Arthritis, Inflammation & Acupuncture

Arthritis, Inflammation & Acupuncture

Arthritis is an inflammation (-itis) of the joints (arthro).  Arthritis can be due to various causes such as infection, trauma, degenerative changes or metabolic disorders, but the driving force behind the stiffness, pain and chronic nature is inflammation

In fact, many consider inflammation to be at 'the root of most diseases' as inflammation is considered the common link between such debilitating conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis & so many more.

Although Inflammation and Pain often go hand-in-hand, the focus of this page is Inflammation.  We also have a separate page focused on Pain & Acupuncture.

Click on the headings below to see answers to some Frequently Asked Questions about Inflammation & Acupuncture.

+ Does Acupuncture Help Reduce Inflammation?

Yes! Acupuncture helps to reduce the inflammation whether it’s a condition ending in ‘itis’, such as:

  • Arthritis (Osteo, Gouty & Rheumatoid)
  • Bronchitis
  • Bursitis
  • Gastritis
  • Hepatitis
  • Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
  • Medial Epicondylitis (Golfer's Elbow)
  • Sinusitis
  • Tendonitis
  • Ulcerative Colitis etc.

or any other condition that involve inflammation. Some examples include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Asthma
  • Chronic Pain (see our Pain & Acupuncture page for more info)
  • Crohn's Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Heart Disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Susceptibility to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections
  • Skin conditions like psoriasis and acne
  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
  • And So Many More!

+ But How Do We Know Acupuncture Really Reduces Inflammation?

Multiple research studies from over a decade ago found that acupuncture reduced some of the bio-markers, or indicators, of inflammation such as Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) and C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and also reduced the pain and stiffness associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

+ Isn't Inflammation A Normal Way For The Body To Heal Itself?

Yes, short-term, isolated inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to injury, but chronic, or unregulated, and widespread inflammation invariably leads to damaging our body.

+ But How Does Acupuncture Actually Reduce Inflammation?

For a while there, we weren’t quite sure how acupuncture reduced inflammation. However, recent research has identified multiple physiological mechanisms by which acupuncture reduces inflammation.

  1. Regulation of M1 & M2 Macrophages
  2. Inhibition of Microglia Activation
  3. Down-Regulation of Pro-Inflammatory Biochemical TNF-alpha

For those eager to learn more about the specific mechanisms by which acupuncture reduces inflammation (and don’t mind more technical jargon) click on the headings below for more detailed info.

+ Regulation of M1 & M2 Macrophages

A 2014 study published in Molecular Neurobiology revealed that acupuncture down-regulates (or turns off) pro-inflammatory cells known as M1 macrophages. At the same time, it up-regulates (or activates) anti-inflammatory M2 macrophages, thereby reducing pain and swelling.

This is an effective strategy because M2 macrophages are a source of anti-inflammatory interleukin-10 (IL-10), a cytokine involved in immune response. It’s thought that up-regulating M2 macrophages leads to an increase in IL-10, which subsequently helps relieve pain and inflammation.

Researchers concluded that

"Acupuncture literally flips a switch wherein initial inflammatory responses are reduced and the secondary healing responses are promoted."


"M1 macrophage down-regulation and M2 macrophage up-regulation triggered by acupuncture was positively associated with reductions in muscle pain and inflammation."

+ Inhibition of Microglia Activation

A 2017 joint study between researchers at University of South Florida (Department of Neurosurgery and Brain Repair, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences) and Fujiaun University of Traditional Chinese Medicine tied acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory actions to its ability to suppress microglia activation.

Microglial are the primary immune system cells in the central nervous system and secrete pro-inflammatory and neurotoxic mediators when activated.

Researchers found that by inhibiting one of the mechanisms along the microglial feedback loop, acupuncture inhibits the subsequent inflammatory responses of microglial activation and thus the associated pain as well.

+ Down-regulation of Pro-Inflammatory Biochemical TNF-alpha

In another 2017 study found that acupuncture successfully down-regulates the pro-inflammatory biochemical TNF-alfa (Tumor Necrosis Factor - alpha) which results in an anti-inflammatory response.

Beyond this discovery, the researchers also mapped out the neural pathways by which acupuncture stimulates these anti-inflammatory effects and relieves systemic inflammation.

Inadequate regulation of TNF-alpha is implicated in the process of numerous diseases including major depression, cancer, psoriasis, Alzheimer’s disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

As Nathan Wei, MD, Director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, MD, explains,

“TNF-alpha plays a critical role in the chronic inflammation and joint destruction that characterizes Rheumatoid Arthritis. That’s why so many of the biologic medications target TNF-alpha.”

Fortunately, those who get acupuncture can receive similar phsyiological benefits as those medications without the side-effects or a need to take additional medications to address those side-effects.