Joint Pain – Condition Resources

Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.

The Joints of the body are part of the MusculoSkeletal System, so you may find our page on this useful. We also have pages on Osteoarthritis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis, both of which may be causes if joint symptoms. If the cause is an injury to the joints, our Sports Injury page may be of assistance.

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

Chronic Pain in General

“Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal, headache, and osteoarthritis pain. Treatment effects of acupuncture persist over time and cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects. Referral for a course of acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for a patient with chronic pain”. (Vickers et al, 2018: large chronic pain review of high quality RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis; 39 trials, n=20827; conditions addressed chronic headache, back/neck pain and osteoarthritis)

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic low back, neck, shoulder, and knee pain, as well as headaches.

The NHS body in charge of which treatments should be used in particular conditions recommends acupuncture for chronic pain:  The NICE Scenario Management guidelines (2021) for chronic pain state: “consider a course of acupuncture or dry needling, within a traditional Chinese or Western acupuncture system”

Overall, a large systematic review has found acupuncture a cost effective intervention for several painful conditions (Ambrósio et al, 2012).

Knee

Knee pain was included in large chronic pain review of RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis (Vickers et al, 2018; 39 trials, n=20827) acupuncture showed a significant clinical superiority over usual care.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 17 trials, showed significant benefits whereby in patients in study groups having received acupuncture, this was associated with significantly reduced chronic knee pain 12 weeks (Zhang et al, 2017).  Specifically comparing treatments including acupuncture in osteoarthritic knee pain, Corbett et al’s (2013, n=9709) systematic review and network meta-analysis found that acupuncture could be considered as one of the more effective physical treatments for alleviating osteoarthritis knee pain in the short-term: Acupuncture was ranked second out of 21 physical treatments in this study.  The team also clarified that further research is also warranted in this area, due to the quality of the research available in some treatment areas across the studies.

Shoulder

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on shoulder pain, as well as an evidence based factsheet (links are below)

Shoulder pain was included in large chronic pain review of RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis (Vickers et al, 2018; 39 trials, n=20827), acupuncture showed a significant clinical superiority over usual care and a smaller advantage over sham.

Another systematic review and meta analysis of acupuncture in shoulder pain post stroke (Lee & Lim, 2016), saw that over 12 RCTs  found it more effective that rehabilitation alone  finding it a useful for this, with the authors calling for  further trials of high quality to corroborate this.

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic shoulder pain.

Elbow

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on lateral elbow pain, as well as an evidence based factsheet (tennis elbow – links are below), finding promising evidence in the field.   

Gadau et al, (2014) conducted a systematic review of 19 RCTs of varying quality were examined, and overall the evidence suggested acupuncture was more effective than sham control.  Tang et al (2015) looed at a smaller number of RCT and were more tentative about the outcomes due to concern over trial designs and highlighted a need for further research.

Recent small trials include one comparing acupuncture and manipulation (n=35; Hsu et al, 2016) in which both groups experienced improvement in pain and function.  Another looked at ultrasound imaging of the affected tendon to evaluate acupuncture’s effect, finding reduction of tendon thickness after 10 sessions as well as improvement in pain scores (Ural et al 2017; n-41).  A further trial (Wong  et al, 2017; n=34) compared acupuncture and extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT), finding a trend of improvement in pain scores in both groups.

Hip

There is less research in this area, although it is growing, a systematic review (Manheimer et al, 2018; n=413, for 6 trials) found Acupuncture beneficial as an add-on to usual GP care, with a small but significant benefit for physical quality of life in Osteoarthritis of the hip.

Back pain and Neck Pain

We have separate pages for these conditions for you to read more about acupuncture’s use in back pain, and in neck pain.

British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) Factsheet on Chronic Pain

BAcC Osteoarthritis Factsheet

BAcC Rheumatoid Arthritis Factsheet

BAcC Research Digest

BAcC Sports Injuries Factsheet

References:

General Chronic Pain References

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain, 19(5), pp.455-474.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine24(8), pp.752-769.

NICE 2021 Chronic pain: Scenario: Management Last revised in April 2021

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Knee

Corbett, M.S., Rice, S.J.C., Madurasinghe, V., Slack, R., Fayter, D.A., Harden, M., Sutton, A.J., Macpherson, H. and Woolacott, N.F., 2013. Acupuncture and other physical treatments for the relief of pain due to osteoarthritis of the knee: network meta-analysis. Osteoarthritis and cartilage, 21(9), pp.1290-1298.

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain19(5), pp.455-474.

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Zhang, Q., Yue, J., Golianu, B., Sun, Z. and Lu, Y., 2017. Updated systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture for chronic knee pain. Acupuncture in Medicine, 35(6), pp.392-403.

Shoulder

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain19(5), pp.455-474.

Lee, S.H. and Lim, S.M., 2016. Acupuncture for poststroke shoulder pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2016.

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Elbow

Gadau, M., Yeung, W.F., Liu, H., Zaslawski, C., Tan, Y.S., Wang, F.C., Bangrazi, S., Chung, K.F., Bian, Z.X. and Zhang, S.P., 2014. Acupuncture and moxibustion for lateral elbow pain: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine14(1), pp.1-19.

Tang, H., Fan, H., Chen, J., Yang, M., Yi, X., Dai, G., Chen, J., Tang, L., Rong, H., Wu, J. and Liang, F., 2015. Acupuncture for lateral epicondylitis: a systematic review. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine2015.

Hsu, C.Y., Lee, K.H., Huang, H.C., Chang, Z.Y., Chen, H.Y. and Yang, T.H., 2016. Manipulation therapy relieved pain more rapidly than acupuncture among lateral epicondylalgia (tennis elbow) patients: a randomized controlled trial with 8-week follow-up. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2016.

Ural, F.G., Öztürk, G.T., Bölük, H. and Akkuş, S., 2017. Ultrasonographic evaluation of acupuncture effect on common extensor tendon thickness in patients with lateral epicondylitis: a randomized controlled study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine23(10), pp.819-822.

Wong, C.W.Y., Ng, E.Y.L., Fung, P.W., Mok, K.M., Yung, P.S.H. and Chan, K.M., 2017. Comparison of treatment effects on lateral epicondylitis between acupuncture and extracorporeal shockwave therapy. Asia-Pacific journal of sports medicine, arthroscopy, rehabilitation and technology7, pp.21-26.

Hip

Manheimer, E., Cheng, K., Wieland, L.S., Shen, X., Lao, L., Guo, M. and Berman, B.M., 2018. Acupuncture for hip osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (5).

Helen
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