Is acupuncture useful for knee pain?
Evidence-based science indicates probably not. Here’s a summary for a recent study, published in a very reputable periodical (the Journal of the American Medical Association). Now of course it’s only one study, but everything on the subject that’s landed in my inbox over the last few years generally agrees with these conclusions.
First, 282 patients over age 50 with chronic knee pain were divided into four groups. The researchers were interesting in finding out whether traditional acupuncture or laser acupuncture helped alleviate pain. So two of those four groups were controls that received either no acupuncture or sham laser acupuncture.
Over the course of three months, patients received as many as 12 20-minute treatments.
After a year, there were “no differences between any of the groups on measures of knee pain and function.” The researchers suggest there were no real or direct effects of the acupuncture sessions.
I found this quote, from Rana S. Hinman, the study's lead author, most telling:
"Acupuncture tends to be more effective for people who believe in the benefits of acupuncture."In other words: this is classic placebo effect.
One footnote that may comfort acupuncture believers: it was suggested the treatment may be effective for some people with neuropathic (nerve-related) pain. They weren’t included in this particular study.
And also, let me chime in: If acupuncture works for you, keep doing it! There’s no harm that I can tell. Even if 80 scientific studies say it’s worthless, if your knees feel better after being stuck with needles, that’s good enough. Who cares if it’s the placebo effect, really?