How does acupuncture help treat joint pain?

Do you know how acupuncture helps treat joint pain? Acupuncture is the basis of traditional Chinese medicine and It has been practiced for thousands of years as a complementary treatment to promote the relief of many ailments and pathologies.

Although the mechanisms responsible for the therapeutic action of this branch of alternative medicine are still unknown, Acupuncture is also currently practiced in the Western world and there are many people who resort to it to improve their quality of life.

What is acupuncture based on?

Despite not knowing exactly the mechanism of action of acupuncture, there are several studies that endorse the physiological changes that arise after treatment with this therapy in the relief of pain, including joint pain.

Acupuncture is based on a set of procedures that stimulate certain anatomical points through the use of various techniques. Of these, the best known and whose health benefits have been studied in greater depth, is that small fine needles are strategically inserted into the skin in order to relieve pain from certain pathologies.

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Joint pain

Joint pain has become a common malaise in the population. It is often caused by the wear of cartilage that prevents the rubbing of the bones.

More than 70% of women over 35 suffer joint pain according to a study by the International Osteoarthritis Foundation (OAFI). This type of disorder affects the musculoskeletal system and attacks the joints, responsible for providing mobility of the bones of the knee, ankles, hips or wrists. When it is very intense, it prevents carrying out activities as basic as walking or sitting in a chair.

Joint pain It presents as a sharp pricking sensation and stiffness, which limits the movements of the joints as a result of the inflammation that is generated in the affected area. This limitation seriously interferes with the quality of life, making daily activities and tasks difficult.

Some of the signs and symptoms of joint pain are the following:

  • Inflammation, heat and redness of the joint.
  • Skin rash, violet spots.
  • Chest pain, respiratory difficulty.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Fever, sweating or chills.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the main types of joint pain that causes disability. He it's about a degenerative disease where the cartilage is deteriorating, leaving the joint unprotected. The bones wear out as a result of friction between them, causing intense pain and stiffness in the joint.

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The efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of joint pain

Acupuncture is one of the complementary therapies to treat joint pain. It is even used to alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Age, overweight and genetic inheritance are factors that predispose to osteoarthritis and, sometimes, a change in lifestyle could help improve symptoms. But nevertheless, Different studies have shown the efficacy of acupuncture as an alternative therapy in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

A systematic review collected in the Cochrane health database showed that acupuncture could slightly reduce pain and improve physical function in patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

For this, the patients were divided into 2 groups: one group would receive treatment with acupuncture and the second group would remain as control (they would not receive treatment). At 8 and at 26 weeks, those patients who had undergone acupuncture treatment manifested pain relief and improvement of physical function compared to the untreated group.

Joint pain resulting from the use of medications

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

A recent study carried out by the scientific research network SWOG (Southwest Oncology Group), showed that Acupuncture significantly reduced joint pain as a consequence of the treatment with aromatase inhibitors of postmenopausal patients in early stage of breast cancer.

The 226 patients from different medical centers included in the study were divided into 3 groups:

  • Acupuncture treatment
  • Mock treatment with acupuncture
  • No treatment

After 12 weeks, patients who received acupuncture treatment they referred pain relief, which also remained for several months. This represents an advance with respect to the alternative use of opiate drugs and the undesirable effects that derive from them.


Taking these results into account, it is concluded that, although more studies are required to investigate its mechanism of action, Acupuncture is not only effective in the treatment of joint pain. This practice has also had its beneficial effects in the treatment of fibromyalgia or neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's.

That is why some health professionals raise the possibility of offering their patients acupuncture as complementary therapy to treatment and even their health coverage.