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UCLA Physician Says Acupuncture and Acupressure May Help Relieve Psoriatic Arthritis Pain

Posted on November 12, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Kate Rix

  • At a recent Arthritis Foundation webinar, UCLA’s Dr. Lawrence Taw discussed the benefits of acupuncture and acupressure in managing arthritis pain.
  • Acupuncture may provide relief for some people with psoriatic arthritis pain after four to six sessions, when administered by a licensed professional.
  • Acupuncture and acupressure can be used as a complement to traditional Western medicine and are unlikely to interfere with the effectiveness of medications. Always ask your doctor before beginning a new treatment.

Acupuncture and other methods of stimulating the body’s energy at specific trigger points can significantly reduce pain from psoriatic arthritis, according Dr. Lawrence B. Taw, director of the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine in Torrance, California. Dr. Taw is board-certified in internal medicine, as well as oriental medicine, acupuncture, and herbology.

During a recent webinar hosted by the Arthritis Foundation, Dr. Taw explained how acupuncture works to ease tension in the body. He estimated that people with arthritis pain may find relief from four to six sessions of acupuncture treatment — although results vary with each individual. He also shared a number of acupressure points on the body people can press on their own to relieve pain and discussed other pain-relief treatments used in his clinic, including cupping and injecting small amounts of lidocaine at trigger points.

Basics of Chinese Medicine

Central to the Chinese medicine modality is the concept of qi (pronounced “chee”), or energy, which flows through the body along pathways called meridians. Certain trigger points along those meridians give access to qi’s flow, allowing trained practitioners to unblock stagnated energy, or tension.

The tension of stagnated qi is what causes pain in the body’s soft tissues, Dr. Taw said. Through massage, acupressure, and acupuncture, that tension can be released.

Similarly, Dr. Taw explained, the soft tissue around joints and bones can become tense and painful, particularly for people with various forms of arthritis. Applying pressure, or a fine acupuncture needle, to the appropriate trigger point can release the tension and give the muscle tissue a chance to reset.

“All organ functions involve smooth muscle tissue that contracts and relaxes,” Dr. Taw said. “What impairs the flow causes tension in those muscles.” For people who have experienced arthritis pain for many years, it may take several sessions to notice a benefit, he explained.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very fine needles into the skin to stimulate the soft tissue at specific points. Dr. Taw explained that this can change the signals that nerves send to the brain, intervening in the inflammatory pathway.

There is some research to support the effectiveness of acupuncture for psoriatic arthritis. A 2020 case report following a 73-year-old woman with psoriatic arthritis found that acupuncture, combined with natural medicine including herbs, provided pain relief. Other research has found that acupuncture can help reduce pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis, another form of inflammatory arthritis, although the researchers cited a need for more thorough studies on the subject.

Learn more about natural remedies for psoriatic arthritis.

Trying Acupuncture

Dr. Taw emphasized that before scheduling an appointment with an acupuncturist, you should check to be sure the practitioner has a license in good standing with their state’s medical acupuncture board. He also suggested calling to ask the practitioner if they have experience treating arthritis pain. You can ask them to explain their treatment approach clearly.

Some private insurance plans cover acupuncture in certain circumstances. Health savings accounts (HSA) and flexible spending accounts (FSA) can be used to pay for acupuncture. Medicare Part B covers 12 acupuncture sessions in a 90-day period for chronic low back pain. Low-cost or sliding-scale acupuncture services may be available near where you live.

Trying Acupressure

Dr. Taw emphasized that any kind of pressure applied to specific trigger points, including massage and acupressure, can be effective. Acupressure follows the same principles as acupuncture, but instead of using a fine needle, pressure is applied with fingers or other small objects, like a tennis ball. Press each point for five to 10 seconds at a time.

  • For headache relief — Press the muscle in between the thumb and forefinger. Avoid doing this if you are pregnant, as this point is also used in acupressure to induce labor.
  • For nausea, stress, or chest pain — Press the area on the inner arm three fingers’ distance below the wrist crease.
  • For pain in the arms or legs — Press the webbed spot between the big toe and the second toe.
  • For better sleep — Press the spot four fingers’ distance from the inner ankle bone. Avoid doing this if you are pregnant, as this point is also used to induce labor.
  • For knee pain or fatigue — Press the spot four fingers’ distance from the bottom of the kneecap.

The webinar with Dr. Taw is available to watch through the Arthritis Foundation website.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Kate Rix is a writer based in Oakland, California. She earned her master’s in journalism from University of California, Berkeley. Learn more about her here.

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