Acupuncture has been shown to be highly successful in reducing a variety of pain-related conditions. More specifically, it has been demonstrated to be an effective method for decreasing joint pain and improving joint health.
Findings from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health have shed new light on inner workings of joint tissues, allowing us to approach joint health from a more holistic perspective. Studies reveal that joints are complex organs comprised of many different tissues, including, but not limited to, ligaments, cartilage, tendons, and muscle. While joint pain was previously understood to be solely a result of damage to the joint cartilage, scientists have discovered how the intricate relationship between the joint tissue components plays a role in joint pain. This new understanding is essential for developing effective protocols for treating joint pain and improving joint health.
Acupuncture is an integrative approach that considers the whole body for joint health. Here are some of the specific ways that acupuncture may help relieve joint pain:
Endorphin release: Acupuncture triggers the body's natural pain-relieving system to release endorphins. These endorphins bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, blocking pain signals from reaching the brain.
Anti-inflammatory effects: Inflammation is a major contributor to joint pain. Acupuncture reduces inflammation by stimulating the body's production of cortisol, a hormone known to reduce inflammation.
Improved circulation: Acupuncture improves circulation by widening blood vessels and subsequently increasing blood flow to the joints. Increased blood flow allows the body to distribute nutrients and remove waste products more efficiently. This can help to reduce pain and improve healing.
Relaxed muscles: Acupuncture may help to relax muscles by stimulating the production of certain neurotransmitters, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid. This neurotransmitter blocks chemical messages and works to decrease the activation of nerve cells in the brain. This has a calming effect on the body, which can help to reduce muscle tension, pain, and improve range of motion.
In 2018, a systematic review was conducted to determine the benefits of acupuncture for treating pain. In this study, researchers looked at 29 random control trials involving 17,922 patients with pain conditions that involved musculoskeletal pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain.
The systematic review concluded the following:
Patients who received acupuncture had significantly less pain than those who received sham acupuncture or no acupuncture.
The pain-relieving effects of acupuncture were still present one year after treatments ended, making acupuncture one of the few treatments with evidence of durable and long-term pain relief.
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Cleveland Clinic. (2022, April 25). Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA): What It Is, Function & Benefits. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22857-gamma-aminobutyric-acid-gaba
Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, July 20). Endorphins: The brain’s natural pain reliever. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/endorphins-the-brains-natural-pain-reliever
Langevin, H. (2023, June 29). Join Us for an NIH HEAL Initiative Workshop on Whole Joint Health. NCCIH. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/about/offices/od/director/past-messages/join-us-for-an-nih-heal-initiative-workshop-on-whole-joint-health?nav=govd1
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Vickers, A. J., Cronin, A. M., Maschino, A. C., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N. E., Sherman, K. J., Witt, C. M., Linde, K., & Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, for the. (2012). Acupuncture for Chronic Pain. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(19), 1444. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3654