Acupuncture for Arthritis

The term arthritis refers to a group of conditions that involve damage to the joints. These conditions are painful and are the most common cause of disability in people over the age of 50. The most common forms are:

Osteoarthritis – degeneration of the joint due to injury, infection or lifestyle issues. In the developed world Osteoarthritis can account for up to 25% of all visits to primary healthcare practitioners.

Rheumatoid Arthritis – a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints.

Arthritis and TCM

Acupuncture is generally well known for its effectiveness in treating arthritis, and most acupuncturists spend a good deal of their clinical time treating this condition.

Acupuncture works by regulating and harmonising the flow of Qi.  If this flow is obstructed or blocked, pain occurs. The disease factors involved in Arthritis inhibit this free flow, leading to pain and stiffness. These disease factors may be cold (in which case the joint may feel cold to the touch, and the pain may get worse in cold weather but be alleviated by warmth), or hot (the joint feels hot and inflamed); there may also be an accumulation of body fluids in the area, leading to swelling (and often an exacerbation of the condition in damp weather).

Treatment will usually involve the insertion of acupuncture needles around the area of the problem, as well as further down the affected limb. In the case of the cold and damp variants of the disease, a pleasant-smelling Chinese herb called moxa may be smouldered on the end of the needles to help clear the cold and damp. Sometimes a treatment called cupping will be used in conjunction with acupuncture to help speed up the recovery process by further encouraging the Qi to flow freely, and herbal therapy (either taken in the form of pills or tablets, or applied to the skin as a cream or ointment)  may be employed to help expel the disease factors from the body.

Treatment will also aim to address and redress any underlying disharmonies in the patient’s overall health which may have contributed to the problem arising.


Osteoarthritis often responds quite quickly to acupuncture. Whilst the speed of improvement will depend on factors such as how severe the condition is, how long ago it started, and the overall health of the patient, treatments should begin to show improvement after four or five treatments, if not sooner.

Rheumatoid Arthritis also responds well. Sometimes if the condition is flaring up and the joints are hot and swollen, it may be best to have treatments 3 or 4 days apart until the acute symptoms have settled down,  to avoid too much harm being done to the joint by allowing the flare up to continue un-treated.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Arthritis?

There is a growing body of evidence supporting the use of acupuncture in the treatment of arthritis. For example, a large scale study conducted in the USA in 2004 concluded that acupuncture both relieved pain and improved function in osteoarthritis of the knee.1  For details of other studies  you can access the British Acupuncture Council’s briefing paper on Arthritis at by clicking on Research, followed by Documents. These documents are also available on request from our clinic.

The World Health Organisation2 report on the efficacy of acupuncture concludes that acupuncture has been proven, through controlled trials, to be an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

A 2018 systemic review3 concluded that “acupuncture alone or combined with other treatment modalities is beneficial to the clinical conditions of RA without adverse effects reported and can improve function and quality of life…”



1 Berman BM, Lao L, Langenberg P, Lee WL, Gilpin AMK, Hochberg MC. Effectiveness of Acupuncture as Adjunctive Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2004; 141(12):901-910.

2 WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials

3 Chou, Pei-Chi, and Heng-Yi Chu. “Clinical Efficacy of Acupuncture on Rheumatoid Arthritis and Associated Mechanisms: A Systemic Review.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2018 (2018).


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.