Is acupressure good for arthritis?

Acupuncture for rheumatism - does it make sense?

Priv. Doz. med. H.E. Longer

A large 3-year study led by Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) analyzed the data from 314,000 patients with a total of 3 million treatments. It was not only interesting to compare acupuncture plus conventional medicine with conventional medicine alone, but also the development of treatment costs for assessing the economic aspect. The patients came for treatment with various chronic diseases (pain in the cervical and lumbar spine, headache or osteoarthritis pain, allergic rhinitis, asthma and abdominal pain in connection with the female period (dysmenorrhea).

Basically, acupuncture can be performed in the traditional way, i.e. by inserting needles into certain areas of the skin, but there are also other options for intensification, such as applying electrical stimulation to the needles or heating the needles. It is also possible to dispense with needles and instead simply use electrical impulses, a form of therapy that is often used in children due to its acceptance.

British scientists have shown that acupuncture has a measurable influence on brain waves using positron emission tomography (PET). Needles that really penetrate the skin activate more areas of the brain than pseudo-needles that slide into one another unnoticed by the patient when they are placed on the skin.

The results of the TK study show that although the treatment costs per patient rose by € 360, the symptoms improved significantly and in the long term in 73-90% of those treated. Side effects of acupuncture, on the other hand, are hardly seen.

A study at the University Clinic in Freiburg, in which more than 50% of the 4,400 participating patients had diseases of the musculoskeletal system, revealed a noticeable or even strong improvement in symptoms in 84% of the participants. In 13% there was no change in condition, only 1% even showed a deterioration.

For rheumatism patients, however, it is particularly important to note that acupuncture treatment is not equally suitable for every rheumatic disease.

A study with 73 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee joints, in which one group was treated according to conventional methods and the other additionally with acupuncture, showed that the use of needles led to a very good result because the patients treated in this way were significantly less painful had.

In the case of chronic back pain, a study by the Australian “Cochrane Collaboration” showed that according to the current state of knowledge (there are still relatively few evaluable studies), acupuncture does not bring any relief to this group of patients.

Chronic polyarthritis also does not respond positively to acupuncture needles. Neither the subjective patient assessment of the symptoms nor the assessment of other symptoms of the disease such as the number of swollen or painful joints showed a benefit of the treatment in an English study on 64 patients.
A Swedish study compared the effectiveness of electroacupuncture with that of hydrotherapy for hip osteoarthritis. In addition, the 45 participants received patient training on therapy support. A control group was only trained, but not treated otherwise. Questions were asked before the first and after the last treatment, as well as after one, three and six months.

Both acupuncture and hydrotherapy are far more effective than training alone. However, the acupuncture group reported the greatest improvement in pain from movement and exertion, and this even six months after the therapy. The hydrotherapy patients only had this success up to three months after completing treatment. The improved pain situation and mobility also ensured that both groups felt a significantly increased quality of life.

One final note:

Acupuncture is primarily pain therapy. So far, no study has shown that the course of a rheumatic disease can be influenced by acupuncture in the sense of a real disease modification, i.e. a slowing down or, at best, even stopping of the destruction of joints or other chronically progressive processes in the context of the rheumatic disease is achieved. According to the current state of knowledge, acupuncture can therefore only complement an effective anti-rheumatic treatment, but not replace it. This applies in particular to such dangerous and, if insufficiently treated, rapidly progressing diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (chronic polyarthritis), psoriatic arthritis (joint and spinal column involvement in psoriasis) or other immunological systemic diseases such as collagenosis or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

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