Acupuncture for Arthritis

The National Institutes of Health have found that acupuncture provides pain relief and improves function for people with osteoarthritis and serves as an effective complement to standard care.

The multi-site study team, including rheumatologists and licensed acupuncturists, enrolled 570 patients, aged 50 or older with osteoarthritis of the knee. Participants had significant pain in their knee the month before joining the study, but had never experienced acupuncture, had not had knee surgery in the previous 6 months, and had not used steroid or similar injections. Patients continued to receive standard medical care from their primary physicians, including anti-inflammatory
medications, such as COX-2 selective inhibitors, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and opioid pain relievers.

"For the first time, a clinical trial with sufficient rigor, size, and duration has shown that acupuncture reduces the pain and functional impairment of osteoarthritis of the knee," said Stephen E. Straus, M.D., NCCAM Director. "These results also indicate that acupuncture can serve as an effective addition to a standard regimen of care and improve quality of life for knee osteoarthritis sufferers. NCCAM has been building a portfolio of basic and clinical research that is now revealing the power and promise of applying stringent research methods to ancient practices like acupuncture."

"More than 20 million Americans have osteoarthritis. This disease is one of the most frequent causes of physical disability among adults," said Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D., NIAMS Director. "Thus, seeking an effective means of decreasing osteoarthritis pain and increasing function is of critical importance."

On joining the study, patients' pain and knee function were assessed using standard arthritis research survey instruments and measurement tools, such as the Western Ontario McMasters Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC). Patients' progress was assessed at 4, 8, 14, and 26 weeks. By week 8, participants receiving acupuncture were showing a significant increase in function and by week 14 a significant decrease in pain, compared with the control group. These results, shown by declining scores on the WOMAC index, held through week 26. Overall, those who received acupuncture had a 40 percent decrease in pain and a nearly 40 percent improvement in function compared to baseline assessments.