How Does Acupuncture Help to Treat Joint Pain?

November 2, 2019
Acupuncture has been used for several decades in conjunction with other treatments to calm joint pain. What are the benefits?

Do you know how acupuncture can help treat joint pain?

Acupuncture is the basis of traditional Chinese medicine and has been practiced for thousands of years in conjunction with other treatments to promote the relief of many different diseases and illnesses.

Scientists are not yet sure exactly how the therapeutic function of this branch of alternative medicine works. Acupuncture is, however, also currently popular in the Western world and many people turn to it to improve their quality of life.

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What is acupuncture?

Despite not knowing exactly how acupuncture works, several studies support the physiological changes that arise after treatment. One of the effects of this type of therapy is pain relief, including joint pain.

Acupuncture is based on a set of procedures that stimulate certain anatomical points on your body. This treatment uses various techniques, and perhaps the best known is the use of needles. Additionally, the health benefits of this practice have been studied in great depth. Here’s how it works: small, thin needles are strategically inserted into the skin to relieve pain caused by certain diseases.

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Joint pain

Acupuncture and joint pain
Joint pain has become a common problem among much of the population. It is often due to the wearing down of cartilage, which prevents bones from rubbing together.

More than 70% of women over 35 suffer from joint pain, according to a study by the International Osteoarthritis Foundation (OAFI). This type of disorder affects the musculoskeletal system and attacks the joints, which are responsible for the mobility of bones in the knees, ankles, hips, or wrists. More serious forms of this disease can even prevent patients from participating in activities such as walking or sitting in a chair.

Joint pain starts as a feeling of acute, sharp pain and stiffness, which limits joint movements as a result of inflammation in the affected area. This limitation seriously interferes with the quality of life, making daily activities and tasks difficult.

The following are some of signs and symptoms of joint pain:

  • Inflammation, hot to the touch, and redness of the joint.
  • Skin rash or purple spots.
  • Chest pain, respiratory distress.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Fever, sweating, or chills.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the main types of disabilities that can cause joint pain. It’s a degenerative disease involving the deterioration of cartilage, leaving the joint unprotected. The bones wear down due to rubbing against each other, causing intense pain and stiffness in the joint.

How effective is acupuncture for the treatment of joint pain?

Person sticking a needle into another person's hand acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of the best therapies to treat joint pain in conjuction with other treatments. Overall, it’s even useful for alleviating the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Overall, age, weight, and genetics are all factors that could predispose you to osteoarthritis. With that said, sometimes a change in lifestyle can help improve symptoms. However, various studies have shown the effectiveness of acupuncture as an alternative treatment for osteoarthritis.

A study found in the Cochrane health database showed that acupuncture could slightly reduce pain and improve physical mobility in patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

For this study, patients were divided into two groups: one group would receive acupuncture treatment and the second would be a control group and not receive any treatment. After 8 and 26 weeks, the patients who had undergone acupuncture treatment experienced less pain and had increased physical mobility, compared to the untreated group.

Joint pain caused by medications?

Joint pain may also appear as a side effect of certain medications. Aromatase inhibitors are used to treat patients with breast cancer or postmenopausal women at high risk for developing it. This treatment can cause joint pain so intense that some patients even stop taking the medication altogether.

A recent study done by the scientific research network SWOG (Southwest Oncology Group) showed that acupuncture significantly reduced joint pain that resulted from treatment with aromatase inhibitors in early postmenopausal or breast cancer patients.

The 226 patients included in the study were from different medical centers and were divided into three groups:

  • Acupuncture treatment
  • Mock acupuncture treatment
  • No treatment

After 12 weeks, the patients who received acupuncture treatment reported pain relief, which also lasted for several months. Overall, this represents advancements concerning the alternative use of opioid drugs and their undesirable effects.


Although we still need more studies to research how acupuncture works, it’s very effective in the treatment of joint pain. Also, this alternative treatment has shown benefits for the treatment of fibromyalgia and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

As a result, some health professionals offer their patients the possibility of receiving acupuncture treatment in conjunction with their other treatments. Additionally, acupuncture may also be covered by health insurance, depending on your region, country, and health insurance company.

  • Chou PC, Chu HY. Clinical Efficacy of Acupuncture on Rheumatoid Arthritis and Associated Mechanisms: A Systemic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:8596918. Published 2018 Apr 12. doi:10.1155/2018/8596918
  • Manheimer E, Cheng K, Linde K, et al. Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010: CD001977. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001977.pub2.
  • Crew KD, Capodice JL, Greenlee H, et al. Randomized, blinded, sham-controlled trial of acupuncture for the management of aromatase inhibitor-associated joint symptoms in women with early-stage breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2010, 28:1154-1160. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2009.23.4708. Epub 2010 Jan 25.
  • Inhibidores de la aromatasa para reducir el riesgo de cáncer de seno. American cancer society. 2017.
  • Zhang Q, Yue J, Sun Z, Lu Y. Acupuncture for chronic knee pain: a protocol for an updated systematic review. BMJ Open. 2016;6(2):e008027. Published 2016 Feb 24. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008027
  • Manyanga T, Froese M, Zarychanski R, et al. Pain management with acupuncture in osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014;14:312. Published 2014 Aug 23. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-312