Osteoarthritis (OA) is a fairly common joint pathology that stems from overuse or improper use of a joint for an extended period of time (generally years). Luckily, acupuncture in the treatment of osteoarthritis has been shown to be effective to slow degradation of joints, reduce pain, and improve mobility.
What is osteoarthirits?
Unlike rheumatoid Arthritis, which is an autoimmune joint issue, osteoarthritis (OA) is strictly a result of “wear and tear” on the joints it affects. OA symptoms can range in severity, but some of the common complaints are stiffness upon waking, tenderness and pain, decreased range of motion, and possibly visible changes to the joint (spurs).
OA can theoretically affect any joint in the body, but most often tends to impact the larger load bearing joints like the knees and hips.
Left untreated, OA can become a self-perpetuating inflammatory cycle.
Inflammation in a given joint promotes further degradation, formation of bone spurs, and loss of cartilage. These changes to the joint irritate the tissue surrounding the joint, leading to more inflammation, which in turn sets the scene for more deformation of the joint.
At some point, OA symptoms can become severe enough that a complete joint replacement is necessary.
Acupuncture in the treatment of OA
Acupuncture can be extremely beneficial for patients with OA in two primary ways.
The first is that acupuncture works to reduce inflammation in the local areas that needles are inserted. As mentioned before, inflammation is the main driver of continued joint destruction. Being able to interrupt that process with regular acupuncture can prolong the life of your current knees/hips and delay the need for an invasive joint replacement.
Unfortunately even artificial joints have a limited lifespan of about 15-20 years. This means that people who have a joint replaced at a younger age may be required to undergo the same surgery a couple decades later. Keeping your original joint as long as possible can be advantageous.
The second way that acupuncture can be beneficial to patients with OA is that it has the ability to engage under-active muscles. In the case of knee OA, the pain and swelling are enough of a trigger for one or more of the quad (thigh) muscles to become inhibited (under-active). This can impact the overall strength and support of the knee, and can lead to other issues involving the patella (knee cap).
While acupuncture is not able to reverse joint damage due to OA, it is an extremely powerful tool to slow degradation of the joint, reduce pain, improve mobility, and improve overall quality of life.
Preventative approaches to health often take multiple angles. In my practice I see the powerful anti-inflammatory impacts of acupuncture paired with strategic strength and conditioning work and a whole foods, minimally processed diet yields great results for osteoarthritis pain. An additional consideration from a whole body holistic perspective is that research shows the use of NSAIDs and other anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals can damage the gut microbiome and intestinal lining.
If you are experiencing OA, or any other aches and pains, get in touch with Hyatt Training to learn firsthand about using acupuncture for relief.
Author Adam Gawlak is a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). His specialities include sports medicine acupuncture, motor point acupuncture, trigger point needling and traditional Chinese medicine, along with strength training, athletic performance, and corrective exercise.