Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis Pain



Baby boomers are growing older, which means they may suffer from a number of age-related problems, including osteoarthritis (OA) - a common, disabling, and costly condition.  Most treatment guidelines published to date recommend a multimodal pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic approach until the condition progresses and warrants a total knee replacement.  Many patients would prefer to avoid surgery and explore treatment alternatives to help them maintain their active lifestyle and enjoy a muiltitude of sporting and leisure activities.  Many of these patients seek chiropractic care in searchy of conservative treatment options. 


Common symptoms of knee OA include pain, loss of motions, stiffness, and joint crepitus (noise) with movement.  This condition can be associated with severe loss of function and mobility, as well as a general decline in quality of life.  It can also severely inhibit middle-aged athletes from reaching their potential.  The most common medical intervention is oral anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).  For patients who are unresponsive or decline this treatment, alternative management strategies are available, including manual therapies, exercise, and nutritional supplements, suchg as glucosamine sulphate.

Another effective alternative in controlling knee pain is acupuncture.


Chinese acupuncture has evolved over thousands of years, forming a cornerstone of traditional chinese medicine (TCM.)  Once thought of as a mystical form of eastern medicine, acupuncture has grown from its birth in North America more than 30 years ago to one of the most popular alternative medicines in the contemporary healthcare system. 

A natural corollary to this trend has been a continuing integration of acupuncture into the western medicine model.  Utilizing a mixture of ancient methods and modern medical concepts, practitioners of many disciplines (chiropractic and medicine) are regularly acupuncture into their practices. 

Many patients receive acupuncture not only as a stand-alone therapy, but also as an integrative modality in a variety of healthcare environments.  Acupuncture has been further bolstered by the increasing recognition it is being paid in scientific circles and evidence-based research.  Numerous trials demonstrating its effectiveness have been published in major medical journals around the world. 

Osteoarthritis of the knee has been the topic of three major trials 1,2,3, (see references)  all of which have shown acupuncture treatment superior to traditional treatments or has enhanced results when combined with traditional medical treatments.

In a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture for peripheral joint arthritis, 4, authors concluded: (Considering its favorable safety profile, acupuncture seems an option worthy of consideration, particularly for knee osteoarthritis - OA.) 

It's important to note that in each study, the placebo, or (sham) acupuncture group, also improved.  In two studies, the sham acupuncture procedure involved inserting needles at (non-traditional) or (irrelevant) points, which suggest that acupuncture may have a non-specific, systemic affect on pain. This trend of beneficial affects of acupuncture regardless of insertion site, has also been reported in acupuncture trials on low-back pain 5, and tension-type headache6. 

For many people contemplating surgery or stronger prescription medications, acupuncture could provide sufficient pain relief to allow proper rehabilitation in strenghening of the knees.  This can significantly delay, or eliminate the need for, invasive surgery that requires lengthy rehabilitation and recovery. 

In the manual medicine environment, the addition of acupuncture to manual therapy and rehabilitation has the potential to improve patient outcomes for osteoarthritis of the knee, and allows you to maintain an active lifestyle and to pursue athletic endeavors. 

This article was written by Shawn Thistle, Chiropractic Economics, Vol.53: Issue 16, October 8, 2007. For references, see article. 

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