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It has been two years since I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.  From steroids to Celebrex to DMARDs to Biologics to chemotherapy, I have tried so many treatments during the past two years.  But even the current treatments I am using to help with daily pain and joint damage are just not cutting it completely.

That’s why I have recently tried a more natural approach with acupuncture. I just finished my fourth treatment session at Circle Community Acupuncture and things seem to be going pretty well so far. I even had my first day nearly pain free this week!

To give you a little background from WebMD, acupuncture uses disposable, stainless steel needles to stimulate the body’s 14 major meridians, or energy-carrying channels, to resist or overcome illnesses by correcting these imbalances. It is thought to decrease pain by increasing the release of chemicals that block pain, called endorphins. Many acu-points are near nerves. When stimulated, these nerves cause a dull ache or feeling of fullness in the muscle. The stimulated muscle sends a message to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), causing the release of endorphins (morphine-like chemicals produced in our own bodies during times of pain or stress). Endorphins, along with other neurotransmitters (body chemicals that modify nerve impulses), block the message of pain from being delivered up to the brain. There are several types of acupuncture, most commonly the Traditional Chinese Medicine practice, which is what I am trying currently.

The first acupuncture session I had was a shock to my body (I’m not going to lie, it hurt!). They warn you that you may feel a heaviness, numbness, tingling, or mild soreness after the needles have been inserted or taken out.  But I felt more than a heaviness or soreness, it was a big, bad flare-up. And it lasted almost a week, almost to where I couldn’t grip anything. However, I knew not to get discouraged because at least this treatment option was doing something in my body and it showed. They also say it takes 4-5 treatments for acupuncture to start showing signs of success, so I am keeping a weekly appointment as a starting point.

I’m sure you are wondering what evidence or studies there have been with rheumatoid arthritis patients and acupuncture.  I was the same way and didn’t really believe that tiny needles could help chronic pain. At a meeting of the Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals, there was research and evidence presented from some studies that were done. It showed that the group with RA receiving electro-acupuncture experienced a significant reduction in the number of tender joints and a measurable decrease in pain, stiffness, and swelling.  The group receiving traditional acupunture also experienced benefits, while the placebo group saw no change.  This is good news for those of us with the everyday pain and stiffness.

So far, I have seen positive results from the acupuncture treatments, so I am crossing my fingers that I can use this as a long term solution to the every day pain and stiffness from the RA.  We first focused on my spine and back pain, since it was the most prominent pain recently.  And after 4 sessions, my back pain and muscle spasms have significantly decreased. Also, I experienced a quick-fix solution when on my third session I came in with a sharp and constant pain in one of my knees (probably a flare-up).  We targeted that knee in the acupuncture session and I was able to walk out of the appointment with no pain in my knee!

Treating rheumatoid arthritis with acupuncture should be seen as a long term process, especially if the condition has been present for many years. Symptoms of autoimmune arthritis can also include tissues and organs outside of the joints, and this can lead to multiple specialists with often conflicting advice and treatment. Rheumatologists and physical therapists are finally getting more in tune with acupuncture as a treatment option, but it is only a treatment that will work in conjunction with medication use and possibly physical therapy.  It cannot replace these things to avoid joint damage, but it can help with the chronic pain.