Acupuncture for Arthritis

By Alex A. Kecskes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three Americans (an estimated 70 million people) is affected by arthritis. Because joints naturally degenerate over time, most people over the age of 50 show some signs of arthritis. Many have sought relief through acupuncture.
One of the oldest medical procedures in the world, acupuncture originated in China more than 2,000 years ago, rising to prominence in the U.S. in the early 1970s. Practitioners of Chinese medicine say that arthritis occurs when the cyclical flow of qi in the meridians becomes blocked. This blockage is called “bi” type pain and can often be treated using a combination of acupuncture and/or Chinese herbs. In treating the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, a skilled acupuncturist may use a variety of different points and herbs, guided by the source of your qi’s blockage -pathogen, wind, cold, damp or damp-heat.

Chinese traditionalists treat arthritis by honing in on conditions unique to each individual, combining acupuncture, Chinese herbs, bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations and energetic exercises to restore imbalances found in the body. This means your acupuncturist will examine you to determine when and how your condition began. In this way, the practitioner can learn the signs and symptoms unique to your condition to determine the most appropriate acupuncture points and treatment plan.

The Acupuncture Procedure and Patient Experience

Acupuncture points to treat arthritis are located throughout the body, not just directly over the affected area. During the acupuncture treatment, tiny needles are placed along your arms, shoulders, and legs. Most patients are insensitive to the insertion of acupuncture needles, which are not much wider than a human hair. Once the needles are in place, most people relax and often drift into sleep during treatment. The duration and number of treatments will vary. Treatments usually average 15 minutes, once or twice a week. Some symptoms are relieved after the first treatment, while more severe or chronic ailments often require multiple treatments.

Regulatory Standards and Safety Measures in Acupuncture

In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved acupuncture for use by licensed acupuncture practitioners. The FDA requires the use of sterile, nontoxic needles, labeled for single use only. That means a new set of disposable needles taken from a sealed package should be used for each patient. In addition, all treatment sites should be swabbed with alcohol or other disinfecting agent before needles are inserted through the skin.

You should know that acupuncture is an art and a science that takes years to master. Be sure to look for a licensed acupuncturist with formal training and experience in the treatment of arthritis. Remember to discuss acupuncture with your doctor to see if it’s the right treatment option for you. Should you decide to try acupuncture, keep in mind you don’t have to stop other medical treatments.

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