Acupuncture and Knee Pain

Acupuncture and Knee Pain

A recently published report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) examines the effectiveness, safety, and adverse effects of various common treatments for osteoarthritis of the knee.

These include:

•    Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements
•    Fluid injections
•    Arthroscopic surgery
•    Pain medications

They concluded that the first three of these treatments for osteoarthritis of the knee are usually not helpful and may have side effects.

When I first ready this report I was struck by the absence of one intervention:  Acupuncture!

What makes this omission so galling is that acupuncture is proven to be effective in relieving knee pain.  This statement is based not just on the views of practitioners, or the apocryphal stories of patients, but on rigorously conducted scientific research.

For example, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health , found that acupuncture provided pain relief and improve function for people with knee osteoarthritis.  Researchers found that patients who received acupuncture had a 40% decrease in pain and a nearly 40% improvement in function compared to their initial assessments.

In another study, conducted by a team of researchers from Jensen Fysikalske Institutt in Bergen, Norway , acupuncture appeared to have a dramatic effect on reducing knee pain and symptoms, and improving function.  In addition, their improvement continued far beyond the initial six weeks of the study, suggesting that the acupuncture had actually resolved many of the problems, not merely reduced the symptoms.

Finally, when Spanish researchers compared receiving acupuncture with those receiving “fake” acupuncture  they found that after 26 weeks, patients in the acupuncture group had experienced a 42% reduction in pain compared to a 19% reduction in the control group, and a 40% improvement in function versus a 22% improvement in the control group.

This is strong and compelling evidence of two things:

1.    Acupuncture is highly effective in treating knee pain and symptoms –indeed, more so than most mainstream treatments.
2.    Acupuncturists are badly losing the PR war.

Until we begin to let people know how effective we can be, patients will continue to waste time and money on questionable supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, or undergo unnecessary and ineffective surgeries and procedures.

References

Barnes P, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin R. CDC “Advance Data Report #343.” Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002. May 27, 2004.

Berman BM, Lao L, Langenberg P, Lee WL, Gilpin AMK, Hochberg MC. Effectiveness of Acupuncture as Adjunctive Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. “Annals of Internal Medicine.” 2004; 141(12):901-910.

Jensen R, Gothesen O, Liseth K, Baerheim A. Acupuncture treatment of patellofemoral pain syndrome. J Altern Complement Med Dec 1999;5(6):521-7.

Vas J, et al. Acupuncture as a complementary therapy to the pharmacological treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2004 Nov 20;329(7476):1216-19

Author
Adam Learner, L Ac. Adam Learner, LAc, provides functional medicine and acupuncture for the residents of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at Family Acupuncture & Wellness. In his practice, he uses a holistic approach to medicine and emphasizes addressing causes, not symptoms.

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