Worldwide, 175 million people suffer from some type of arthritis, with over 10% of the world’s population over 60 having some symptoms of osteoarthritis. With these numbers, arthritis is the fourth leading cause of years lived with a disability, and by the year 2030 researchers predict that 67 million people in the U.S. alone will have some form of arthritis. Those 175 million people are all looking for ways to reduce their pain and symptoms. What if an ancient remedy held the key? Here’s what we know about acupuncture and arthritis.

Acupuncture and arthritis: The basics

Before you can get a good idea of how acupuncture could work to relieve your arthritis symptoms, it’s important to know what type of pain you’re experiencing. The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. They share some common symptoms but are developed differently in the body.


Osteoarthritis is a “wear-and-tear” condition that affects the joints. As joints age, the cartilage that protects the end of the bones that connect to form joints begins to wear down. Over time, the bones can grind together, causing bone degradation. Even before bone degradation, an osteoarthritis sufferer will feel pain and inflammation in the affected joint. This condition is permanent and not reversible. In some cases, the degradation is such that surgical repair or replacement is necessary.

Other symptoms of osteoarthritis include the following:

  • Limited range of motion
  • Pain and stiffness in the affected joint, especially in the morning or after periods of inactivity
  • Sensation of grating or grinding in the joint
  • Tenderness in the affected area
  • Formation of bone spurs, which are calcium deposits forming around the joint

Although this disease most often affects people over age 55, some populations of people in the world are more at risk for osteoarthritis than others. Women are twice as likely to develop osteoarthritis as men, and those in occupations with repetitive motion are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.

Obese people subject their joints to more pressure due to increased weight and thus suffer more osteoarthritis than non-obese people. Because obesity is more prevalent in people with a lower socio-economic status, that demographic is more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis and less likely to have their condition treated.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Osteoarthritis may be a result of old age and repetitive motion that occurs mostly in the elderly population, but there is a form of arthritis that can strike at any age.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that can affect multiple joints in the body, usually in a symmetrical fashion (i.e., both knees will be involved). There are a number of autoimmune disorders connected with rheumatoid arthritis, and the symptoms of pain and inflammation in the joints are common to all of them.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints, ligaments, connective tissues, and tendons in the body. It usually appears during a person’s most productive years (20-40 years of age). This type of arthritis is more common in developed countries and occurs more frequently in women than men. 50% of people who develop rheumatoid arthritis are unable to work full-time within ten years of diagnosis.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are very similar to symptoms of osteoarthritis but can also include:

  • Redness at the affected area
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • General feeling of being unwell (malaise)