Tag Archives: Joints

Arthritis – 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.

Acupuncture has been shown to modulate inflammatory responses in the body, as well as to reduce the activity in the areas of the brain associated with pain and stress (as seen on functional MRI brain scans in research settings).

Interpreting the research:

When reading health research, it is important to know that Systematic Reviews or Meta Analyses of a large number of high-quality research studies are the very best way to be able to say to what extent a given treatment can address a condition, symptom, or set of symptoms.  The next best level of evidence is the individual Randomised Controlled Study (RCT) which uses a systematic technique to compare two or more groups of patients receiving different treatments (or a treatment against a “control”, or no treatment).  In acupuncture trials, the nature of the control group is of particular interest as it is hard to blind a patient to whether they are having a needle inserted or not, and even more challenging to blind the researcher/team to this.

The means and quality of how research is carried out varies considerably from country to country, and in terms of how an intervention is compared to another intervention (or a control).  Of note is the fact that “sham” acupuncture (where needles are placed in apparently inert locations rather than traditional acupuncture points) is not really an inert process as it has physiological effects, so that comparing sham and “true acupuncture” may therefore not give a clear picture alone; but and form a part of a research body where acupuncture versus no treatment, vs conventional treatment or vs a different approach/modality also form part of the evidence base.

The n= figure (where quoted in research) tells you how many people were participants in the study, and usually the larger a study (when it is of good quality and design), the more likely it is to be reliable and applicable to larger populations. When (statistical) “significance” is discussed in view of studies it has a very particular meaning – it is the confidence in the data (using statistical tests) that tells us how likely a result could have just come about by chance. The lower the possibility of a chance result, the more likely it is due to the intervention in the experiment. When you are reading a trial/study, the “p” is the number telling us of significance, and this must be under 5% (or p less than 0.05) to mean we can say it is a (statistically) “significant” result.

The research:

Osteoarthritis: Since 2005, there have been over than 50 NHS publications recommending acupuncture for osteoarthritis (largely knee or hip) and many more worldwide (Birch et al 2018).

A large (n=20827) meta-analysis of 39 studies showed acupuncture to be significantly superior to usual care and to sham (non-specific acupuncture point usage), for patients with osteoarthritis and other painful conditions (all p <.001; Vickers et al, 2018).  Additionally, clear evidence was found in this meta-study that that the effects of acupuncture persisted over time.

For patients with osteoarthritis pain, acupuncture improved pain relief compared to sham at short-term and at six-month follow up. When compared to wait list controls, acupuncture showed a clinically significant improvement in short term pain relief.  A randomised controlled trail in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip, showed a significant difference at three months between acupuncture and routine care (Reinhold et al, 2008; Manheimer et al, 2010).

Knee Pain: 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.

Acupuncture can be cost effective, according to an RCT (n=60); acupuncture was offered to patients with knee osteoarthritis who were going to be referred for orthopaedic surgery by their GP, with acupuncture a third were able to avoid surgery which also represented a cost-saving of £100,000 per year [to the NHS]” (White et al, 2016).

Hip osteoarthritis: 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.

Mechanisms of Action:

A review article (Kavoussi & Ross, 2007) suggests that the anti-inflammatory actions that have been demonstrated to be brought about by acupuncture may be mediated via activation of the vagus nerve, alongside deactivation of inflammatory macrophages and other proinflammatory cytokines.  The researchers concluded that “The use of acupuncture as an adjunct therapy to conventional medical treatment for a number of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases seems plausible and should be validated by confirming its cholinergicity”.  Other studies (Zijlstra et al, 2003) have revealed that acupuncture some of the pain modulating and anti-inflammatory effects exhibited in acupuncture may be due to the fact that it has been shown to stimulate certain substances in the body which act as vasodilators, neurotransmitters and painkillers (beta-endorphins, CGRP and substance P) and further stimulate cytokines and nitric oxide, all of which play roles in inflammatory states. 

Many mechanisms of action have been investigated in animal models as well as in humans to measure brain activity associated with pain and the levels of biomarkers associated with inflammation.

You may also find this useful: our Rheumatoid Arthritis page

Resources

British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) Osteoarthritis Factsheet

BAcC Rheumatoid Arthritis Factsheet

References:

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 Medicine, 24(8), pp.752-769.

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.

Kavoussi B, Ross BE. The neuroimmune basis of anti-inflammatory acupuncture. Integr Cancer Ther 2007;  6:  251-7.

Manheimer E, Cheng K, Linde K, Lao L, Yoo J, Wieland S, et al. Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 1.

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).

Reinhold T, Witt CM, Jena S, Brinkhaus B, Willich SN. Quality of life and cost-effectiveness of acupuncture treatment in patients with osteoarthritis pain. Eur J Health Econ 2008;9(3):209-19.

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.

White, A., Tough, L., Eyre, V., Vickery, J., Asprey, A., Quinn, C., Warren, F., Pritchard, C., Foster, N.E., Taylor, R.S. and Underwood, M., 2016. Western medical acupuncture in a group setting for knee osteoarthritis: results of a pilot randomised controlled trial. Pilot and feasibility studies2(1), pp.1-8.

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.

Zijlstra, F.J., van den Berg-de Lange, I., Huygen, F.J. and Klein, J., 2003. Anti-inflammatory actions of acupuncture. Mediators of inflammation, 12(2), pp.59-69.

Helen
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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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Gout – Condition Resources

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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.

Resources:

British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheet about Gout including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition.

Helen
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