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Acupunctire for pain in wrist/thumb

Q:  Can acupuncture possibly help relieve severe intermittent pain in a wrist/thumb osteoarthritis problem? I currently have a splint which I wear when it's really bad and take strong painkillers{prescribed}as and when needed.  I'd rather not have to have steroid injections every 6/9 months.

A:  As our factsheet shows
there is limited but increasing evidence for the benefit of acupuncture treatment. It has to be said, however, that the bar in the West is set very high, with the randomised double blind control trial being used as the basis for makign any claims for efficacy. This is more appropriate to drug testing than for testing a dynamic and evolutionary intervention like acupuncture, and in China, where the question is not 'does it work?' but 'what works better?', there are many hundreds of studies which appear to show that acupuncture treatment can be of benefit.
However, a great deal depends on the extent of the deterioration of the joints. There are, from a Chinese medicine perspective, both local and systemic reasons why someone can manifest pains in a specific joint, and the art and skill of the practitioner lies in determining which this is and treating appropriately. The caution, as always in cases of osteoarthritis, is just how much the joint has been affected by crumbling of the bone or by osteophytes, bony outgrowths which often cause inflammation and aggravation. If either is significant then the treatment may be of limited value. Acupuncture is used for pain relief, this being one of the main areas of interest when research kicked off in the West, but like any pain relief the question is how much relief and how sustainable it is. If, for example, a monthly session bought continuing relief for over three weeks, then this may be an option to consider. If, on the other hand, acupuncture brought about relief for about 2 or 3 days, then unless someone has deep pockets this is not a great option.
We believe that there may be a limit to how many steroid injections someone can have in a single joint, so it is worthwhile exploring alternatives. Our advice would be to visit a BAcC member local to you for them to be able to give you a brief face to face assessment of whether treatment may be of value. If you did decide to go ahead we would highly recommend that you set an upper limit on treatments from the outset and then review progress. Four or five sessions would normally be enough to assess whether there was any change and how sustainable it might be.     

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