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Wei Zhao, LAc, CMD
Acupuncture For Osteoarthritis
Wei Z. Zhao, CMD

Acupuncture For Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which cartilage and the underlying bone of the joint are damaged. Cartilage becomes generally undernourished and wears. Eventually it becomes calcified and pieces can flake off and become embedded in the synovium. Underlying bone becomes hardened and the bone at the margins of joint form projections (osteophytes) that can break off. The joint capsule becomes more fibrous, the space between joints shrinks, swelling occurs and osteophytes are produced.
Primary osteoarthritis commonly affects some or all of the following joints thumb, distal interphalangeal joint, proximal interphalangeal joint, hip, knee, big toe, cervical and lumbar spine. Secondary osteoarthritis may occur in any joint. Common symptoms are pain after rest and after sustained use, tenderness around joint line, morning stiffness, or stiffness after rest all of which can become constant over time.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are the primary treatment. Patients with refractory pain can be considered for opioid therapy, injections of local anesthetics, injections of corticosteroids into joints or epidural space, or joint replacement.
Pain reducing drugs have many undesirable side effects. One of the side effects of NSAIDS is that they impair cartilage repair. In fact, NSAIDS and aspirin usage have been linked to increasing cartilage destruction. As a result, many people are seeking alternative medicine to relieve pain and improve their joint function.
Acupuncture is a natural healing method that reduces pain by triggering the nervous system to release painkilling and inflammation-reducing substances (neurotransmitters). Examples include endorphin, natural morphine-like chemicals; adrenocorticotropic, a hormone that aids in fighting inflammation; and prostaglandins, which help wounds heal faster.
From the view of traditional Chinese medicine, joint pain is caused by external pathogens lodged in the body that disturb the circulation of energy and blood in the meridians, causing stagnation in the joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Six syndromes are classifed as follows 1. Wandering (wind) syndrome soreness and pain in muscles and joints, pain moves from place to place, decreasing range of movement, pain varying in intensity. 2. Cold syndrome pain is fixed in the joint, feels better with warm and feels worse with cold, decreased range of motion. 3. Fixed (damp) syndrome soreness and heavy sensation of joint or muscles, numbness in skin over the affected area, pain does not move, pain worsens in damp weather. 4. Heat syndrome complicated by infection or auto-immune process, joint pain with redness and swelling, limitation of movement, fever, thirst. 5. Muscular syndrome muscular pain, stiffness and cold in the muscles. 6. Tendon syndrome pain radiates along course of the channel, stiffness, coldness or numbness.
Different combinations of acupuncture points will be selected to treat different syndromes. Painful, sensitive points around the affected joint, muscle or tendon are usually chosen. Local and distal points along the course of the affected meridians are also chosen.
Acupuncture helps many patients with osteoarthritis and may forestall the development of secondary progressive ankylosis and contractures. It also helps prevent inactivity. More and more people are discovering the benefits of an ancient healing art.

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