With all the bad news about the side effects of arthritis drugs, results of a study showing the effectiveness of acupuncture at easing pain and improving function in people with osteoarthritis of the knee comes as very good news.
The results of the University of Maryland landmark study, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), were published in the December 21, 2004 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. This was the longest and largest randomized, controlled clinical trial of acupuncture ever conducted.
Pain Relief and Improved Function
To learn more, I contacted lead researcher Brian M. Berman, MD, founder and director of the Center for Integrative Medicine (CFIM) and professor of family medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He told me that the study involved 570 participants, age 50 or older, who had osteoarthritis of the knee. All had significant knee pain, had never experienced acupuncture, had not had knee surgery in the six previous months and had not used steroid or similar injections. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups...
- Acupuncture. Participants in this group received 23 true acupuncture sessions over 26 weeks.
- Sham acupuncture. Participants in this placebo group received the same number of sham acupuncture sessions over 26 weeks.
- Educational guidance. Participants in this control group followed the Arthritis Foundation's standard self-help course for managing their condition.
The participants' progress was assessed at four, eight, 14 and 26 weeks. During this period, they continued to receive standard medical care, including anti-inflammatory and pain medications. Researchers found that...
- By week eight, those receiving acupuncture experienced a significant increase in function.
- By week 14, they also had a significant decrease in pain, compared with the sham and educational guidance groups.
- At week 26, acupuncture patients had a 40% decrease in pain, and nearly a 40% improvement in knee function.
According to Dr. Berman, true acupuncture was 44% more effective than sham acupuncture for reducing pain and 30% more effective for improving physical function. Both true and sham acupuncture were far more effective than educational guidance.
Safe As Well As Effective
Dr. Berman and his colleagues concluded that acupuncture is a useful accompaniment to conventional therapies. It is also sometimes used as a stand-alone treatment, although that was not the case in this study. Dr. Berman adds that acupuncture appears to be quite safe, and participants in the study experienced no side effects. Dr. Berman says that while acupuncture is sometimes used alone, their goal was to test it as an adjunct treatment with standard therapies.
If you decide to try acupuncture, choose the practitioner with care. To find a licensed acupuncturist in your area, visit the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture's Web site at www.medicalacupuncture.org. In addition, many insurance companies now cover acupuncture, but check first. Preauthorization may be required.
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