Acupuncture uses fine needles inserted at precise points on the body. It's been used for centuries in Chinese medicine to restore health for a variety of conditions.
Traditional Chinese acupuncture is based on the theory that illness can result when the body's flow of energy (called "chi" or "qi") is blocked or imbalanced. The acupuncture needles are positioned to correct those problems.
Western medical practitioners have become interested in acupuncture, especially for pain relief. However, they often view acupuncture differently from their peers in traditional Chinese medicine, focusing on its biochemical effects instead of energy flow.
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, involves the breakdown of joint cartilage and affects an estimated 21 million people in the U.S., according to the American College of Rheumatology.
The new study enrolled 570 people with knee osteoarthritis. They were studied by University of Maryland researchers including medicine professor Marc Hochberg, MD, PhD, who heads the rheumatology and clinical immunology division of the university's medical school in Baltimore, Md.
The knee osteoarthritis patients were randomly assigned to receive either 23 sessions of traditional Chinese acupuncture, 23 treatments of sham acupuncture, or a 12-week knee osteoarthritis education course. In the sham acupuncture group, guide tubes were tapped at two points on the abdomen but no actual acupuncture was given.
Osteoarthritis knee pain, function and stiffness were recorded.
Participants receiving traditional Chinese acupuncture group fared best. At the end of the 26-week study, they had the greatest decrease in knee osteoarthritis pain and the biggest improvement in knee osteoarthritis function.
No serious side effects were noted in any of the groups.
Traditional Chinese acupuncture is "effective" at reducing knee osteoarthritis pain and improving function in people with knee osteoarthritis, say the researchers, who presented their findings in San Antonio at the American College of Rheumatology's annual scientific meeting.