, Volume 14, Issue 6, pp 589-597

Acupuncture in the Treatment of Rheumatic Diseases

Abstract

Acupuncture has been used for millennia in traditional Chinese medicine as a technique believed to restore the balance of energy in the body caused by disease through the use of needles inserted into specific points or energy channels. This energy is called the de qi. The use of acupuncture for the treatment of pain in musculoskeletal disorders is increasing. Some patients seek alternative therapies because of lack of improvement with conventional treatments. The potential physiological effects of acupuncture on pain relief have been attributed to biochemical processes, such as the release of endorphins into the limbic structures, subcortical areas and brain stem, mechanisms that are also present in placebo-induced analgesia. In addition, pain relief with acupuncture is also associated with patient expectations, beliefs, and interactions with their acupuncturists. In this review, we summarize the latest evidence on the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, neck pain, shoulder pain, low back pain, and knee pain with traditional Chinese acupuncture (TCA), electroacupuncture (EA), and the use of moxibustion. Acupuncture is relatively safe, but there are still reports of serious and fatal side effects that must be taken into account when recommending this therapy. Many of the latest trials assessing the benefits of acupuncture in rheumatic diseases found that acupuncture was not better than sham acupuncture, implying that the analgesic effects observed are related to a strong placebo response. While the literature on this topic is extensive, many of the studies lack methodological rigor, and additional large, well-controlled, high quality trials are still needed to determine if acupuncture might be useful in the treatment of chronic rheumatic diseases.