Many patients who suffer from the debilitating pain of arthritis seek alternative treatment options to medication. Acupuncture is among the common alternative treatment options for patients with arthritis. However, does acupuncture really work to relieve the symptoms associated with arthritis?

knee acupuncture

Well, a recent meta-analysis (Manheimer et al, 2007) concluded the following:

“Sham-controlled trials show clinically irrelevant short-term benefits of acupuncture for treating knee osteoarthritis. Waiting list-controlled trials suggest clinically relevant benefits, some of which may be due to placebo or expectation effects.”

No serious adverse events were reported from acupuncture in this meta-analysis which involved more than 9 individual Randomized Controlled Trials.  The Study concluded that”current evidence from several large-scale, high-quality RCTs suggests that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for older patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.”

However, they also noted that it was difficult to tell how much of the benefit patients received from acupuncture could be attributed to the placebo effect.  In evaluating the randomized controlled trials which they pooled in this meta-analysis, they found that one study problem was that many patients who were not randomized to receive acupuncture, actually dropped out of the studies.

This suggests that patients who enrolled in these studies had a likely preference for receiving acupuncture treatment and would simply drop out if they were randomized to a control group.

[box type=”note”]Either way, given the favorable safety profile of acupuncture, it may be worth considering for patients who suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee.[/box]


  1. Manheimer E, Linde K, Lao L, Bouter LM, Berman BM. Meta-analysis: acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee. Ann Intern Med. 2007 Jun 19;146(12):868-77

Written by 

Dr. Jarret Morrow, MD CCFP, is a licensed family physician currently practising in Edmonton, AB. He has a declared special interest in cosmetic dermatology.

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