Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) involves inflammation that is so severe it can lead to joint deformity, limitations in function, and a decreased quality of life. Persons with RA often feel they have the flu—they are tired and aching, but also have swelling, and pain in one or more joints for several weeks. Often many joint are affected simultaneously. RA is considered a systemic or whole-body illness.

RA is not simple to treat. Acupuncture helps with stress, anxiety and sleep as well as pain reduction. The following randomized controlled trial was published in Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.

Objectives: This study describes a randomized controlled trial to evaluate acupuncture as a useful treatment adjunct in the management of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods: The study conducted a prospective, partially blinded, controlled, randomized clinical trial of patients receiving true acupuncture compared with a control group of patients who received simulated acupuncture. All patients met American College of Rheumatology criteria for RA and had tried conservative symptomatic treatments other than acupuncture. All patients received 25 sessions over a period of 12 weeks. Seven acupuncture points were chosen. Primary outcome is the changes in the pain score. Secondary outcomes included the changes in the ACR core disease measures, DAS 28 score and the number of patients who achieved ACR 20 at week 12.

The trial was conducted from May 2011 to August 2012.

Results: Fifty patients participated in the study: 25 in the acupuncture group and 25 in the control group. The number of tender joints was significantly reduced for the true acupuncture groups. Physician’s global score was also significantly reduced for the true group and patient’s global score was also significantly reduced for the true group compared with the control group during the study period (P=0.01). The largest difference in total scores was observed at 2 months of therapy. Fatigue and anxiety were the most significantly improved symptoms during the follow up period.

Conclusions: This study paradigm allows for controlled and blinded clinical trials of acupuncture. We found that acupuncture significantly improved symptoms of RA. Symptomatic improvement was not restricted to pain relief and was most significant for fatigue and anxiety.