Acupuncture for Psoriatic Arthritis

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on July 26, 2022
5 min read

If you have psoriatic arthritis, you may have tried a number of complementary treatments to treat your disease. Research shows that about half of all patients with this condition use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), such as massage, meditation, herbs, and acupuncture.

Acupuncture has its roots in ancient China. It involves the insertion of fine needles along key meridians, or strategic points in your body. Groups like the World Health Organization support its use, and research shows it can help treat more than 50 disorders such as low back pain, headaches, and nausea.

There hasn’t really been any good research that looks at the use of acupuncture to treat psoriatic arthritis. But you may find that it helps relieve your symptoms. Here are some things to keep in mind.

There haven’t been large clinical studies that show acupuncture is good for psoriatic arthritis. But anecdotally, some patients report that it helps them. One large study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at 29 randomized, controlled trials and concluded that acupuncture is better than no acupuncture or sham acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain such as back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headaches.

In addition, there have been some smaller studies that look at acupuncture and psoriatic arthritis:

  • A 2020 case report published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine analyzed the treatment of a 73-year-old female with psoriatic arthritis in her fingers. She was given a treatment that included two acupuncture treatments along with 500 milligrams of curcumin, 425 milligrams of sarsaparilla root, and 10,000 IU of vitamin D once a day. She reported significant improvements in pain, stiffness, and range of motion in her affected fingers immediately after each acupuncture treatment. The effects appeared to last for up to a year after her last treatment.
  • Another 2020 case report published in Acupuncture in Medicine followed a 17-year-old girl who had been recently diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. She was given weekly, 30-minute acupuncture treatments over the course of a month. At the end of 4 weeks, all pain in her hips, lower limbs, and feet had completely resolved.

It can be very challenging for researchers to study acupuncture. Clinical trials often differ a lot when it comes to the acupuncture technique used, the acupuncture points, and the number and length of sessions. In addition, the results may be skewed by the person’s own beliefs and expectations about acupuncture.

If you have psoriatic arthritis, you are more likely to have higher than normal levels of certain proteins in your blood called cytokines that generate inflammation. It has been suggested that acupuncture can help curb  the activity of some of these cytokines, such as:

  • Tumor necrosis factor
  • C-reactive protein
  • NF-kB

It may also promote the activity of IL-10, which is a cytokine that reduces inflammation.

In addition, the insertion of acupuncture needles itself releases natural painkillers such as adenosine, endorphins, and serotonin into your body. These all may help relieve some of the pain associated with PsA.

It’s hard to know for sure. According to traditional Chinese medicine, there are certain points on your body that circulate energy and blood and reduce swelling. They include:

  • PC 6
  • LU 9
  • HT 7
  • SP 6
  • SP 10
  • LR 3
  • LI 4
  • LR 5

Some research also suggests that combining points SP 6, SP 10, and LI 4 can improve swelling. Other studies have found that points PC 6, SP 6, and LR 3 all alter circulation, which could affect blood flow to tissues and improve swelling. HT 7 has also been shown to reduce certain inflammatory chemicals in the body, which may also help decrease joint swelling.

Acupuncture is considered safe when it’s done by an experienced, well-trained practitioner. The FDA regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices, which means that they need to be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards to ensure that they are sterile. They can only be used one time.

If needles aren’t sterile, or your practitioner isn’t qualified, serious complications can occur like:

  • Infections
  • Punctured organs
  • Collapsed lungs
  • Injury to your central nervous system

Your best bet is to go to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine website, which has a national directory of acupuncturists who hold NCCAOM certification. You can use their directory to find providers in your ZIP code. Most states require this certification for an acupuncture license, so it’s a good way to make sure your practitioner has met qualification standards in your area. Since enrollment in the directory is voluntary, there may be other licensed practitioners in your area. If you’ve received a recommendation from others, for example, you can look them up in the NCCAOM registry. Other places to collect names are state professional associations and local schools of Oriental medicine.

It depends on your insurance plan. Some research suggests that only about one-third of commercial, Medicare, and Medicare Advantage health plans cover acupuncture. When they do, the plans require higher cost-sharing and cover it for only a few indications, such as lower back pain.

One recent 2020 survey published in JAMA Network Open found that half of all people who used acupuncture reported that they had no insurance coverage and that they had to pay for it out-of-pocket. The average annual out-of-pocket amount people say they ended up spending on their visits was about $554 for about eight visits.

If you do end up paying out-of-pocket, you can expect the cost to vary, depending on:

  • What part of the country you live in
  • The length of your visit
  • Whether you use any other treatments such as Chinese medicine

In general, you can expect to pay anywhere from $55 to $150 for a treatment that lasts 45 minutes to an hour, and $45 to $90 for 10-30 minutes.