Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis Pain

Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis Pain

            Acupuncture works for the treatment of osteoarthritis in multiple areas of the body which affects more than 32.5 million adults in the United States. The gradual wearing down of cartilage that is osteoarthritis affects a higher percentage of women than men, especially after the age of 50, which is important to know and understand when treating patients with acupuncture.

Osteoarthritis vs. Arthritis

            Osteoarthritis and arthritis are conditions that are often confused, but they are different within the same family of conditions, and each have distinct symptoms. Osteoarthritis is included under the umbrella of arthritis along with rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and psoriatic arthritis. Although there are many types that fall under the umbrella of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common type in the United States. Inflammation in the joints is the common denominator of these two conditions, but what causes them is where the difference lies.

Causes & Symptoms of Osteoarthritis and Arthritis:

  • Osteoarthritis – characterized by gradual wearing down of the cartilage in the joints, and therefore aging is a common risk factor for this condition. Another main cause for osteoarthritis is certain occupations in which the patient is constantly using a particular joint. Lastly, obesity can be a main contributing factor in osteoarthritis issues namely in the hips, knees, and back. The joint pain usually happens when the joint is moving and subsides when at rest.
  • Arthritis – encompasses multiple forms of arthritis, and is also swelling in the joints. However, the main causes of arthritis as a whole is not wear and tear like osteoarthritis, but when the inflammation leads to the release of substances which destroy the structure of the joint over time. It can also be metabolic, infectious, or genetic in origin. However, most types of arthritis are caused by hereditary factors leaving with immune disorders at a higher risk to develop a form of arthritis. The joint pain for arthritis, in general, decreases the intensity of the pain with use of the joint, and is often worse when at rest. There is often redness, swelling and a warm feeling near the affected joint.
Osteoarthritis can damage just about any joint, but it is the most common in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. In addition to the pain a patient experiences with osteoarthritis, it can also be accompanied by sleep disturbances and depression, both of which can also be treated with acupuncture.

Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis

            Acupuncture works for osteoarthritis by increasing blood flow, relaxing the muscles surrounding the joints, and suppressing inflammatory responses. In Chinese medicine osteoarthritis is considered a form of Bi Syndrome caused by an invasion of external dampness, wind, or cold which obstruct the flow of blood and qi.

Potential Patterns of Osteoarthritis:

  • Damp Bi Syndrome (Spleen deficiency) – exasperated by pain and dampness in one place, and also involves swelling in the joints.

  • Wind Bi Syndrome (Blood deficiency) – the pain moves from joint to joint.

  • Heat Bi Syndrome (Yin deficiency) – characterized by swelling and redness with warm, painful joints.

  • Cold Bi Syndrome (Yang deficiency) – this usually only affects one side of the body exasperated by coldness, and presents with severe pain in the affected joint.
If any of the above patterns become chronic, it will lead to stagnation of the fluids surrounding the joints which ultimately condenses to form phlegm. Repetitive attacks induces blood stasis causing pain. In the case of osteoarthritis, the Liver and Kidneys are usually deficient being that the Liver is responsible for Qi movement, and the Kidneys are responsible for the bones, both of which characterize osteoarthritis.

Acupuncture Points for Osteoarthritis

            Osteoarthritis often comes with more than one pattern, and when treating patients for osteoarthritis, it is often easier to consider them as chronic bi syndrome as a whole containing clinical features of multiple patterns.

Acupuncture points to use for patterns of chronic bi syndrome and for specific affected joints:

  • Resolving Phlegm – reinforce CV 12 & BL 20, stimulate SP 9, SP 6, CV 9, & ST 40 using the even technique (sedation/reducing technique)

  • Resolving Blood Stasis – SP 10, PC 6, BL 17, & LI 11

  • Repair Qi & Blood Deficiency – reinforce ST 36, BL23, BL 20, SP 6, LV 8, & CV 4

  • Rectify Deficiencies of the Liver & Kidneys – reinforce LV 8, BL 23, GB 39, GB 34, KI 3, BL 18

  • Knee Points – ST 41, SP 5, GB 40 are useful distal points. ST 36, GB 33, GB 34 for pain on the lateral side of the knee. ST 34 for pain above the knee. LV 8, SP 9, LV7 for pain on the inner side of the knee.

  • Finger Points – SI 5, TB 3, LU 7, TB 5, SI 3, Baxie, LI 3

  • Hip Points – SP 12, GB 41, GB 29, GB 40, GB 30, BL 62, SP 3
As with most condtions, there are an infinite number of point combinations that can be used depending on the individual patient. Another exponentially useful and important point when treating osteoarthritis is C7 Huatuo used for a wide range of arthritis and bone problems.

Osteoarthritis & Acupuncture

According to the American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation guidelines, acupuncture treatment for osteoarthritis is recommended for the knee, hand, and hip. There is a multitude of benefits of acupuncture for osteoarthritis, and more research is needed to prove what we already know to be true. It is also vital to advise patients to take care of themselves both physically and mentally to avoid chronic issues with osteoarthritis. Acupuncture can help in both areas, but a continuation of beneficial habits at home can further aide in healing.
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