Judy Bowen-Jones

Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis & Gout

If you are suffering from osteoarthritis or other types of arthritic pain, acupuncture could help give you some pain relief.

Arthritis is a common condition that involves inflammation and pain of one or more joints. The symptoms vary depending on the type of arthritis and include joint pain, tenderness and stiffness, inflammation in and around the joints, restricted joint movement, warm, red skin over the affected joint, weakness and muscle wasting. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

About Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) is the most common type of arthritis in the UK. It can affect both the larger and the smaller joints of the body, including the hands, wrists, feet, back, hips, and knees. Most commonly a disease of the elderly, due to daily wear and tear of the joint, osteoarthritis can also occur in younger people as a result of injury. Osteoarthritis starts with erosion of the cartilage lining of the joint and eventually causes the two opposing bones to erode into each other. This results in swelling and the formation of bony spurs (osteophytes). Risk factors for osteoarthritis include prior joint trauma, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. Osteoarthritis is a common cause of hip pain and knee pain in adults.

About Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the body’s immune system attacks body tissues, including joints, leading to pain and swelling. Rheumatoid arthritis often affects joints in the fingers, wrists, knees and elbows. The disease is symmetrical (appears on both sides of the body) and may lead to severe deformity if not treated. RA occurs mostly in people aged 20+. The causes are not understood. Joint damage occurs initially in the joint lining and cartilage eventually leading to erosion of the opposing bones.

Other types of arthritis and related conditions include ankylosing spondylitis of the spine, cervical spondylosis of the neck, fibromyalgia, lupus (which affects the body’s organs and tissues), psoriatic arthritis (an inflammatory joint condition which may affect those with psoriasis), enteropathic arthritis (a form of chronic, inflammatory arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis), reactive arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica and gout.

There is no cure for arthritis. The aim of treatment is help slow down the condition. Treatments include medications for pain relief and to reduce inflammation, surgery for advanced osteoarthritis, and exercise.

About Gout

What is gout? Gout is a type of arthritis caused by deposition of uric acid crystals in the joint, causing inflammation, pain and swelling. It most commonly affects the big toe, but may also affect ankles, knees and elbows. Unlike osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis which come on slowly over months, symptoms of gout usually develop suddenly, in just a few hours, and last for around 3 – 10 days. More common in older men, the risk factors for gout include obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney problems, a diet rich in purines (eg sardines and liver) and excess drinking of beer and spirits. Treatments include ice packs, medication to reduce pain, inflammation and levels of uric acid in the body, and lifestyle changes (diet and weight reduction).

Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis & Gout

The World Health Organization review and analysis of controlled acupuncture clinical trials (2003) lists Rheumatoid Arthritis as a condition for which acupuncture has been proven effective and Ostearthritis and Gouty Arthritis as “conditions for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown but for which further proof is needed”.
More recent studies and systematic reviews suggest that moxibustion is more effective than conventional drug therapy for treating osteoarthritis of the knee. The Osteoarthritis Research Society International recommends acupuncture as a treatment option for osteoarthritis. Acupuncture may help relieve pain and improve function in patients with osteoarthritis by:

  • Releasing endorphins (natural pain killers) and changing pain processing in the brain and spinal cord
  • Inhibiting pain
  • Regulating metabolism
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Increasing local circulation and reducing swelling

In addition to the above, acupuncture may help patients with rheumatoid arthritis by:

  • Helping regulate immune system functions
  • Downregulating serum cortisol levels

Acupuncture may also help relieve pain and reduce attacks of gout by:

  • Reducing uric acid production and increasing its removal

Acupuncture may also reduce anxiety and stress associated with these painful conditions by:

  • stimulating the body’s parasympathetic nervous system
  • promoting relaxation

Read Reviews about Acupuncture for Pain Relief

More about Acupuncture for Pain Relief

See also:

Treating Arthritis & Gout

“In Chinese Medicine, arthritis is a type of ‘Painful Obstruction Syndrome’ caused by the invasion of pathogenic factors – Wind, Cold or Damp – into the body when the body’s energy and blood is deficient. This is why arthritis is more common in old age or in those who have suffered a previous illness. It may also occur after prolonged exposure to certain environmental conditions, for example, osteoarthritis of the knee is common in car mechanics or plumbers who have spent years working on their knees on cold floors.

Simply speaking, osteoarthritis is most commonly due to the invasion of Cold, which is why moxibustion is such an effective treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee and sufferers of osteoarthritis find that warmth helps relieve their symptoms.

Whilst arthritis is common in old age, there are things we can do to help protect ourselves from environmental pathogenic factors. Exercise and diet are important. Chinese culture recognises two types of exercise, external exercises, such as walking and cycling, to help us develop healthy muscles and joints, and internal exercises, such as tai chi or yoga, which help to ‘massage’ our internal organs. Dietary recommendations depend on the type of Painful Obstruction Syndrome. For example, if you suffer from Cold Damp Painful Obstruction Syndrome, then it is essential to avoid eating foods with cold-damp energy, such as bananas, and include more warming foods, such as garlic and spices, in your diet.”


Acupuncture can ease arthritis in three months. Article by Julie Wheldon (2006) www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-413322/Acupuncture-ease-arthritis-months.html

Arthritis Foundation.

Acupuncture and Osteoarthritis. www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/other-therapies/mind-body-pain-relief/oa-acupuncture.php

Arthritis Research UK. Review suggests acupuncture an effective complementary treatment for gout

Acupuncture can ease arthritis in three months. Article by Julie Wheldon (2006) www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-413322/Acupuncture-ease-arthritis-months.html
Maciocia, G. 2005. The Practice of Chinese Medicine. Painful Obstruction Syndrome. 561-604. Churchill Livingstone

Leggett, D. 2005. Helping Ourselves, A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics. Meridian Press

Research Fact Sheets

For more information see the British Acupuncture Council Research Fact Sheet below.