Acupuncture Aids Pain Relief for Knee Arthritis

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee are eased more when acupuncture is added to treatment with the painkiller diclofenac, Spanish researchers report.

Benefits include greater pain relief, easing of stiffness, and improvement in physical functioning.

Although some studies seem to suggest that acupuncture could be beneficial for people with osteoarthritis, a "placebo effect" has not been ruled out, Dr. Jorge Vas, of Centro de Salud 'Dos Hermanas A,' and colleagues say in the British Medical Journal.

To investigate further, the team conducted a clinical trial involving 97 patients with knee arthritis who were all prescribed diclofenac, which could be taken up to three times per day. About half the group was given acupuncture once weekly for 12 weeks, while the others were given placebo treatment with retractable needles that did not perforate the skin.

Before and after the study, participants completed a standardized osteoarthritis index, a visual pain scale, and a quality-of-life profile.

Following the final treatment, the total osteoarthritis score averaged 9.5 in the acupuncture group and 33.4 in the placebo group. Those who were given real acupuncture also scored significantly lower on the subscales of pain, stiffness and function.

Final pain scores were 10.6 with acupuncture and 37.2 on sham treatment, and the active intervention group also took significantly less diclofenac.

Active treatment led to significantly better quality-of-life scores for physical capability and psychological functioning.

"Acupuncture as a complementary therapy to pharmacological treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee is more effective than pharmacological treatment alone," the researchers conclude.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, November 20, 2004.