Acupuncture is an effective treatment modality for the the alleviation of rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers conclude that acupuncture alone or in combination with additional treatment modalities alleviates rheumatoid arthritis, restores bodily functions, and improves quality of life.  In a meta-analysis, the researchers note that acupuncture exerts its effective actions through several biological mechanisms. The acupuncture research indicates that acupuncture produces anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and immune system regulatory actions.
Three acupuncture points were common across the research reviewed in the China Medical University and Tri-Service General Hospital meta-analysis. The researchers note that ST36 (Zusanli) was the most commonly tested acupoint in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. GB34 (Yanglingquan) and LI4 (Hegu) were also commonly applied.
The results indicate that acupuncture applied to the aforementioned acupoints and others produces changes in specific inflammatory biomarkers. Acupuncture regulates the following: erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), rheumatoid factor (RF), interleukins, nuclear factor kappa B (NF-𝜅 B), and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-𝛼). Another meta-analysis (Wang et al.), confirms that acupuncture regulates both ESR and CRP in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients.  In an important finding, researchers (Han et al.) conclude that acupuncture successfully downregulates “TNF-𝛼 and VEGF [vascular endothelial growth factor] in peripheral blood and joint synovia to improve the internal environment which is beneficial for RA.” 
In another study under review in the meta-analysis (Dong et al.), investigators used laboratory conditions to test the efficacy of electroacupuncture at acupoints ST36 (Zusanli) and BL60 (Kunlun). The researchers indicate that the “toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling pathway contributed to the development and progression of RA and acupuncture could reduce the expression of TLR4, thus leading to anti-inflammation.”  In addition, many other studies indicate that acupuncture improves quality of life.
The research team drew conclusions after a full review of each individual study in the meta-analysis. Based on the data, the researchers note, “acupuncture alone or combined with other treatment modalities is beneficial to the clinical conditions of RA without adverse effects reported and can improve function and quality of life and is worth trying.”  They add that additional well-designed randomized controlled trials are recommended to confirm these findings.
The conclusions were based on several parameters. The primary outcomes were determined by quantifying pain levels, morning stiffness, pain related disability, joint swelling characteristics and diameter, number of swollen joints, skin temperature, and arthritis index. Serum levels of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory biomarkers plus antioxidant levels were recorded for objective measurements. In addition, positron emission tomography (PET) scans were used to monitor changes in inflammation along with X-rays of the hands. Quality of life was assessed using the rheumatoid arthritis quality of life questionnaire (RAQoL), Pittsburgh sleep quality index, health assessment questionnaire (HAQ), and the short form-36 health survey. Overall, the meta-analysis reveals extensive use of subjective and objective instruments to verify the data and conclusions.
The majority of studies included in the meta-analysis were randomized controlled trials and several were double-blinded. The trials were human clinical trials and controlled laboratory experiments. Many acupuncture points were used in the clinical trials. As stated earlier, ST36, GB34, and LI4 were most commonly administered.
The researchers note that there is a difficulty in using only one acupuncture point prescription for all patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles, rheumatoid arthritis may be divided into many diagnostic subcategories such as wind, cold, dampness, and heat. In addition, these categories are further differentiated according to syndrome presentation location and overall constitution of the patient. As a result, there is a need for heterogenous acupuncture point prescriptions. In TCM, no one set of acupoints for this biomedically defined condition is applicable to all patients. As a result, this makes study design a difficult proposition.
Despite these difficulties, the researchers conclude that acupuncture is effective for the alleviation of rheumatoid arthritis. Many of the findings mapped pathways of effective action. One interesting finding was that acupuncture enhances antioxidative effects by increasing serum superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase activities in rheumatoid arthritis patients. This indicates that acupuncture reduces oxidative stress and subsequent inflammation. Moreover, acupuncture “triggered release of endorphins” and regulated the immune system; levels of IgG, IgA, and IgM were successfully downregulated. 
Summary Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. Inflammation may occur in any location (including internal organs); however, the hands and knees are among the most common regions affected by the disorder. In joints, inflammation affects synovial membranes causing a fluid build-up and degradation. No singular blood test defines the diagnosis, although ESR, CRP, rheumatoid factor, and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies are tests are helpful in making a determination. Ultrasound , MRI, and X-ray imaging are also important tools for confirming a diagnosis.
The meta-analysis results indicate that acupuncture benefits patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Acupuncture prevents or slows joint destruction, reduces pain levels, and increases mobility. However, acupuncture is not presented as a cure. Nonetheless, acupuncture is an important treatment option that may significantly improve quality of life. To learn more, contact a local licensed acupuncturists about treatment options.
References:  Chou, Pei-Chi, and Heng-Yi Chu. "Clinical Efficacy of Acupuncture on Rheumatoid Arthritis and Associated Mechanisms: A Systemic Review." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2018 (2018).  C. Wang, P. de Pablo, X. Chen, C. Schmid, and T. McAlindon, “Acupuncture for pain relief in patients with rheumatoid arthri- tis: a systematic review.,” Arthritis & Rheumatology, vol. 59, no. 9, pp. 1249–1256, 2008.  R. X. Han, J. Yang, T. S. Zhang, and W. D. Zhang, “Effect of fire-needle intervention on serum IL-1 and TNF-alpha levels of rheumatoid arthritis rats,” Zhen Ci Yan Jiu, vol. 37,no. 2, pp. 114–118, 2012.  Z.-Q. Dong, J. Zhu, D.-Z. Lu, Q. Chen, and Y.-L. Xu, “Effect of Electroacupuncture in “Zusanli” and “Kunlun” Acupoints on TLR4 Signaling Pathway of Adjuvant Arthritis Rats,” American Journal ofTherapeutics, 2016.  Chou, Pei-Chi, and Heng-Yi Chu. "Clinical Efficacy of Acupuncture on Rheumatoid Arthritis and Associated Mechanisms: A Systemic Review." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2018 (2018).  Ibid.
Article Source: CMI Health