Public Release: 

Study finds acupuncture does not improve chronic knee pain

University of Melbourne

A new research study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that in patients older than 50 years with moderate or severe chronic knee pain, acupuncture did not provide any benefit.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne randomly assigned 282 patients (50 years or older) with chronic knee pain to no acupuncture or sham or pretend laser treatment.

Treatments were delivered for 12 weeks with participants and acupuncturists blinded to laser and sham (inactive) laser acupuncture.

Researcher Professor Kim Bennell from the Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine (CHESM) said there were no significant differences in outcomes (measures of knee pain and physical function) between active and sham acupuncture at 12 weeks or at one year.

"Both needle and laser acupuncture resulted in modest improvements in pain compared with control at 12 weeks that were not maintained at one year," said Professor Bennell.

"Needle acupuncture improved physical function at 12 weeks compared with the control but was not different from sham acupuncture and was not maintained at one year," she said.

Other secondary outcomes such as pain and function measures, quality of life, general change, showed no difference. Needle acupuncture improved pain on walking at 12 weeks but was not maintained at one year.

Chronic knee pain affects many people older than 50 years and is the most common pain concern among older people consulting General Practitioners.

Non-pharmacological approaches such as movement and exercise are important in managing chronic knee pain, and patients with joint pain frequently use complementary and alternative medicine.

Acupuncture is the most popular of alternative medical systems. Although traditionally administered with needles, laser acupuncture (low-intensity laser therapy to acupuncture points) is a non-invasive alternative with evidence of benefit in some pain conditions.

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