Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, involves the breakdown of joint cartilage and affects an estimated 21 million people in the U.S., according to the American College of Rheumatology. Patients may present with symptoms of pain and stiffness, joint instability, crepitus, decreased function and mobility. While most patients seek conventional treatment such as analgesia, physiotherapy and joint replacement, new research offers these patients more options to seek without side effects and down time from such treatment.
Many studies confirm the efficacy of acupuncture treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee. In one of the largest trials of its kind published to date, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine recruited 570 people who received a course of 23 sessions of acupuncture treatment. The findings were presented in San Antonio at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual scientific meeting, where researchers stated that Traditional Chinese acupuncture is “effective” at reducing knee osteoarthritis pain and improving function in people with knee osteoarthritis. Dr. Stephen E. Straus, Director of the NCCAM (National Institutes of Health) stated, “For the first time, a clinical trial with sufficient rigor, size, and duration has shown that acupuncture reduces the pain and functional impairment of osteoarthritis of the knee. These results also indicate that acupuncture can serve as an effective addition to a standard regiment of care and improve quality of life for knee osteoarthritis sufferers.” Since this study in 2004 there have been a plethora of other studies that show similar findings.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been used successfully to ameliorate joint pain for thousands of years. Treatment is designed to meet the unique presentation of each patient, there is not “one size fits all” in Chinese Medicine. From a Chinese Medicine perspective joint pain is a result of blockage of the flow of Qi, the life force energy. This blockage can be caused by the invasion of pathogenic temporal conditions including wind, cold, damp or damp-heat. The clinical manifestations of the resultant “Bi: syndromes, that is, whether the joint is cold or hot, swollen stiff etc., will depend on the pathogenic influence. The treatment is designed to address the specific underlying Qi disturbance that occurs in each presentation. So, if we have twenty patients come in for osteoarthritis of the knee we may diagnose them all differently according to their presentation. Many people will complain about increased pain in areas of high humidity whereas others feel better in damp climates, again this is dependent upon their pathogenesis.
Acupuncture should be considered a viable adjunct or alternative treatment for knee pain and dysfunction associated with osteoarthritis of the knee for millions of individuals across the country whom are suffering from symptoms of this disease.