By Tom Keppeler, Shoulder 1 Staff
Acupuncture, the ancient Chinese practice of pricking the skin with pins to stimulate the flow of energy within the body, may help alleviate the pain of arthritis in the knees, hips and shoulders, according to a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Osteoarthritis, a painful, degenerative condition that attacks the joints and gradually reduces the fluidity of them, affects millions of shoulders each year. The symptoms, which range from popping and locking of the joints and painful aching to severe immobility, can be countered with a number of methods, including medication and surgical intervention. However, doctors in the Western hemisphere have traditionally turned their noses up at acupuncture, claiming that no studies have shown it to be effective.
However, the recent study, unveiled at last month's annual meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and funded by the NIH, provides proof that the practice may reduce the pain of arthritis when used in conjunction with conventional methods. Researchers from the University of Maryland's School of Medicine evaluated the effect of acupuncture on 73 patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis. Each patient was assigned either to continue on anti-inflammatory drugs or to undergo eight weeks of acupuncture, according to Reuters. The treatment resulted in "significant changes," Dr. Brian Berman told the news service. "Acupuncture did reduce their pain, they had less stiffness, and they were able to function better."
Acupuncture, a 2,500-year-old Chinese practice, aims to unleash the flow of energy, or "Qi," within the body. According to ancient beliefs, disruptions of Qi result in disease and pain; conversely, a steady flow of Qi brings good health. By probing points of the skin with thin, metal needles, the discipline teaches, Qi can begin flowing better. Some Western studies have suggested that acupuncture may stimulate the body's ability to conduct electrical signals and create of natural opiods, thereby eliminating some pain
People have turned to acupuncture for a variety of ailments, ranging from the pain of cancer and chemotherapy to menstrual cramps. However, as Berman says, although researchers have come up with scads of anecdotal proof of its advantages, few studies properly document the benefits of acupuncture with clinical data. His mission, therefore, was to evaluate its ability to block the pain of arthritis using valid scientific methods. Based upon the results of the latest study, Berman hopes to organize a larger study involving nearly 600 patients.