How Does Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis Work?


Osteoarthritis of knee

Many patients inquire how can acupuncture for osteoarthritis help because this is bone problem and acupuncture is  just for the nerves. Osteoarthritis from a western medical view is when the cartilage breaks down and leaves the bones exposed. The joints then can have sharp and burning pain which become more and more stiff as the disease progresses. Larger joints like the knee can become swollen with a buildup of fluid and smaller joints can develop bony enlargements making the joints stiff and painful. X-rays can show degenerative changes but sometimes the pain is accompanied with only minor visible changes.

Western medicine or acupuncture for osteoarthritis?

Western medicine has little to offer apart from pain killers, anti-inflammatories and if severe, joint replacements can be done. Dr John McDonald, one of Australia’s foremost acupuncture researchers said “Acupuncture down-regulates interleukin 6 (IL 6) which is one of the central mediators in bony degeneration and inflammation in osteoarthritis. This means acupuncture is much better than anti-inflammatory drugs as it slows the bone loss

Why does the weather effect osteoarthritis?

Western bio medical has made the observation that many sufferers of osteoarthritis complain of an aggravation with weather changes, with in particular cold weather and damp hot weather being worst. This is interesting from a Chinese medicine perspective because ancient physicians viewed that the exterior cold or damp and heat from the environment can penetrate through the skin and and settle into the bones.

Can acupuncture help the swelling?

Traditional Chinese medicine theory views  that the bones are in fact controlled by the kidneys. This is not a silly concept considering that in modern medicine the kidneys have an important role in calcium metabolism. In cases of osteoarthritis affecting the knees where there is  swelling, diuretic pharmaceuticals are prescribed by modern doctors. In contrast, Chinese medicine physicians can either needle acupuncture points that are on the kidney and bladder meridians or in other instances prescribe Chinese herbs that have a diuretic function to urinate out the toxins causing the osteoarthritis.

It is not uncommon that after an acupuncture treatment for osteoarthritis, patients feel an urgency to urinate because the kidney metabolism has been stimulated by the needles.

Can acupuncture help repair the cartilage?

Some people will still ask, surely if the cartilage is gone, acupuncture can’t help that. The effects of acupuncture not only lessen pain but also stimulate rejuvenation.  It wasn’t long ago that scientists believed  that the liver can’t rejuvenate itself and that he brain can’t rejuvenate itself. Scientists also had the view that nerves can’t rejuvenate themselves. Apparently now, western medicine admits that they were wrong. Why would it be any different with cartilage. Its only a matter of time before researchers reveal that cartilage can rejuvenate as well.

Apart from acupuncture, can anything else help osteoarthritis?

There are options to living off pain killers or resorting to joint replacement surgery if you suffer from osteoarthritis. Research has also shown that gentle mobilizing exercise helps arthritic joints. Tai Chi is an excellent exercise to start if you are suffering from osteoarthritis.

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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. Joseph Sarti, L.Ac says:

    Thank you Heiko. Well said and I will be sharing on my site as a way to further educate and support the possibilities we offer as TCM Doctors.

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