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Can acupuncture help with psoriatic arthritis and how much does it cost?

A: We have received relatively few enquiries about the treatment of psoriatic arthritis and the most recent, three years ago said:

  We have to be honest and say that the research studies which exist for both rheumatoid arthritis (which from a Chinese medicine perspective is very similar to psoriatic arthritis) and psoriasis are not that helpful. Our factsheets

point out that studies are few and far between, and often methodologically weak. 
This does not mean that acupuncture may not be able to help at all. Many patients with auto-immune arthritic conditions often use acupuncture for relieving specific symptoms, such as pains in a particular joint, and we do hear of people deriving considerable benefit. This is principally about limitation of discomfort and pain relief, however, not about reversing the main condition.
When people have enquired about psoriasis in the past, we have also offered very cautious advice. The last response we gave in October said:
There hasn't been a great deal of research in the use of acupuncture for the treatment of psoriasis, and where small studies have been done there has not been a great deal of success on which one could base a positive recommendation.
This is not to say that acupuncture treatment may not be of benefit. Skins problems such as eczema and psoriasis can have a variety of causes, some of them mental and emotional as well as environmental and the universal 'idiopathic', which is western medical speak for 'it just happens', or 'we don't know what causes it'. Traditional Chinese medicine was initially premise on the simple but profound belief that symptoms were merely alarm bells that the system as a whole was out of balance, and that a skilled physician would be able to assess what was needed to restore balance and by doing so eradicate the symptoms. There is no doubt that each year many people have acupuncture on this more general basis and experience some very encouraging results.
However, we have to say that the received wisdom in the acupuncture profession is that Chinese herbal medicine often generates better results for skin conditions, possibly because the regular daily or twice daily treatment is better suited to dealing with the problem or possibly because the precise adjustments of the prescription achieve what broader techniques may not. In any event, it may well be worth your while contacting a member of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) for advice. You will probably find that the person you speak to is also a BAcC member, since more than 90% of the RCHM membership is dual-registered.
This does not mean that we would entirely rule out acupuncture as your first option, and you may still find it valuable to discuss your own unique presentation with a BAcC member local to you. He or she will be able to give you a better face to face assessment depending on the spread and location of the condition than we could do here.

Looking back at this we think it might be a little over-cautious. While it would be foolhardy to suggest that there is a cure we have seen a number of cases where someone's rate of deterioration has slowed down, or at least they have perceived it as such, or where symptoms which were assumed to have been a part of the overall picture have been considerably lessened because they were not as closely connected with the 'headline' problem as was believed to be the case.

 On that basis it would certainly do no harm to see what acupuncture treatment can offer. The key concern is of running up a large bill for treatment which really has not achieved very much. It is really important to set regular review periods and, difficult as it may be, to set measurable outcome targets, things which would let you know without doubt whether things were improving or not. Greater endurance, better grip, etc etc - something which can be measured and not simply be a reflection of how you feel on the day.

 There is no set cost for treatment. We tend to distinguish between London, where first sessions can cost between £50 and £75 and subsequent sessions £40-£60, and the rest of the UK where first sessions are often a little less £40-£60 and subsequent sessions £35-£50. In reality, though, there is a difference in the overheads of working from home and working from a Grade 2 Listed building in a city centre, and this is often reflected in the cost of treatment. There is also a growing number of members offering treatment in multi-bed clinics where the aim is to reduce the cost of treatment by working in a group setting. For someone with long term treatment in prospect this can be a welcome development.


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