May is Arthritis Awareness Month in the US, so it seems like the perfect time to dive into a topic that I get asked about a lot. More specifically, I usually don’t even get asked a question, but instead get some version of a statement such as: “I have a lot of knee pain, but I’ve had x-rays and they’ve confirmed that I have arthritis, so there’s really nothing that can be done unless I have surgery…”
I am then told that they take anti-inflammatories for the pain, which may or may not help, but beyond that they don’t know what else to do that could help. A lot of the folks I talk to would like to avoid having surgery if possible, but have come to the conclusion that that may be the only way to get out of pain, which makes them feel stuck in their choice.
But there are actually are effective options that should be considered before surgery! I promise! And the one that I use most frequently for arthritis pain is acupuncture. In my clinic, I find acupuncture to be very effective for arthritis pain on its own, and even more effective when used in conjunction with other therapies.
And my results are not unique. In the largest study of its kind to date, 454,920 patients were treated with acupuncture for headache, low back pain, and/or osteoarthritis in an open pragmatic trial. Effectiveness was rated as marked or moderate in 76% of cases by the 8,727 treating physicians.
So how, you may ask, is acupuncture treating arthritis pain so effectively? There is no evidence that arthritis is actually being cured by acupuncture – patients that are getting relief will probably have the same x-rays before and after acupuncture treatment. However, acupuncture does seem to have the effect of modifying sensory nerve signals and/or the brain’s perception of sensory nerve signals so the patient does not experience the pain like they once did.
New research suggests that chronic pain can come from a malfunction in the way the brain ‘maps’ sensory information. Acupuncture seems to be an effective, and very safe when done by a licensed professional, way of re-mapping this sensory information, in addition to helping the body heal from some of the root causes that are driving the joint inflammation to begin with.
Research is ongoing to determine how exactly acupuncture changes the nervous system like this, but we have seen that acupuncture results in lowered inflammation (less inflammation means less “angry” nerves to being with), increased blood flow to tissue (for any damaged tissue to heal, it needs fresh blood and oxygen) and increased levels of endogenous opioids (pain killers that your body produces so there is no possibility of overdose).
Acupuncture is not going to work for every arthritis case, and there certainly are scenarios where surgery is the best step. However, acupuncture is a safer, less invasive, less expensive therapy than surgery that should be considered first.
Want to know if acupuncture would be a good next step for your arthritis? Give me a call or shoot me an email!