Treating RA with Complementary Medicine: Acupuncture

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • In the nearly 30 years I have had RA, I have always managed it using the standard treatments: anti-inflammatory drugs, exercise, physical and occupational therapy, and surgery to repair damage. But I have never explored alternative and complementary therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, reflexology or biofeedback. I have always been skeptical of anything outside of traditional western medicine, perhaps because my father is a physician.

    This will be the first in a series of articles discussing different types of complementary medicine. I hope that these articles will not only encourage people to explore alternative therapies, but will also spark a discussion on the message boards. I would really be interested to know if readers have tried any forms of complementary medicine (especially acupuncture) and what you found to be successful or beneficial.
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    The Chinese therapy of acupuncture has been around since approximately 480-220 BC. It is based on a theory that an imbalance of life energy flow, called qi (pronounced chee) causes illness. Physical pressure at certain pressure points along the channels of this energy flow (called meridians) can restore proper energy flow and block pain. This pressure is created by the insertion of very fine needles at certain acupoints. The acupoints can also be stimulated using heated herbs, manual pressure, electrical current, or magnets.

    Acupuncture has been used to treat a variety of ailments that cause chronic pain such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. It can also ease other symptoms and ailments such as depression, asthma and irritable bowel syndrome. The World Health Organization recommends it for over 40 conditions and the National Institute of Health has found it to be an acceptable treatment for many conditions. Acupuncture has grown so much in popularity in the U.S. in recent years that it is offered at many chronic pain clinics and some health insurers and managed care groups are even covering it. The needles used in acupuncture are regulated by the FDA, which classifies them as medical devices, like other surgical tools and instruments.

    Although it isn’t completely mainstream yet, some rheumatologists are recommending acupuncture in conjunction with regular therapy for RA, even though studies on the use of acupuncture to treat RA and other inflammatory diseases have had mixed results for effectiveness. There is evidence that shows positive results in decreasing pain for some people when acupuncture is performed by a trained professional. However, time and cost keep many people from following up with regular treatments. Weekly (or sometimes more frequent) treatments can become very costly if they are either not covered or are only partially covered by insurance.

    There are approximately 10,000 trained acupuncturists in the U.S. and many states regulate the practice like other medical professionals. Many doctors are also being trained in acupuncture. To find more information about acupuncture and to find a practitioner, go to:
  • The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.
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    National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health

    National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

    Share your thoughts about alternative treatments for RA in the message boards.

Published On: November 01, 2006