Living with arthritis, and acupuncture's benefits.
Living with arthritis can be a challenging experience, characterized by joint swelling, tenderness, and a gradual loss of movement. As individuals age, the symptoms of arthritis, including joint pain and stiffness, often worsen. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in the joints breaks down over time, while rheumatoid arthritis involves the immune system attacking the joint linings.
Osteoarthritis is not only the most prevalent joint condition but also the most progressive and degenerative form of arthritis. It occurs due to the gradual deterioration of joint cartilage, which acts as a protective coating on the ends of bones. This cartilage cushions the bones and facilitates smooth joint movement. Over time, daily wear-and-tear on the joints can lead to the breakdown of cartilage, resulting in bone-on-bone contact, pain, and limited mobility. This process may take place over several years, but it can also be accelerated by joint injuries or infections.
Furthermore, osteoarthritis can cause structural changes in the bones and the breakdown of connective tissues responsible for attaching muscles to bones and maintaining joint stability. Severe damage to joint cartilage can lead to inflammation and swelling of the joint lining. Consequently, osteoarthritis is a major cause of disability, significantly impacting physical function and mobility. The condition predominantly affects joints in the hands, knees, hips, and feet. Diagnosis is typically based on radiological changes and the presence of joint pain, tenderness, limited movement, joint effusion, and varying degrees of localized inflammation. It is estimated that globally, symptomatic osteoarthritis affects approximately 10% of men and 18% of women aged 60 years or older.
Osteoarthritis can affect anyone, but certain factors increase the risk. Individuals in their late 40s or older, particularly women, have a higher likelihood of developing the condition. Other risk factors include being overweight, previous joint injuries, other joint conditions, and physically demanding occupations involving repetitive movements. The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is joint pain, which typically worsens later in the day. Swelling, stiffness, muscle weakness around the affected joints, reduced mobility, and joint creaking can also occur.
Painkillers are commonly used for managing osteoarthritis pain. However, long-term use of pain medication can lead to various side effects, including potentially serious issues such as bleeding problems associated with aspirin. Consequently, in recent years, many patients have sought alternative treatments for their symptoms. One such alternative is acupuncture.
Acupuncture has been reported to be effective in treating chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis. Research has shown that the use of acupuncture in adults with osteoarthritis can lead to a significant reduction in pain intensity. For instance, a randomized, controlled clinical trial involving a large number of patients (3633 in total) demonstrated that those treated with acupuncture experienced significant improvements in symptoms and quality of life compared to those in the control group. Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the release of endogenous opioids, which act as natural pain relievers, and reduce the release of stress hormones, thereby providing relief for individuals with osteoarthritis.
In conclusion, living with arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis, can be challenging due to joint pain, stiffness, and limited movement. Osteoarthritis is a progressive and degenerative condition that primarily affects the cartilage in the joints. While painkillers are commonly used for pain management, their long-term use can have adverse side effects. As an alternative, acupuncture has shown promise in reducing pain intensity and improving quality of life for individuals with osteoarthritis.