pain relief, the sessions will decrease to once a week, followed by once every other week, depending on the patient’s level of improvement.