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The Healing Touch: Acupuncture's Role in Easing Knee Osteoarthritis Pain

This article delves into a comparative analysis of acupuncture and other physical treatments for knee osteoarthritis, highlighting the findings of a meta-analysis and shedding light on the potential benefits of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis.

acupuncture for osteoarthritis knee pain

Introduction. Acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis pain.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative condition that brings with it pain, stiffness, and functional limitations. Among the various sites of peripheral joint pain, the knee is most frequently affected, particularly among individuals aged 55 and older. The discomfort and distress caused by knee osteoarthritis can lead to decreased mobility and reduced quality of life. While conventional treatments often involve pharmacological interventions, an increasing number of patients are seeking alternative approaches that provide relief without the potential side effects of medication. Acupuncture, an ancient healing practice rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, has been gaining attention for its potential benefits in managing knee osteoarthritis pain. A group of scientists, supported by grants from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) conducted a meta-analysis comparing the use of acupuncture with other physical treatments for pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee (MacPherson et al., 2017).

Understanding Knee Osteoarthritis

Knee osteoarthritis is characterized by the gradual deterioration of joint bone and cartilage, leading to pain, stiffness, and compromised functionality. The prevalence of this condition increases with age, and risk factors such as obesity, genetics, and injury play a role in its development. Diagnosis is often based on clinical symptoms and radiographic assessments, with pain being a central concern. The Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC index) is a widely used tool for assessing pain, stiffness, and function in knee osteoarthritis patients. Managing knee osteoarthritis is a complex task that involves addressing risk factors, pain intensity, inflammation, and structural damage.

Challenges in Conventional Treatment

Conventional treatments for knee osteoarthritis typically begin with analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and exercise recommendations. However, the long-term use of medication can lead to adverse effects and may not provide substantial pain relief. Patients often express a preference for non-pharmacological alternatives, such as acupuncture, to manage their pain and improve their quality of life. This demand for effective and non-invasive treatments has led to the exploration of physical therapies as viable alternatives.

Comparison of acupuncture with other physical treatments

A network meta-analysis (MacPherson et al., 2017) conducted on various physical treatments for knee osteoarthritis sought to provide a comprehensive evaluation of their effectiveness. The study compared interventions such as interferential therapy, acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), balneotherapy, aerobic exercise, and more. The findings highlighted that acupuncture, among other treatments, showed statistically significant pain reduction compared to standard care. Notably, acupuncture and balneotherapy emerged as interventions with promising outcomes.

Strengths and Limitations of the study

The network meta-analysis approach offers a holistic comparison of different interventions, considering strengths like practical methods and consistent quality assessment and providing a basis for informed decision-making. However, the study also acknowledges its limitations, such as variable reporting, short-term focus, poor study quality, and potential biases in non-blinded trials.. While the quality of evidence varied among trials, acupuncture consistently demonstrated positive results compared to standard care and other physical treatments.

Implications for Clinical Practice

Five different guidelines have evaluated treatment effects for knee osteoarthritis, particularly focusing on pain, function, and disability. Among these guidelines, the Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) guideline unequivocally recommends acupuncture, while other guidelines like the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) conditionally recommend it for patients with specific pain levels who cannot undergo knee surgery. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) finds acupuncture evidence inconclusive, and the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) and NICE do not recommend acupuncture.

While some guidelines are equivocal or cautious about acupuncture, the network meta-analysis suggests that acupuncture can be considered as one of the more effective short-term physical treatments for alleviating pain. The findings underscore the need for high-quality trials to further investigate the potential benefits of acupuncture and other physical interventions.


Knee osteoarthritis poses significant challenges to those affected by pain, stiffness, and functional limitations. While conventional treatments offer relief to some extent, patients are increasingly seeking alternatives that prioritize their well-being and minimize potential side effects. Acupuncture, as revealed by this comprehensive network meta-analysis (MacPherson et al., 2017) , emerges as a promising option for managing knee osteoarthritis pain. Its effectiveness in comparison to other physical interventions emphasizes its potential role in providing relief and enhancing the quality of life for those suffering from this condition. As research continues to explore the benefits of acupuncture, the medical community can harness its ancient wisdom to offer a holistic approach to healing and pain management


MacPherson, H., Vickers, A., Bland, M., Torgerson, D., Corbett, M., Spackman, E., Saramago, P., Woods, B., Weatherly, H., Sculpher, M., Manca, A., Richmond, S., Hopton, A., Eldred, J. and Watt, I., 2017. Chapter 3. Comparison of acupuncture with other physical treatments for pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee: a network meta-analysis. In: Acupuncture for chronic pain and depression in primary care: a programme of research. [online] Programme Grants for Applied Research. pp.39–58. Available at: <>


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