Acupuncture for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Acupuncture for Rheumatoid ArthritisRheumatoid arthritis is regarded as an auto-immune disease in western medicine and manifests in inflammation of the joints. It can affect any joints but is more common in fingers and toe joints and are usually sore to touch and more stiff in the mornings. As the disease severity worsens X-rays will show osteoporosis, joint space narrowing and erosion. The modern treatment is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen. Other immuno-suppressive drugs and even gold injections have been tried to help this problem.



Some of the unwanted side effects of Ibuprofen include:

  • Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue)
  • Black, tarry, or bloody stools
  • Blurred vision or other eye problems
  • Chest pain; dark urine; fainting; fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Fever; flu-like symptoms; increased or decreased urination
  • Irregular or difficult breathing; mental or mood changes
  • Red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin; severe or persistent dizziness; severe or persistent nausea or stomach pain;
  • Shortness of breath; slurred speech; stiff neck
  • Swelling of the arms or legs
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness; unusual weight gain; vomit that looks like coffee grounds; yellowing of the skin or eyes

In Chinese medicine theory when the energy becomes weak as a result of aging, over work or chronic illness, external environmental factors such as over exposure to damp weather can invade the joints and accumulate there. This accumulation of dampness causes problems with the blood flow and this blockage then leads to stiffness and pain in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis in Chinese medicine can be classified as either cold, hot or damp and this is why often patients with chronic rheumatoid arthritis can often predict when the weather will change because their joints start to ache a day or two before it becomes cloudy and rainy.

Research done by the American College of Rheumatology has demonstrated that only 5-10 acupuncture sessions can improve the debilitating symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by up to 20 % and the beneficial effects of the acupuncture can still be there after 1 month. Acupuncture also has no unwanted side effects like those above caused by Ibuprofin.

A simple home remedy to help rheumatoid arthritis is pearl barley. Put a small handfull in pot with 2-3 large cups of water, bring to boil and simmer for half an hour. You can add your favorite spices, vegetables and meat to make it a tasty soup. Pearl barley has a traditional use as a diuretic to urinate out the dampness that has accumulated in the joints. Chinese herbal medicine has had a 2000 year history of medicines that benefit achy, stiff and swollen joints. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine may provide a safe and effective alternative to harsh drug therapy in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.


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About Heiko Lade

Hi, I'm Heiko Lade - qualified acupuncturist at The Acupuncture Clinic in Hastings, New Zealand. If you would like to make an appointment for a consultation and treatment, please contact me.


  1. I have tried drinking earl barley water and it works wonders. Inflammation and stiffness reduced considerably.

  2. For inflamed joints apply cabbage leaves stem facing the earth. I put them in my socks, fe, or wrap my wrists overnight. Swelling/inflamation decreases measurably over night. And flare ups are controlled. This combined with acupuncture is a godsend for me and my RA.

  3. Vicky Crisp says:

    I’m beginning to suffer from arthritis and was looking at what drugs are available. I was very interested to read your comments. I’ll be trying the recommended pearl barley and will let you know how I get on. It’s great to think I can avoid drugs.

    • Heiko Lade says:

      At present there are no known contraindications, drug interactions or side effects when using barley. If you can, go to an Asian food supply store and use Coix seeds from the Fujian, Hebei and Liaoning provinces of China as they are regarded as the best quality. Up to 30 grams can be used at a time. It should help even if your joints are red, inflamed and swollen.

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