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Convenience, Contemplation, and Qi: Why I Do Acupuncture for RA

Managing RA

March 08, 2024

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Photography by Ibai Acevedo/Getty Images

Photography by Ibai Acevedo/Getty Images

by Stefanie Remson


Medically Reviewed by:

Kerry Boyle D.Ac., M.S., L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., CYT


by Stefanie Remson


Medically Reviewed by:

Kerry Boyle D.Ac., M.S., L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., CYT


Acupuncture is a popular alternative therapy to help symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Here are six reasons why it’s helped me.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes pain and swelling in the small joints of the hands, wrists, ankles, feet, and neck. Without appropriate treatment, RA can permanently destroy joints, which may result in physical limitation and functional disability.

There’s currently no cure for RA. Rather, treatment aims to manage symptoms. Traditional medication options include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologics.

But medications aren’t always a straightforward solution. It can be a roller coaster experience finding one that works.

I had to start and quickly stop a few different medications due to side effects, allergic reactions, infections, and other rare complications. Medications can also be very expensive, and you might have limited access to healthcare services.

So, what other options are there? Acupuncture might be one.

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Complementary and alternative treatments

If you’re living with RA, it’s likely that you’ve looked into complementary and alternative treatment options to help get relief from your symptoms.

This might include mindfulness practices, such as meditation or even gardening, and changes to your exercise routine or trying new types, such as reformer Pilates.

A 2010 study with 166 adults with RA found that 75.9% of them reported current or past use of complementary and alternative methods. Touch therapies, including acupuncture, were the most widely used overall.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there was a 50% increase in the number of acupuncture users between 2002 and 2012.

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What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the practice of piercing the skin at specific trigger points with very small needles to treat a variety of issues.

It’s a traditional Chinese medicine practice that’s described as regulating one’s qi (pronounced “chee”), or energy.

I visit Heather Roderick Acupuncture. Heather explains that “the goal of acupuncture is to circulate one’s qi and balance the body’s energy. Qi can also be stuck, or you may be deficient and acupuncture can get it moving again.”

Beyond qi regulation, the goal of acupuncture is to try and reduce pain and stress. It’s thought it can achieve this by reducing inflammation, increasing white blood cell production, and releasing endorphins, such as dopamine and serotonin.

Acupuncture may help relieve the symptoms of some health conditions, including anxiety, depression, asthma, and some pain conditions.

What are the risks and benefits?

Some evidence suggests that acupuncture can help relieve pain and improve other symptoms in people living with RA. It treats the symptoms rather than the underlying causes.

Acupuncture is even recommended in the Integrative RA Treatment Guideline from the American College of Rheumatology.

The American College of Rheumatology also states, “Due to the low risk profile of acupuncture, it is considered to be a safe therapy and may be considered in addition to conventional treatment for management of osteoarthritis pains.”

However, the research isn’t extensive, and there’s debate about its effectiveness.

“Although there is no expected or guaranteed response, most people report feeling happy after a treatment,” explains my acupuncturist, Heather. “Some people leave feeling tired, while some notice changes in their appetite or bowels. Some people don’t report any changes at all.”

The risks of acupuncture are low but may include pain, bleeding, or bruising at the site of needle insertion.

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Is acupuncture accessible?

An acupuncture session may last anywhere from 30–90 minutes. The cost can range from $60–$150 per session depending on where you live.

To find an acupuncturist in your area, start by asking around for a referral. Some health insurance plans offer this as a benefit, too, and may be contracted with licensed acupuncturists.

An acupuncturist should have “L Ac” or “L.Ac” after their name, which stands for “licensed acupuncturist.”

You can check the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine registry here.

6 reasons why acupuncture has become part of my RA treatment

As someone living with RA and chronic pain, I’ve made acupuncture a permanent part of my care routine.

1. It’s more convenient than most medical services

Acupuncture is easily accessible in the big city where I live. I don’t drive more than 15 minutes to the office, and this service is usually available on weekends and after traditional business hours. This makes it more convenient than most medical services.

2. It’s more affordable than most medical treatments

Although I wouldn’t say acupuncture is low cost, it’s relatively affordable in comparison to my other medical treatments. I can always seem to make room for this in my budget, and I don’t feel guilty doing it.

3. It helps my overall health

Acupuncture addresses issues that the rest of my healthcare team does not. My acupuncturist sometimes does extra treatments to help with overeating, muscle pain, and even constipation.

This helps me stay healthier overall. I notice I get fewer colds and coughs and recover a bit faster when I am sick.

4. It gives me a chance to rest and contemplate

Once the needles are inserted, there’s mandatory rest time while your qi circulates. I use this time for meditation (although my acupuncturist tells me I should take a nap instead). I completely clear my mind and relax in the present moment. It’s an easy and convenient way for me to re-commit to my meditation practice.

I feel relaxed when I leave the appointment, and I stay more relaxed the days after. I have less day-to-day anxiety, and I seem to manage my emotions better after treatments, too.

5. It helps manage my pain

My RA pain is better managed when I get regular treatments. I have less extreme and debilitating pain, and my symptoms seem to flare less.

Although I can’t say that I’m flare-free when I get regular treatments, they are definitely less frequent. I also seem to require fewer pain medications.

6. It leaves me feeling positive

I really like seeing my acupuncturist. She has incredible energy, and it’s different from the energy I usually encounter in day-to-day life or from medical services.

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The takeaway: Needles don’t have to be scary

If you’re looking for ways to round out your RA care, consider complementary and alternative therapies. Acupuncture is one popular method that can help relieve symptoms, but it does not treat the underlying disease.

I have found acupuncture to be very helpful in managing my own RA symptoms. It’s one tool in my tool belt to manage my RA.

Medically reviewed on March 08, 2024

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About the author

Stefanie Remson

Ms. Stefanie Remson MSN, APRN, FNP-BC is the CEO and founder of She is a family nurse practitioner and is a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patient herself. She has spent her entire life serving the community as a healthcare professional and has refused to let RA slow her down. She has worked with The Arthritis Foundation, The Lupus Foundation of America, Healthline, Grace and Able, Arthritis Life, Musculo, Aila, and HopeX. You can learn more at her website and on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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