Does acupuncture help relieve osteoarthritis pain?

Acupuncture stimulates certain points on the body to relieve chronic pain. But does it work for arthritis pain? Well, Grant Hill uses it for the aches and pains he’s accumulated over the last 17 years in the NBA, and he’s still playing hard. We’ve got more evidence than just one basketball star, though. Studies show that acupuncture for knee arthritis significantly improves pain.

Dr. Maoshing Ni, PhD, LAc
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help with the symptoms of osteoarthritis. The usual treatment course will be one to three months of weekly treatments, dietary and herbal prescriptions, and tai chi or qigong exercises. There are various etiologies and variances of this condition, so a thorough evaluation with a licensed practitioner will assist in determining the proper course of action.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Getting stuck with pins probably sounds like the last thing you need when you're hurting with the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis. But some studies show that the ancient practice of acupuncture relieves pain, either on its own or in combination with medication.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles into key points in the body. In theory, these needle pricks change the flow of energy called "qi" in your body and produce healing. Western scientists may be skeptical of that theory, but it's tough to argue with results: Solid research shows that people with osteoarthritis who undergo acupuncture have less pain and better mobility.

There's some good news about those pin pricks, by the way: They don't really hurt much. If you have acupuncture, all you're likely to feel is a tiny jab.

Dr. Scott D. Martin, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

In 1997, a National Institutes of Health consensus panel concluded that acupuncture is an acceptable alternative or adjunct for treating many kinds of pain, including that from osteoarthritis. Since then, a number of studies have offered positive results specific to knees and hips. One study indicated that acupuncture may be useful for patellofemoral pain syndrome, and a small trial looking at people with hip osteoarthritis showed that acupuncture helped them more than exercise did.

Another large study found that people with knee osteoarthritis who had acupuncture for six months reported less pain and better function than people who received sham acupuncture or participated in an arthritis education program. But a meta-analysis published in Annals of Internal Medicine had conflicting results.

While acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee led to significant improvements in pain and function compared with usual care or being on a waiting list for acupuncture, it did not provide a significant advantage over a sham procedure. This suggests that some of the benefits of acupuncture might be attributed to a placebo effect. If you decide to try acupuncture, find a certified acupuncturist.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.