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how does acupuncture help in managing osteoarthritis. Does it only relieve pain or can it also slow down the progression of the disease

Q: how does acupuncture help in managing osteoarthritis. Does it only relieve pain or can it also slow down the progression of the disease

A: There is a very large and increasing body of evidence for the use of acupuncture as a treatment for osteoarthritis, as our factsheet shows

Many of the studies are quite clear that reduction in pain with acupuncture is a reasonable expectation of outcome for treatment, and many of the studies cited here speak of the reduction in physical dysfunction which acupuncture treatment seems to achieve.

However, it is a fairly large step from pain reduction and functional improvements to statements about slowing down the progression of the disease. To the extent that changes in physical movement wrought by the pain and inflammation can both make the situation worse, any reduction or change in either will stop the condition feeding off itself, i.e. the symptoms become a part of the causal pattern which causes deterioration. However, the factors which predispose someone to osteoarthritis may still be as active as they were before, be they genetic, environmental or lifestyle, so it would only be reasonable to say that unless these change then slowing down the disease progression may not as easy to achieve.

This is to look at things from a conventional medical perspective, though. The ancient Chinese were just as prone to osteoarthritis as modern people, but the whole nature of the understanding of disease in Chinese medicine is different, and from this perspective there may be something which a practitioner could reasonably hope to achieve to remove some of the causal factors. Chinese medicine is predicated on an understanding of the flow of the energies of the body, called 'qi', and its patterns of flow and balance. Factors which affect this are often described in physical terms  - heat, cold, damp, etc - as a reflection of the conditions in which most people worked on the land. The Chinese would see the joint being directly affected by these conditions and use acupuncture and herbs to reduce the impact on the body.

In doing so they would also be mindful of the unique balance of the individual and the constitutional patterns which they had inherited which made some people more prone than others to develop osteoarthritis (the Chinese called it Bi Syndrome, and classified it according to its presentations - Hot Bi, Cold Bi, Damp Bi, etc). In this sense an experienced practitioner might hope to reduce the symptoms as well as addressing some of the deeper factors which predisposed someone to suffer with OA. From this perspective it might well be possible to look at slowing down the disease progression.

No treatment for OA works in isolation, though. An integrated approach, involving not just acupuncture but physical therapy, diet and exercise, will always offer the best chance of making life more tolerable for an OA sufferer.

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