Knee Osteoarthritis and Acupuncture - Is Acupuncture a Viable Alternative to Surgery?

By Lisa Franchi on August 24, 2012

Knee osteoarthritis is a common illness affecting one out of five older people in UK. This condition is characterised by extreme joint pain on the knee and areas surrounding it, mobility issues, and swollen knees. Until now, there is no specific cure for osteoarthritis and its main cause hasn’t been established yet.

There are various medical procedures however that can be administered to relieve the pain and improve the patient’s condition. These include using painkillers and topical creams or liniments, physiotherapy and exercise.  In worst cases, patients may consider replacing their knee joint with a new one. While this offers a more stable and long-term outcome, the procedure is considered a major surgery and the patient needs to be hospitalised for weeks or until full recovery. They may also experience severe pain several years after the operation. Knee replacement is also very expensive.

Some experts are beginning to uncover the possibility of finding a cheaper, safer and effective alternative to knee surgery.

In a new study, researchers looked into the impact of acupuncture in knee osteoarthritis. Several clinics were set up by the NHS to administer acupuncture to patients and to study whether this alternative therapy can improve care and provide a viable alternative to surgery.

Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis

Initially, there were 114 patients, with an average age of 71, invited to undergo acupuncture treatment but only 90 of them pushed through. All of them had severed osteoarthritis symptoms such as inability to walk far and constant pain. They were also eligible to undergo knee replacement surgery.

The participants were asked to assess the severity of their condition using the Measure Yourself Medical Outcome Profile (MYMOP) test. The questions include how they are affected with pain and stiffness, and how much their condition affects their normal activities and sense of wellbeing. They answered the MYMOP test every six months during the two-year course of treatment.

The researchers believed that acupuncture offers a low-cost alternative to knee replacement. Based on their calculation, the NHS could save around £100,000 a year, assuming that only 2/3 of patients in the UK will undergo acupuncture treatment.

Study Limitations

According to the study, the researchers fail to provide significant evidences that acupuncture can be a potential alternative to surgery since the study was too small. The reliability of the results was also in question because plenty of participants opted out from the treatment during the study. Also, the researchers did not measure how far the improvements have been, nor did they make use of a placebo group to compare the effects of acupuncture to those who had the therapy and to those who hadn’t.

Nevertheless, their study could be a starting point of more profound and comprehensive studies that will measure the effects of acupuncture in the management of osteoarthritis. Although there’s a poor evidence to support it, there is not much enough reason to reject it either.


Source of this article:

Group acupuncture for knee pain: evaluation of a cost-saving initiative in the health service

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