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    Study: Acupuncture Effective for Arthritis

    Ancient Practice Relieves Pain, Improves Function in Knee Osteoarthritis

    Traditional Treatments Under Fire

    The safety of the most widely prescribed of the traditional medicines -- the pain relievers known as Cox-2 inhibitors -- has been much in the news lately. The arthritis drug Vioxx was voluntarily pulled from the market earlier this fall after a large trial linked its use to an increase in heart attacks and strokes. In another trial, reported last week, Pfizer's popular Cox-2 inhibitor Celebrex was also found to increase heart attack risk. The company says it has no plans to pull Celebrex from the market until it studies the data.

    Just under a third of the patients in the acupuncture trial were also taking a Cox-2 inhibitor. But study co-investigator Marc Hochberg, MD, PhD, said Monday that the Cox-2 inhibitors have not been shown to be superior to other pain relievers for the treatment of osteoarthritis.

    He added that recent studies suggest that side effects such as ulcers and bleeding that result from the prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can be minimized by also taking ulcer drugs, known as proton-pump inhibitors or H2 blockers.

    "There is actually very little indication for the use of Cox-2 selective inhibitors in managing patients with symptomatic osteoarthritis," Hochberg said.

    40% Improvement With Acupuncture

    The newly reported study included 570 patients with knee osteoarthritis who were already taking anti-inflammatory drugs or other pain relievers. The patients continued on their pain relievers during the 26-week trial, but a third of them also got aggressive acupuncture treatments consisting of 23 total sessions. Another group of patients unknowingly got sham acupuncture, which involved the use of fake needles to mimic the real needles used for true acupuncture. A third group underwent an intensive 12-week education course on the management of osteoarthritis.

    All the patients were assessed at weeks 4, 8, 12, and 26 for pain and knee function. By week 8, the patients who got the true acupuncture were showing significant increases in knee function, and by week 14 they showed significant decreases in pain compared with the sham acupuncture and the education groups.

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