Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs when the immune system attacks healthy tissue that protects the joints. It typically causes pain, inflammation, and redness.
A team of researchers from the University of Porto and the University of Coimbra in Portugal and the University of Rome II in Italy assessed the safety and efficacy of acupuncture treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in a double-blind controlled study. They enrolled 105 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis of the hand and divided them into three groups. One group served as the treatment group and received traditional acupuncture; another group served as the control and received sham acupuncture while the last group was put on a waiting list. Both the traditional and sham acupuncture groups received the same number, depth, and stimulation of needles. In addition, the researchers assessed the participants' condition before acupuncture and five minutes after acupuncture and conducted follow-ups over a period of four weeks.
The results revealed that participants who received traditional acupuncture enjoyed significant improvements in pain and pressure algometry. Their hand grip strength, arm strength, health status, and quality of life also improved significantly. The participants also experienced significant reductions in the number of swollen and tender joints.
On the other hand, the sham acupuncture group did not show any significant improvements in their condition although they reported improvement in pain. The participants in the waiting list group experienced an overall worsening of their condition. These findings suggested that traditional acupuncture is beneficial to people with rheumatoid arthritis of the hand.
Various studies have also evaluated the effects of acupuncture on rheumatoid arthritis. Many of these studies focused on rheumatoid arthritis of the knee. A review written by researchers from the University of Ottawa mentioned a study involving people with knee pain who experienced some relief with electroacupuncture. This type of acupuncture involves the use of an electric current that pulsates through the needles. The study's participants observed pain reduction 24 hours after treatment and four months later. The review was published in the journal Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
Another study conducted by Russian researchers and published in the journal Ter Arkh reported the effects of auriculo-electropuncture on 16 people with rheumatoid arthritis. Auriculo-electropuncture is a type of acupuncture that involves placing needles in special points in the ear. The researchers analyzed the participants' blood samples after treatment and found improvements in their condition. Another study in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that people with rheumatoid arthritis experienced improvements after receiving warm needling acupuncture and point-injection of a Chinese herb called Zhuifengsu.
Acupuncture can also reduce inflammation. In a study published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, researchers examined the effects of electroacupuncture and traditional acupuncture and found that both significantly reduced the levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the blood of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. TNF-alpha and VEGF are associated with chronic inflammation. (Related: Acupuncture reduces the risk of coronary heart disease in people with rheumatoid arthritis.)