Woman with osteoarthritis holding her knee

Acupuncture and Massage for Osteoarthritis Relief

Osteoarthritis, also known as OA, is a common inflammatory condition of the joints. It is estimated to affect as many as 10% of men and 13% of women over the age of 60.

OA is also one of the conditions that we see most often in the acupuncture clinic. In this article we will take look at the eastern and western views of osteoarthritis, and explain how acupuncture and massage could help.

What is Osteoarthritis?

OA is caused by inflammation of the joints. It is a degenerative disease which affects many people later in life, although some people can develop it earlier. It usually affects the weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees, and also the small joints of the hands.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The symptoms of OA are very similar to those of other types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriatic arthritis (PsA). However, people with RA and PsA tend to suffer from arthritis flare ups, followed by periods of less severe pain. OA differs from these other forms of arthritis as it tends to get progressively worse over time.

The main symptoms of OA are:

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Reduced flexibility
  • Loss of mobility
  • Clicking or grating sounds in the joints

Many people find that their OA symptoms are worse in the morning when they wake up, although some for people they get worse as the day goes on.

Affordable acupuncture and massage therapy in NYC and LA

Osteoarthritis Causes: A Western View

In western medical terms, OA symptoms are a result of inflammation of the joints. Joints are made up of two bones, which are designed to slide over one another allowing you to move. The ends of these bones are covered with cartilage, a smooth substance which allows them to glide over one another with ease.

In OA, this cartilage begins to wear away, leaving the ends of the bones exposed. When the bones rub together, they are damaged slowly over time. As a response to this damage, your body produces inflammation, its natural response to any kind of injury.

It is this inflammation which causes the pain and other symptoms associated with OA. Because of the degenerative nature of OA, it is sometimes called ‘wear and tear arthritis’ and it is more widespread in older people. People who are overweight are also more likely to suffer from OA due to the extra pressure on their joints.

Osteoarthritis Causes: An Eastern View

Oriental systems of medicine such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) view the body in a very different way from what we are used to in the west. This means that OA causes are quite different from an eastern and western perspective.

Whereas the western causes of OA include damaged joints and inflammation, in TCM, this condition is seen as a stagnation of qi and blood.

Qi and blood are two of the most vital substances in TCM and in order to maintain health, they need to circulate freely around the body. Unfortunately, the flow of qi and blood can easily become blocked due to injuries, overuse of a particular joint, or even emotional stress.

When their flow is interrupted in this way, qi and blood begin to collect in one area, causing symptoms such as swelling, stiffness, and pain. In TCM, this is known as bi syndrome which roughly translates as ‘painful obstruction syndrome.’

Fortunately, bi syndrome responds very well to treatments such as acupuncture and massage. These therapies work to remove blockages and get qi and blood moving again.

Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis

Acupuncture uses extremely fine needles which are inserted into the skin at specific points. Acupuncture for OA often uses points in the painful area combined with points further away which are used to treat any underlying imbalances.

By treating the root cause of the condition, acupuncture for OA should provide longer-lasting relief than painkillers which are usually only effective for a few hours.  You may also find that other symptoms that seem unrelated start to get better too. This is because acupuncture treats the person as a whole rather than just focusing on one particular symptom.

From a scientific perspective, acupuncture for OA works because it has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. It also stimulates the activity of chemicals called endorphins, your body’s natural equivalent to morphine.

As well as providing arthritis pain management, acupuncture is also very relaxing, both for your body and mind. Therefore, it can help to ease muscle stiffness or spasms, and also reduce the stress of living with a chronic, painful condition.

Research on Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis

OA, especially knee OA, is one of the most thoroughly researched subjects in the acupuncture world. A review of ten different clinical trials found that acupuncture is consistently effective in the treatment of knee OA, both for in terms of arthritis pain management and reducing physical dysfunction.

Massage for Osteoarthritis

Massage is another integral part of TCM therapy, and it can be used alongside acupuncture or as a treatment in its own right. Like acupuncture, massage for OA helps to relieve pain and stiffness as well as relaxing the body and mind.

The form of massage typically used in TCM is called tui na. This is an ideal form of massage for OA as it is very versatile and can be used anywhere on the body. It can also be done with the patient fully clothed, making it far more convenient than regular massages.

What Does it Cost to Treat Arthritis with Acupuncture?

Arthritis is a chronic condition, and will usually require treatment over a long period of time. Many TCM practitioners believe that for every year you have a medical condition, it will take a month of treatment to get it under control. It is usually recommended that you come for treatment at least weekly in the beginning and as your symptoms improve, your treatments can be spaced out more if necessary.

With conditions such as OA, you may find that you need to come for ‘top-up’ treatments every so often, even once your initial course of treatment is complete.

Because of this, acupuncture for OA can quickly become quite expensive. However, more and more low-cost clinics are now springing up around the country offering acupuncture at a greatly reduced rate. This means that acupuncture is now a far more affordable option for treating OA than it was in the past.

At City Acupuncture, our treatment plans for chronic pain include four extended sessions and eight regular acupuncture sessions.

Extended sessions include acupuncture plus extra time for any other therapies you might require such as trigger point release, cupping, herbal formula, multiple sets of needles, nutritional advice, stretch instruction, and extra talking time.

Our treatment plans are based on over 10 years’ clinical experience and although it is impossible to guarantee a cure during this time, we do feel confident that you will notice a significant difference.


Leave a comment