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