Arthritis is an inflammation of one or more joints, characterized by pain and stiffness. Although there are many different types of arthritis, the most common arthritic conditions are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects the cartilage of the joint. Cartilage helps protect and cushion the joint and is worn down over time with this condition. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint but is most commonly seen in the hands, knees, hips, and spine. Osteoarthritis is degenerative, it often develops slowly and worsens over time. Signs of osteoarthritis often include pain, stiffness, loss of range of motion, and swelling.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect more than just the joints, but other tissues such as the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include swollen and painful joints, stiffness that is usually worse in the mornings, and in some cases fatigue and fever. Rheumatoid arthritis usually first affects the fingers and toes and may progress to larger joints such as the knees, ankles, elbows, hips, and shoulders.

Arthritis and Chinese medicine

In Chinese medicine, arthritis is considered an obstruction (called bi) of the acupuncture channels or meridians. This obstruction causes stagnation of qi (energy) and blood characterized by heaviness, pain, inflammation, and decreased movement in the joint. Arthritis is known in Chinese medicine as bi-syndrome, a disorder resulting from the obstruction of the meridians, sluggishness of qi and blood circulation after the invasion of pathogenic wind, cold, dampness or heat. Bi syndrome is characterized by pain, numbness, and heaviness of muscles, tendons and joints or swelling, hotness, and limitation of movement of joints.

How does acupuncture treat arthritis?

Acupuncture causes the body to produce endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers), which inhibits pain perception. Acupuncture blocks transmission of pain signals to the brain through the nervous system. Acupuncture also helps stimulate blood flow throughout the body, promoting nourishment of the tissues and joints, facilitating healing and alleviating pain.

Does acupuncture work for arthritis?

Scientific research indicates that the use of acupuncture can be an effective form of reducing pain and inflammation in patients with arthritis. The latest study by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is one of the largest and longest clinical trials to show conclusive effects in the treatment of arthritis. The study published that patients who underwent acupuncture treatment reported a 44% average reduction in pain and a 40% improvement in mobility.

In a study published by the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2007, 64 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were treated with acupuncture. 87.2% showed a reduction in pain, 64.3% showed a reduction in swelling, and 27.7% showed a change in the rheumatoid factor.

In 2018, a systematic review was published by Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine analyzing the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of arthritis. In the 43 studies examined, 97% of the studies concluded that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of arthritis. The mechanism of acupuncture was concluded as having the following effects: anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and regulatory effects.

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