Osteoarthritis affects the surface of joints, causing pain, loss of smooth function and sometimes deformation. Where bones meet, at a joint, the ends are usually covered with a substance called cartilage, which enables the joint to operate smoothly. The area is surrounded by a capsule filled with liquid, known as synovial fluid. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage becomes damaged, the protective capsule (the synovium) may thicken and the amount of synovial fluid increase, causing your joint to swell. In an effort to stabilise the joint, the capsule and ligaments (material like strong elastic bands that hold the bones together) start to thicken and contract, reducing mobility.

The two images below, reproduced from the arthritisresearchuk.org site show a joint with mild osteoarthritis and then another that has been deformed by severe osteoarthritis [1].

Sometimes, these adaptations can be enough to protect the joint, but often the person will experience severe and chronic pain. Other symptoms include stiffness, a grinding sensation, swelling and lack of a full range of movement in the joint [2].

“In the UK, 8.75 million people have sought treatment for osteoarthritis. This means:

  • 33% of people aged 45 years and over
  • 49% of women and 42% of men of those aged 75 years and over.

Women are more likely than men to have sought treatment.” [3]

In fact, about 10% of people aged over 55 have painful knee osteoarthritis [4]. The most commonly affected joint is the knee, followed by the hip then wrist/hand and foot/ankle.

Osteoarthritis has several risk factors, age being the primary one, with the majority of cases appearing in the over 40s. Women are more commonly and severely affected and joint injury or abnormality may be a factor. As with many conditions, your genetics will play a part although we’re not yet sure specifically which genes are implicated. The final risk factor is obesity which also increases the chances of the condition worsening in severity.

Treatment options

There are no conventional treatments that can cure osteoarthritis but with intervention, it may be stabilised or even slightly improved. The primary array of measures includes [5]:

  • exercise like swimming or cycling (that don’t put strain on the joints)
  • reducing body weight if obese
  • wearing suitable footwear to support the body
  • devices to help reduce the strain on joints

If the condition can’t be helped with the options above, and paracetamol doesn’t mask the pain then a doctor may prescribe painkillers: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often given to osteoarthritis sufferers. As with any drug, there is always the risk of unwanted and potentially serious side effects; the most common one being irritation of the stomach which can lead to bleeding ulcers [6], high blood pressure, fluid retention, kidney problems, heart problems and rashes [7].

Very painful arthritis or sudden attacks may be treated with steroid injections, which work to reduce inflammation in the local area. The most drastic form of medical intervention is surgery but this may be required in very bad cases and replacement knees or hips can be life changing.

Other non-drug approaches include capsaicin cream (prescription only) which is made from a chemical found in chilli peppers and transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS). Some patients find a TENS machine helpful in easing pain and it gives them more control by allowing them to treat themselves.

Acupuncture and osteoarthritis

The Osteoarthritis Research Society International recommend acupuncture as a treatment option [8]; this is based on sound evidence and a series of system reviews (extensive study of all existing research on the topic) which showed acupuncture to have similar benefits to other active interventions. Not only did the review show that acupuncture could assist with osteoarthritis but it also revealed that this approach to treatment was safer than other options, with far less risk of adverse side effects.

Additional recent randomised controlled trials have shown that acupuncture provides significantly better changes than in the control groups who received either sham acupuncture or drugs [9]. The outcomes reported improvements in pain levels, function, gait patterns and some in overall benefit.

If you’re wondering how acupuncture might help, then it is generally believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of special messenger molecules that promote physical and emotional wellbeing. A 2010 study [10] showed that acupuncture stimulates specific areas in the brain that are known to reduce the experience of pain and stress.

The mechanisms by which acupuncture may help to relieve pain and improve function in patients with osteoarthritis include:

  • stimulating the release of endorphins (the feel good chemicals) [11]
  • inhibiting pain through a specific body system called the endogenous opioid system [11]
  • regulating genes and pathways that affect metabolism [12]
  • inhibiting mediators of inflammation called cytokines [13]
  • reducing inflammation [14]
  • reducing swelling by increasing local circulation [15]

For more information on the research, you can visit the British Acupuncture Council website. Why not give acupuncture a try and see if it can help you?

What’s the point?

Treating arthritis would involve a thorough analysis of a patients overall health and points selected accordingly.  This point is frequently used for conditions of the knee, including arthritis.

Spleen 10

The point is found with the knee bent. It is located around two inches above the 10 o’clock position of the knee bone on the right leg, and 2 o’clock on the left leg.