Osteoarthritis (OA) sufferers are often in dire need of relief from their symptoms. A lot of them seek answers in therapies that are beyond what mainstream medicine offers. Fortunately, there are many kinds of effective alternative remedies for OA from exotic herbal formulas to hands-on therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic and massage. The sad fact, however, is that only 2% of OA sufferers have tried acupuncture. Acupuncture is a very old oriental modality that is powerful enough to treat almost all kinds of pain including OA pain. It may seem that pricking a person to cure pain is a bit odd, but people who have tried acupuncture state that it always bring about improvement in their symptoms and is a useful complementary therapy for individuals suffering from aching joints.
One obstacle to acupuncture’s wider acceptance is the mixed results researchers get when studying acupuncture’s effectiveness in battling OA. Acupuncturists usually use a different technique based on the patient’s constitution and manifested symptoms. These factors are often not considered in a lot of studies dealing with acupuncture treatment for health conditions.
How Does Acupuncture Work? How Effective Is It?
For thousands of years, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners have used acupuncture to relieve every type of pain in China and other parts of East Asia. Acupuncturists resolve diseases and disorders by placing very thin metal needles into a patient’s skin at certain points on the patient’s body. Based on the tenets of TCM, health is due to the normal flow of energy known as qi throughout the body. Qi flows through energy vessels called meridians to nourish the body with life giving energy. Health conditions develop when this flow becomes unbalanced or disrupted. The correct selection of acupuncture points to be needled ensures the return of normal qi flow leading to the recovery of the patient.
Western medicine cannot prove the existence of qi and the meridians and so does not recognize their existence. Nevertheless, concrete proof of their existence has suggested that there may be other reasons why acupuncture can provide relief from pain and discomforts.
A number of studies have been done proving that certain physiological mechanisms happen when an acupuncture needle is placed in the body. The proper insertion of an acupuncture needles unleashes a number of body responses. The needles produce a signal that is conveyed along the spinal cord to the brain. This sets off the release of neurotransmitters known as enkephalins and endorphins that scientists theorize lessen the sensation of pain. Other studies also demonstrate that when an acupuncture needle is inserted, it induces the production of cortisol, which a hormone that aids in the suppression of inflammation. Acupuncture can activate the body’s other pain-relieving chemicals, as well.
The question then is, do all these chemical activation help alleviate stiff and sore joints? In one the largest study of its kind, a study involving 570 men and women past the age of 50 suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee was conducted. The subjects were divided into two groups. One group was given 23 treatments of acupuncture the course of a half year or so. The other group, the control group, was given phony or placebo treatment. This group was treated with fake needles that elicited a pinprick sensation but did not pierce the skin.
This study, done in 2004 was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine who discovered. It discovered that after 26 weeks, the group given real acupuncture experienced substantially less pain. The group also had a better function (gleaned by the distance they could walk within six minutes) compared to the other group that received fake acupuncture.
The Problem with Fake Acupuncture
There are other studies, however, that have compared real acupuncture to sham or fake acupuncture that showed the latter to be even more effective than real acupuncture when it comes to treating OA. However, there are reasons that can be cited why studies using sham acupuncture as a placebo can lead to misleading and disappointing results.
Placebos utilized in clinical trials should be have no medicinal value and should also be inert. Still stimulation was achieved in certain trials with fake needles utilized as placebos even if these needles did not pierce the skin. Other trials used real acupuncture needles but they were inserted into random acupuncture points which meant the traditional points were not needled.
There are researchers however, who think that any piercing of the skin can cause a stimulating effect leading to neurochemical modifications related with acupuncture therapy. In these cases, these researchers argued that the unintended alleviation of pain elicited by sham acupuncture can distort the results of the study, because in certain cases, the fake treatments produced eerily similar effects as real acupuncture.
In the meantime, much more enhanced benefits for OA have been seen in studies where placebo did not involve the use of sham acupuncture. Patients receiving acupuncture in these studies were compared to the other patients who were given conventional mainstream care like physical therapy and painkillers. In these studies, the patients in the treatment group knew they were being given real acupuncture.
There are scientists who think that these studies aren’t accurate, since patients are aware of the kind of treatment they are receiving. This makes them more likely to experience less disability and pain. However, other scientists argue that these kinds of studies actually mirror exactly the effects of medicine in the real world.