Does Acupuncture Help Rheumatoid Arthritis? (7 Pros & Cons)

Does Acupuncture Help Rheumatoid Arthritis? (7 Pros & Cons)

Acupuncture seems to be a great therapy for many conditions – anxiety, diabetes and muscular problems. 

But what about arthritis? Does acupuncture help rheumatoid arthritis or inflammation?

  • Can it do something for the pain?
  • Does it improve the stiffness?
  • Or it’s just a placebo therapy overall?

I tried to analyze both the positive and the negative side of acupuncture – including my experience with it. So here’s what you should know.



How An Acupuncture Session Works For RA

It’s slightly different that a regular session.

If you have arthritis – the treatment will focus more on your painful spots, not on your general health. Here’s what I mean:

  • the practitioner will get informed about your pain
  • you will have to find a position you’re comfortable with
  • the needles will be inserted carefully (mostly in your painful spots)
  • your pain might get better immediately or it may worsen
  • you will have to keep the needles on for a while (your practitioner will decide that)
  • most likely, you will have to have a session at least once a month

Depending on the intensity of your pain – your practitioner might have to use a mild electric current as well.

But that will probably not happen from the first session.

Now – everyone is different, so acupuncture may work amazing for some and terrible for others. It can also have no effect on some people.

And unfortunately, you can’t really tell to which category you belong – until you try it out. 

So now that you know what to expect, let me show you the positive and the negative part of acupuncture for arthritis.

Does Acupuncture Help Rheumatoid Arthritis? (7 Pros & Cons)



PRO #1 – Hides The Pain

Acupuncture does have the ability to relieve your pain – and I say this mostly from my experience.

But there’s something different about it – compared to other pain remedies:

  • the needles are inserted in the painful spot
  • your brain focuses on the sensation produced by their insertion (instead of your older pain)
  • so the needles actually hide your RA pain
  • the effect can last up to several hours or days
  • after that, the pain comes back

So I would say that acupuncture is pretty similar with creams and topical products:

  1. It treats the pain for a short while
  2. It works by masking the actual pain (not by treating it for real)

I personally never had incredible results with acupuncture. But I know enough persons who did feel better after one session.

Now – some people might respond immediately, other might not respond at all. Some practitioners claim that 20% of their patients feel no relief.

But you can’t tell if you’re one of those until you don’t try it – so  acupuncture does have the ability to relieve RA pain (but just for a while).

Does Acupuncture Help Rheumatoid Arthritis? (7 Pros & Cons)



PRO #2 – High Energy

Everyone knows that acupuncture is extremely relaxing. But how exactly can this help RA?.

Here’s what I noticed after several sessions:

  • I would fall asleep much easier at night
  • I could stand for a longer while than before
  • my energy level seemed higher

The thing is – in RA, your body is dealing with a constant stress.

You don’t feel it, but it’s there – drying out your energy and making you feel like laying in bed all day long.

So from this point of view, acupuncture really helps – I’ve seen it myself. It doesn’t cure RA directly, but it does improve your general condition a lot.



PRO #3 – No Side Effects

Believe it or not, acupuncture is a pretty safe procedure – at least when it comes to side effects:

  • the needles don’t leave any scars or marks
  • you won’t experience any nausea or diarrhea 
  • there’s basically no secondary reactions

Now – the needles are indeed inserted into your skin, but they only penetrate the first layer. So there’s no risk of bleeding or trauma.

However, it’s essential that the needles are clean and sterile – if not, you could be in big trouble (but more on that later). 

So the thing is – if you’re worried that acupuncture could cause you uncommon side effects, just forget about it.

As long as you find a good practitioner, you’re not going to feel any small pain.



CON #1 – Doesn’t Treat The Cause

Acupuncture may be helpful for a short while – but it does nothing to treat your problem.

That’s why it’s just an alternative therapy, not a proper treatment. Here’s what I mean:

  1. It doesn’t decrease the inflammation 
  2. It doesn’t improve the pain on the long term
  3. Also, it does nothing to reduce morning stiffness

What it actually does is masking the pain for a short while – so you feel like your pain is miraculously gone, but it’s actually still there. It’s just that you don’t feel it right then. 

Do you get the point?

The cause behind RA is joint inflammation:

  • acupuncture only works on the outside
  • while the inflammation is on the inside

That’s why it’s not a real remedy for arthritis – it only hides the pain, instead of treating the cause.

But what exactly treats the cause of the pain? It’s simple – supplements.

As you take them by mouth, they work from the inside so they relieve the pain by treating the cause first. That’s why they’re my #1 recommendation for rheumatoid arthritis.

Does Acupuncture Help Rheumatoid Arthritis? (7 Pros & Cons)



CON #2 – Pretty Expensive

Just like Yoga or fitness sessions, acupuncture isn’t free.

In fact – it’s actually more expensive, since it’s more complex and you can’t do it alone.

So how much does a single session cost? According to my calculations:

  • an initial session is around $75-$90
  • several sessions per month cost around $50-$70 each
  • famous practitioners can request up to $200 per session (which is huge)

These are the numbers I heard about in my area – but I did a quick research on Google and I got around the same results.

So to be honest – a single session of acupuncture is pretty expensive (even if it’s $50).

Most of us wouldn’t afford this kind of monthly expense just to see if we get any pain relief – do you agree?

But there’s one more thing you should know:

  • some insurance plans cover the costs of acupuncture (partially)
  • however, most don’t 

So chances are that you will have to pay for your session yourself – which isn’t really comfortable for most of us.



CON #3 – Can Be Dangerous

In my opinion, this is one of the biggest drawbacks of acupuncture. So here’s the thing:

  • the needles may not be correctly sterilized 
  • there’s a high risk of getting infections or viruses

Now – acupuncture itself is a very safe procedure. It’s surely not going to harm you in any way, as long as you have a qualified practitioner.

However, the tools are the most dangerous part. 

Normally – the person responsible should clean and sanitize the needles after every patient. But in reality, there are always mistakes happening.

That’s the reason why many people (including me) are hesitant when it comes to acupuncture.

Overall, it might just not be worth the risk.

Does Acupuncture Help Rheumatoid Arthritis? (7 Pros & Cons)



CON #4 – It Takes Time

As I said in the beginning – a lot of people don’t respond to acupuncture.

But from those who do – most don’t notice an improvement from the start:

  • on an average, you need around 7 sessions to see an effect
  • many people need 2-3 months before they feel an improvement
  • this means you need (at least) one session per week

If you turn that into money – it’s around $350 (considering $50 the price of a session).

That’s not very affordable for most of us. Plus, you can’t even be sure if your body is going to react positively to this treatment. 

Who knows – you may pay $350 to get no small effect.

For this reason, acupuncture isn’t such a certain remedy for RA – at least I don’t see it as such.

But even if your body responds well to it – you’re still going to need a longer time until you see some real benefits. As with other RA treatments, actually – none of them work instantly.



My Verdict – Is Acupuncture An RA Remedy?

Short answer: Not really. It can help partially, but it depends a lot from person to person. 

But as a sole treatment for arthritis – I would surely not recommend it:

  • it’s very expensive (compared to other options)
  • it doesn’t treat the cause behind the pain
  • if you don’t find a great practitioner, it can be risky

Now – acupuncture alone will probably not worsen your RA (unless it’s incorrectly performed). But it might not help it much either.

So I wouldn’t advise you to spend so much on it. If you associate it with other treatments, it’s great – you should definitely try it. But alone, I wouldn’t do it.

Instead, you should spend your money wiser and choose a supplement:

  • it works from the inside on the outside
  • so it treats the cause of the pain first
  • it also helps stiffness and joint flexibility
  • plus, it’s way cheaper than 1 session of acupuncture

So that’s the remedy I would choose instead of acupuncture. Obviously, it’s up to you what you decide – but if it’s acupuncture, make sure you associate it with something else.

Heather Pharm.D.

Heather Tracy Foley is a Pharmacy graduate, Blogger and Author with a vast experience in health sciences. She has a particular interest in joint pain and rheumatology and spent several years studying health problems. You can find her on Pinterest or via email.

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