Current Rheumatology Reports

, Volume 14, Issue 6, pp 589–597 | Cite as

Acupuncture in the Treatment of Rheumatic Diseases

  • Matxalen Amezaga Urruela
  • Maria E. Suarez-AlmazorEmail author


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.


Acupuncture Rheumatic diseases Treatment Rheumatoid arthritis Fibromyalgia Osteoarthritis Neck pain Shoulder pain Knee pain Low back pain 



Dr. Suarez-Almazor is the recipient of a K24 award from the National Institute on Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders (NIAMS K24AR053593). Manuscript contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIAMS or NIH.


No potential conflicts of interest relevant to this article were reported.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matxalen Amezaga Urruela
    • 1
    • 2
  • Maria E. Suarez-Almazor
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Rheumatology SectionBaylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of General Internal MedicineThe University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  3. 3.Section of Rheumatology, Department of General Internal MedicineThe University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA

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