Acupuncture for Osteoarthritis

By Christina Morris, L.Ac.

Osteoarthritis can be painful and debilitating, affecting nearly 16 million Americans. It is estimated that nearly all people over the age of 60 have osteoarthritis, but fewer then half experience any symptoms. Osteoarthritis is a non inflammatory arthritis. Osteoarthritis develops in a joint when the tissue or the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wear down. This form of arthritis is generally caused by the wear and tear related with age but can also be due to injury, genetics, inactivity, excess body weight, and some diseases. The discomfort or pain of osteoarthritis varies from person to person. Signs of osteoarthritis may include deep aching joint pain mostly after exercise and weight bearing activities, stiffness in the mornings, and aching during weather change. Osteoarthritis is commonly found in the weight bearing joints such as knees, hips, spine and feet, as well as the hands. X-rays can help to confirm the diagnosis, however, in the earlier stages of osteoarthritis the findings may not show up. Research studies indicate that acupuncture can help relieve some of the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis. Studies show that people are able to perform more activities with less pain such as walking further and faster, climbing up more flights of stairs and have less stiffness and more mobility in the affected joints.

In the April 2001 issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism researchers reviewed seven trials of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis and concluded that acupuncture may indeed have a role in easing patients’ pain. According to the Arthritis Foundation in Atlanta there is enough research to indicate that acupuncture can be an effective form of treatment for osteoarthritis. In 1980 the World Health Organization approved acupuncture for arthritis, and in 1997 the U.S. National Institutes of Health declared acupuncture beneficial in the treatment for arthritis.

As reported in the Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine Journal in 2001, the University of Maryland School of Medicine performed a clinical trial to determine whether acupuncture was a safe and effective therapy for older patients with knee osteoarthritis. Seventy-four patients were divided into two groups. One group received acupuncture twice weekly for eight weeks and the other group received conventional therapy only. The patients that received the acupuncture had pain relief and improvements with knee mobility and had no side effects from the acupuncture. Some research studies show that acupuncture can be more effective for pain associated with osteoarthritis than NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and without the side effects.

Acupuncture is a safe and cost effective option for pain management of osteoarthritis. Although acupuncture is not a cure for the structural abnormality, it can help in pain management. Acupuncture can be used alone or in conjunction with other therapies in a comprehensive management plan. Having less pain can decrease the burden of daily activities and make life with osteoarthritis more manageable.